Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 21, 2021
Be Imitators of Me (1 Cor 11:1)
Imitation, the pattern of modeling, rests at the heart of discipleship and good parenting.
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
“For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:15).
I am genuinely surprised to see the numerous times we are called, not only to follow Christ’s example but to be an example of Christ to others. Paul boldly calls the Corinthian believers to: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Why is there a willingness to dismiss the challenge for us to be examples of Christ? Instead of strengthening the call for people to follow Christ’s example or to resolve to be an example for others, we retreat into an admission of dismal failure—“That’s just the way I am.” I have heard numerous American preachers wallow in their defeat, being an example NOT to follow. Instead, buffed up by a genuine life example, we are instructed to exhort others to live godly lives just as the apostles did.
If pursuing a righteous life was beyond us, then why did Jesus and Paul call us to imitate them and make disciples?
The Poverty of Western Instruction
The Western culture’s perspective on imitation widely diverges from what Paul the Apostle taught. Paul repeatedly instructed those around him to imitate him. He held them responsible for and capable of a godly life in Christ.
Our present church scene, however, admits a problem with imitation. They reason that Paul and others had feet of clay; it’s irresponsible to follow Paul or any man. People should follow the good things a leader does while avoiding the bad. (This viewpoint is so commonplace that I would almost guess that there is a seminary class that teaches this!)
In another sphere of life, as a parenting instructor, I have observed that many fathers tell their children to “do as I say, not as I do,” allowing a particular tolerance for their awkward position. So what’s wrong with this approach?
Though modern preachers sincerely try to teach Paul’s meaning, they don’t; they teach the opposite to what underlies the apostle’s teaching.
When we make compromises in our lives, we feel compelled to adjust our teaching to be “consistent” in our lives, making what we say compatible with what we practice. This spiritual acrobatics with the truth of God’s Word, however, is dangerous if not damming. We must refrain from doing this.
Instead of stressing how Paul or others sinned and struggled with sin—which Paul and we admit, we also must promote the necessity of godly living. We are to be like Paul in his example and exhortation, living godly lives and providing examples for others. Consider Paul’s words a challenge to our lives just as he spoke to the congregations of Colossae and Phillipi, expecting them to respond to his letters appropriately.
Did Paul say to be imitators of him? How did they understand it?
“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil 3:17).
“Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16).
The teaching of God’s Word must overrule my difficulty with it. Preachers or believers usually do not openly deny God’s Word (note: they might lose their job!), but may reinterpret it before applying it to their lives, producing a dangerous cushion of “interpretation.”
I realize we are fallen creatures, and even as God’s people, we are not pretending to be perfect. Paul and Peter’s flaws in character were obvious, but dragging down standards is unfit for Christians called to be like Christ.
The shame of our sins prevents us from living up to the example and call of Jesus Christ. Our deranged culture hangup negatively affects the church today.
Culture and Faith
Our Western culture has spawned this root within the church. Let me list four ways.
- The world rebels against the concept of modeling/imitation because it believes all have a right to their choices. It outright rejects universal standards, seeing no benefit in them.
- There is an unwillingness to think that one person’s character can be better than another. (It implies guilt.)
- The world promotes a form of knowledge separated from its application to our lives. Knowledge, though false, is a virtue. (The scriptures call this the opposite of wisdom—folly.)
- Lastly, our Western world insists that everyone agrees to their non-incriminating, non-standard imperfection. Society, for example, now teaches people to assume one’s lusts represents their person. Instead of rejecting these thoughts and feelings, one should live out these self-gratifying desires and be honest with oneself. This transparency can be scary. For the world, honesty means to follow one’s lusts and not pursue a life different from who we “really” are.
When translated over to the church, the devil uses these deceptive and insidious concepts like poison to infiltrate and destroy the pure church of God.
This worldly understanding allows believers, each affected by the flesh, to protect their not-so-hidden pockets of sin. The culture and the lukewarm church don’t want God or any preacher to expose the evil in their lives.
Let the Scriptures Speak
The scriptures teach us to strive to live righteous lives. We are to be holy as the Lord has called us to be holy.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1).
“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thes 1:6).
“But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16).
The call to live upright lives remains the main thrust of God’s Word. Even as Jesus has saved us from the sentence of sin (i.e., death), He also delivers us from its terrifying control (sanctification). One day, He will also save us from its presence (glorification).
Discipleship: One Glorious Step Beyond
The scriptures don’t stop there. They not only state how we are to live challenged by others to adopt such behavior and attitudes as is proper in Christ, but also to be godly examples for and train others.
“Not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example” (2 Thes 3:9).
“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:12).
“In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Titus 2:7).
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21).
