(1 Corinthians 4:14-20)
In this section of scripture we see Paul telling the people to imitate him.
Now you may think that to be an imitation is to be a fake, as often we see imitations of products made on the cheap and that are not very good quality.
But that is not the meaning of what Paul was saying here. It is often said that imitation is the greatest form of praise, and while this is not exactly what Paul was calling for it approaches what he wanted the people to do.
If we look at the Greek word that is translated as “imitate” we get a further insight into what this imitation thing is all about.
The Right Imitation
The Greek word translated as “imitate” is “mimeomai” and it is the same word from which we get the word “mimic”. It is also translated in some places as “follower” or to follow, in the sense of following in the footsteps of someone.
In the sense of being a follower it is not that we walk behind but rather that what someone does (specifically Jesus Christ) we do also. We take the lead of Jesus to live as He lived.
And this is basically the sense of what Paul was teaching the church in Corinth. He was teaching them to watch his life and to do as he did. And Paul himself did what Christ did as we see in this scripture.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – (1 Corinthians 11:1)
The point of imitation is to learn how to live differently. When we imitate someone we take on their behaviours, attitudes and ways of seeing things. And when we imitate what is good we learn to do what is right.
But it is more than that. As we imitate Christ Jesus and continue to mould our way of living to be like His example, we change. Over time we cease to imitate because we become what we have imitated. We learn new patterns of behavior, new ways of thinking and acting and we become more Christ-like.
We are told by behavioral experts that if we want to change a habit we need to replace it with a new habit. We need to determine what the new and better habit is and then “imitate” the behaviours of the new habit until it becomes part of who we are. These experts say it typically takes about three weeks to change a habit, but some things will clearly take longer than others, especially if we are seeking to change deep and abiding aspects of our personality to be more like Jesus Christ.
But the key is to imitate Christ first so that we learn what holiness, righteousness and goodness look like, and then do the same. Do as He did and over time we will be as He is.
Imitation like this is not about “faking” it. It is about making change. Sure it may feel strange and you might even feel like you are faking it in the beginning, but as you continue and it becomes more natural the change takes place.
And there is another important aspect to this imitating of the ways of God that helps us.
Walking In The Spirit
The reason why Jesus came to the earth was to give us hope and to establish in His sacrifice the means by which man could be reconciled to God. He removed sin for those who believe and are baptized into His death andHe set us free from the law so we could walk in the righteousness by faith that comes through the grace of God.
But that is only the beginning of the Christian journey.
The second part of the grace of God was to give us the Holy Spirit, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us into the image of Jesus Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to perfection in Jesus Christ for, as the scripture tells us,
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – (Matthew 5:48)
Perfection is not something we can achieve alone or by ourself. But the Holy Spirit can help us and bring us to perfection in Jesus Christ.
When we walk in the spirit we turn away from the condemnation of sin and look above to the things of God. When we walk in the spirit the Holy Spirit in us changes us and rejects worldliness so that we are transformed into the image of Christ Jesus.
And that is why imitating Christ is not only a good idea, but is so important. When we imitate Jesus Christ we are effectively saying we want to change our life. And when we imitate Jesus we are seeking new habits, new behaviours and new ways of thinking.
And when we do this, it is the Holy Spirit who steps in behind our imitating to make it real in us. It is the Holy Spirit who takes our imitating steps and makes them into new habits to bring us one step closer to the perfection of Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the strength to resist the old bad habits so that new ones can take root in our life and so that we can become the new creations we truly are in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit locks in the new habits and behaviours and thinking that we commence through imitating the good examples of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles and prophets in the bible.
And it continues on as we grow for we are instructed in many places to continue this process of imitating what is good and by so doing, rejecting what is evil. Consider these scriptures.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. – (Ephesians 5:1)
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. – (Philippians 3:17)
11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. – (Hebrews 6:11-12)
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. – (Hebrews 13:7)
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. – (3 John 1:11)
All of these scriptures, and there are others as well, speak of the need to imitate Christ, imitate God or imitate those who were strong in the faith and to mark how they lived.
There is a reward in imitating what is good and doing what is right in the sight of God. The reward is a changed life and a closer walk with God. It is the progression towards salvation and perfection in Jesus Christ without which we cannot see God. And ultimately it is the reward of life with Jesus Christ and the Father in the eternal kingdom of God.
So do as Paul says. Imitate him. Imitate Christ Jesus. Imitate God. Imitate what is good that you see in others who are strong in the faith and find out what is right. And seek the power of the Holy Spirit and walk in the spirit to make the imitating solid and a part of your life to lock in what is good and right and true.
(Photo sourced from freeimages.com provided by Jeremy Doorten)
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