(1 Corinthians 11:1)
Now here is an interesting scripture in the bible. It says,
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – (1 Corinthians 11:1)
What thoughts are conjured up in your mind when you think of being an “imitator” or an imitation of someone or something else? Do you perhaps think of such things as false, fake, unreal, cheap and nasty?
Those are the types of things that often come to mind when we look at imitation. But this is not what Paul was talking about in this verse, and there is an important lesson we must learn here.
Post War Japan
One of the memories I have as a child and as I grew up was the impact of what happened in Japan after the second World War.
The Japanese economy was destroyed. Manufacturing was demolished and national pride was at an all time low.
The biggest challenge facing Japan was how to rebuild and in some ways it became easier because they had to rebuild from scratch. They had nothing much left of the former economy and so they needed to start all over again.
When I was a child if you got a product with the words “made in Japan” written on it, the images that came to mind were; cheap, poor quality, junk, fake and copy. And that is how Japan began to rebuild, by copying and imitating the manufacturing processes of the western world, in particular America.
Then they had a quality revolution led by several American engineers, in particular W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran. These two men were the leaders who taught Japan how to achieve quality through statistical process control and other quality improvement methodologies.
In just a few decades the Japanese went from being cheap and nasty imitators, to being leaders in the fields of electronics, engineering, steel production, motor vehicles, textiles and many forms of manufacturing.
Today we know that “Made in Japan” means quality, durability and innovation. No longer are they the cheap imitators of the western world, but are the quality leaders striving to improve and grow.
But this massive transformation began with imitation, and not very good imitations either.
Likewise, when Paul says we are to imitate him as he imitates Jesus Christ, what he is talking about is the process of transformation.
How do we begin to transform into the image of Jesus Christ? We do as He did. We follow His example and learn how to live, act and think as Jesus lived, acted and thought.
The word “imitate” as translated from the original Greek is “mimetes.” It means literally “to mimic,” and it is where we get our English words “mimic” and “mime.”
And that is what we are doing when we imitate Jesus. We are mimicking how He lived and what He did so that we can learn and take on those same attributes to make them our own.
Just as the Japanese imitated the western world to effect the transformation we see today, we too will be transformed as we imitate Christ. As we take on His way of life and thinking, it will become part of who we are and how we live.
This is how Christ is formed in us. First we imitate Him and then, by the working of the Holy Spirit in us, what started as imitation becomes habit, habit becomes new behaviour, and so we are transformed.
So let us begin this work of transformation, not worrying if our imitation feels fake or we feel unworthy. Rather let us realise that this is the beginning of the change that will lead us to fullness in Jesus Christ.
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