Be Imitators of Me?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

In his final word on the whole issue of eating meat offered to idols (which is wrongly added to chapter 11), Paul tells the Corinthians, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (11:1). This reflects a classic view of education and discipleship, whereby the teacher instructs, not just through words, but also through deeds. Jesus, for example, chose his most intimate disciples to be with him so that they might hear his teaching and so that they might observe his behavior in order to imitate it.

Yet Paul tells the Corinthians, not just to model themselves on Jesus, but also to imitate him as he imitates Christ. When we first read this, it might seem a little arrogant. Why not just say "Be imitators of Christ"? Who does Paul think he is?

Well, he thinks he is one who has been sent by God to bring the Gentiles into relationship with Jesus Christ and to grow in that relationship as disciples of Christ. In this apostolic role, Paul is not just the deliverer of the message, but also the embodiment of the message. We see this perspective clearly in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians: "[O]ur message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord. . . ." (1 Thess. 1:5-6).

How would you respond if your pastor stood up on Sunday and said, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ"? Would that seem arrogant? Out of place? Or would that be exactly the kind of pastoral leader you need . . . and God blesses? During my years as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I don't think I ever said, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ," but I tried to live out this reality. By God's grace, I sought to embody what I preached, to be a living example of the truth.

The fact that I failed to be such an example in so many ways does not invalidate the effort. We who lead are to do so, not only through our words, but also through our deeds. This is true, not just of pastors, but also for teachers and coaches, for parents and grandparents, for managers and CEOs. In every context of life where God has raised us up to lead, we should endeavor to provide a model worthy of imitation.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How would you respond if one of your leaders actually said, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ"? Why would you respond this way? Have you ever said anything like this? Why or why not? In what contexts of life has God called you to be an example of his truth, one who imitates Christ so that others might be more Christ-like by imitating you?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I find these words of Paul to be unsettling. When I first read them, they seem to be a bit haughty. Yet the more I think about who Paul was called to be, the more I realize that he is simply telling the truth. The Corinthians should imitate him as he imitates Christ. And he should, therefore, live in such a way that he is worthy of imitation because he reflects Christ.

This is a high calling, indeed! It is so much easier, Lord, to tell people what is right than to exemplify it. It is simpler to point to Jesus and let myself off the hook. But I am reminded today that you have called me to live in such a way that people see Jesus. I am to be an example of righteousness to my children, my staff, my friends, and all whom I am called to serve. By your grace, Lord, help me to live so that people might see Christ in me. Amen.