Do we imitate or emulate?

So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children,  and live in love as the Anointed One loved you—so much that He gave Himself as a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing God.  (Ephesians 5:1-2 VOICE)

Have you ever observed a small child imitating his or her parent?  The parent crosses their legs and the child does the same.  The parent takes their cup of juice in a coffee mug and the child wants his the same way.  The father is pounding nails with a hammer and the little boy wants a scrap piece of wood, a handful of nails, and a hammer to do the same.  For some reason, children just naturally emulate the actions of their parents.  Notice that I used the word "emulate" there - they don't just imitate - they want to do it as well, not just "close enough".  I don't think anything is much different for a child of God - we want to live this life of grace and love - not just "okay", but with excellence and pretty closely emulating what we have observed in the life of Christ.

One who imitates is merely doing the same thing as the other person is doing. In drama class we had to do this exercise called "mirroring".  We'd face each other, then work to "mirror" the exact movements, expressions, and posture of the other person. The more we practiced this, the better we became at it, but we still weren't doing anything that the other person was doing. Imitating means we "copy" that which we see or have experienced. The child sees the parent pray at meal each time they sit down and it just becomes natural that they will bow their heads and hold out their hands to pray at mealtime. They "copy" the behavior they see the most.

That being said, we all know the risks of someone imitating (copying) the behavior they see that might not quite be the best, or even a little bit "risky" in nature.  Parents everywhere used to recite an expression to their children's objection to not being allowed to do something - you probably heard it at your home, as well.  The child would say their friend's parents were letting them do a certain activity or wear a certain style of clothing and our parents would respond back to our plea with what expression?  "Just because John jumps off a bridge, are you going to do it?"  Well, wearing a halter top or going to the beach with boys wasn't exactly jumping off a bridge - but it came close to challenging some of the moral bridges I found myself faced with!

Emulation is the process of measuring up to something we see or admire. In the original form of this word (Latin), it also carried something a little bit "wrong" in the meaning.  You see, those who "emulated" the other person were actually envious of the other person - they were wanting to outdo them!  Imitation is just producing a mirror-image or copy of what is modeled - emulation carries the idea of not only meeting the performance of the one we are modeling, but working hard to exceed it!  I don't know if any of us will ever perfectly model the love and grace of God, but I am pretty confident none of us will ever outdo his love or his grace!  So, what word do we use - imitate or emulate?  

Maybe the idea of following is a key to the answer we seek here.  Those who follow like "adored children" are probably pretty close to exhibiting the behavior traits God expects of each of us. As little children seek to learn how their parents move and act, God is telling us to do the same - come as little children, adoringly following every move he makes, and allowing what is patterned to become the way we begin to act ourselves.  It isn't so much that we just mirror the behavior, but that we begin to find ourselves acting as he does because it becomes second nature to us.  Just sayin!


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