Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly beloved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Thirdly, Paul says that to imitate God means giving yourself up. What began with Christ coming to earth ended with Christ going to the cross. Christ set aside his divine rights when he entered our sphere, and he set aside his human rights when he entered the grave. This is the essence of sacrificial love—seeing your rights and privileges as second to the needs of others.
The problem with people is that we all think we’re owed something. But to imitate Christ means putting that instinct behind us. 1 John says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17).
To imitate Christ by giving yourself up means using what you have to meet the needs of your brother. In fact, this marks the Christian life in such a way that to disregard the needs of your brother is to give your fellow believers license to question whether or not the love of God lives in you. “How can the love of God be in that person?”
But what we can give people goes beyond our physical goods. When we deny other people our kindness and mercy, when we can’t give forgiveness to the unforgivable, when we can’t give love to the unlovable, we deny that God’s love lives inside of us.
For the Christian, sacrificial living is not relegated just to a season. Anyone can do that. Our life imitates our Father’s life, one of sacrifice and offering.
One great example of this kind of imitation was Hudson Taylor. He and his family were missionaries to China in the mid-1800’s. He spent 51 years in a foreign country. At one point, the missionary organization that sponsored Hudson could no longer pay their missionaries, but he stayed in China, trusting that God wanted him there and therefore would provide for his needs. When his bad health forced him back to England to recover, he continued to serve China by translating the Bible into Chinese. During his time spent healing, he also organized a new missionary movement that made up 20% of the missionaries in all of China in just a few years. He studied medicine and eventually returned to China to continue oversight of his missionaries and his own evangelistic work.
Even through multiple health crises, the deaths of children, and opposition from the government, Hudson and his wife believed that they were doing only their reasonable service for God. Hudson’s example inspired millions, including Eric Lidell, the Olympic runner who became a Chinese missionary and Audrey Johnson, the founder of Bible Study Fellowship, a Bible study that insists on being international. Billy Graham traveled the world to evangelize millions because he saw the sacrifice of Hudson. But at the end of his life, Hudson was asked how he did so much in the midst of such difficulty. And his words are evidence of a heart and mind that desired to imitate God. Once he considered the question, he said, “I never made a sacrifice.”
What a perspective for us to imitate. Now of course, Hudson and missionaries like him have sometimes given up life and limb to do what they do. But he knew that when he compared his sacrifice to the sacrifice made by God, it paled in comparison. His life no doubt was a fragrant aroma because his love was founded on God’s and was willing to sacrifice everything.
Let’s face it, this is just about everybody’s favorite season of the year, and for good reason. The Christmas season is all about hope, good will toward men, and giving gifts. But let’s remember that our giving is not like the world’s. We don’t just give sacrificially, we live sacrificially. “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”