These verses display the heart of discipleship. Jesus set the prime example; the apostles lived it out and preached the Gospel to all nations, so that having a sincere faith in Christ, His Spirit empowers and guides His people to live out His example.
We must step into maturity and not backtrack into foolishness. There are plenty of warnings to avoid remaining as a spiritual infant (1 Cor 3:1-6).
The Lord instructed us to disciple others as part of the Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20). Christianity does not consist of impersonal classroom Biblical instruction but instead is fodder to kindle spiritual development in our personal lives.
So where, is this revered place of personal discipleship found in our churches? Why have so few Christian believers been instructed to live strong Christian lives? Knowledge, along with its confidence, has virtually disappeared.
Personal modeling lives at the core of Christian training—not as a specialty class for a few. Jesus brought His disciples with Him wherever He went. The only exception is when He went away by Himself to pray.
Doubt-A Deeper Spiritual Problem
Is there a deeper problem underlying the absence of godly modeling in the church—a doubt plaguing Christians? Do they wonder if one can live righteous lives?
If they are so sure of their salvation in Christ, then why do they doubt the effectiveness of God’s Spirit to work in them or others? In a believer’s life, this protective tolerance for sin is like nuclear waste maintaining a thriving lukewarm Christianity. They confess Christ but do not claim the life of Christ. Maybe we should strip off the “Christ” part and adopt the name “ians”? After all, we appear to be more affected by the world than by Jesus.
This approach to the Christian life leaves a gaping hole in our spiritual armor. It need not be there, but the average Christian has this lingering doubt about the ability of Christ’s energizing power to give them a godly life.
Still, others conclude that if they can’t live righteous lives, they need not be concerned. Adopting a worldly level of ‘a good life’ satisfies man, but not the Lord. He desires that we repent from our sin and seek Christ’s Spirit’s rule in our lives.
Again, we are not speaking about living perfect lives but righteous lives. When people flirt with the defensive question, “Oh, are we supposed to be perfect?” This question is filled with a self-righteous insinuation, “Oh, you are perfect, and I’m a sinner! You are so prideful.” They don’t say that, but it’s hinted. What a pure nonsensical and unbiblical approach.
There are self-righteous people, and Jesus pointed out their sins. We, however, pride ourselves in God’s grace and power, not in our own gained righteousness in the Lord’s judgment Day.
Paul cast these standards for Felix, a non-believer, not to insult him but to see if the Holy Spirit was at all working in His life.
“But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you”” (Acts 24:25).
All of this discussion causes us to get off track and end up tolerating sin in our lives. This approach is unacceptable for we are called to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).
Paul’s model incorporates his own decision to live a godly life through Christ’s grace; he prioritized the Lord, pursued God’s purpose for his life, and served the Lord and others. God gave His best to us in Christ, and so, we, in response, present ourselves as an acceptable sacrifice to God.
A Word for Fathers
The Father God models His love for us, His children, becoming a model for us. God is our Father and seeks for all His children to be like Him.
Fathers dare not give up the pursuit of a godly life. We might fail here or there, but we confess and repent from our sins, never giving up on living for Christ as an example for our children. This attitude towers over the shameful life of ‘failures,’ admitting we can’t do much better than imperfect sinners.
May our lives and words become a well-trod pathway for our children to follow—when at home or distant from us. We might leave this world before them, but, at the least, allow our example to shine as a bright light highlighting the path that they ought to walk in Christ.
Father-children is the spiritual principle that lies behind imitation and discipleship, holding us accountable to train.
“For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15, 17).
Jesus, as the perfect Son, fully pleased the Father. So let the Spirit of Christ fill and move us to live shining examples of Christ’s love and holiness in this dark world.
“But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:6).
Confidently endure to your life’s end, and if not for your sake, then for the sake of your children and the church.
Let’s enjoy the reward of the investments of others into our lives and deliberately expand this discipleship networking through making our own disciples.
“Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Timothy 3:10-11)
Discussion Questions for Modeling and Discipling
- What is your first response to hearing Paul’s words, “Be imitators of me?”
- Have you ever heard a preacher or teacher dismiss the importance of following Paul’s example? Please share.
- Give an example where Jesus told others to follow His example.
- How is teaching knowledge different from inculcating godly character?
- Where in the Christian church have you seen an allowance for professing Christians to disavow the need for godly character?
- Who has been an excellent example for your life, and how?
- Have you suggested to others, through practice or instruction, that they should follow how you do things? Please share.
- Are fathers expected to be godly role models? Explain.
- Explain the pattern of modeling godliness, starting with the Father sending His Son.
- Should one teach the right thing, even if he is not modeling it?
- What is one area that you need to repent from and start growing to be more like Christ? Pray for each other./li>
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