Monday, July 21, 2014

IMITATE CHRIST (1 Corinthians Chapter 11)

1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

My seminary thesis--written some 24 and ½ years ago--was entitled “The Imitation of Christ: A Proposed Doctrine.”  Knowing what I now know, I’m thinking it could probably use some revision.  The basic premises of the thesis are good, but the topic is a big one and there is much room for growth in understanding and practice.

The English Standard Version starts a new paragraph at verse 2, which means that verse 1 actually belongs with that which precedes it.  Verse 1 serves as a fitting summary to Paul’s instructions regarding the matter of eating food offered to idols.  That was the main theme of the preceding chapters in which the Apostle Paul spoke of the need for believers to be willing to sacrifice their own rights and freedoms for the sake of the spiritual benefit of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:9; 9:12b, 19; 10:23-24, 31-33).  Christ Himself walked in that kind of self-sacrificial manner (Cf. Romans 15:2-3; Philippians 2:1-8).  The Apostle Paul followed in His steps. 

The terms used here are important.  The word translated “imitators” is the Greek mimetes which means literally to mimic.  It was used with regards to imitating the conduct of someone.  Our English word, “mimic,” is derived from the Greek term and means “to imitate closely; to resemble.”  The term “be” is a present tense imperative.  We are therefore commanded to on-goingly follow the example of Christ in the manner in which we live.  Paul set himself forth as one who was doing the same and whose life was therefore, in that respect, worthy of emulation (Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Philippians 3:17).

The “imitation of Christ” is a doctrine not much written about.  It has wrongly been perceived by some to be something that we can attain to according to our own wisdom and self-effort.  One of the most widely circulated books related to this theme is Charles Sheldon’s book, “In His Steps.”  That fictional account tells the story of a church that adopts a “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) perspective.  Life was improved in the community as church members endeavored to apply Christ’s example to their everyday lives.  But the premise of the book gives man too much credit.  It supposes that we have, in ourselves, the wisdom, compassion, and discernment to make such choices.  That thematic question, “What Would Jesus Do?” gave birth to movement.  And for a time Christian bookstores were filled with WWJD bracelets, journal covers, etc.

But the imitation of Christ is not something we do or attain to, it is something that happens as a matter of course when we walk by the Spirit.  A better question than “What Would Jesus Do?” is “What Would Jesus Have Me to Do?”  The foundational corollary in the example of Christ to us is His willing submission to the Father (Cf. John 5:30).  By the Spirit alone are we brought into such a submissive relationship and a corresponding conformity to Christ in all other respects (Cf. 1 John 2:5-6).  It is as we walk by the Spirit that Christ-likeness is borne in us (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:18f; Colossians 3:16f).  We are called to more than a “monkey-see, monkey-do” kind of imitation.  By the Christ-instructing and exalting work of the Spirit we are called to a radical inside-out transformation that changes both the way we think and live (Cf. John 16:13-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Christ is our example in every virtuous matter: in how we are to walk (Cf. 1 John 2:5-6), lead (Cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4), think (Cf. Philippians 2:3-8), love (Cf. Ephesians 5:1-2, 5:25; John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7), forgive (Cf. Colossians 3:14), serve (Cf. Mark 10:43-45; Philippians 2:3-8), suffer (Cf. 1 Peter 2:21-23), speak (Cf. 1 Peter 22), etc.  It is by a miracle of divine grace that we are enabled to follow in the radically divergent footsteps of Jesus.  Christ’s presence is us brings about a glorious transformation.  “I can see Jesus in you” is amongst the most precious things we might ever hear.  That God would work such a change in us speaks to the glory of His grace!  “May the mind of Christ my Savior, live in me from day to day, by His love and pow’r controlling all I do and say…May His beauty rest upon me, as I seek the lost to win, and may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.”

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