by Tom Goodman
October 22, 2010
"The best way to learn how to follow Christ is to imitate me."
As a Christian leader, if you've never said that to someone, then you're being unbiblical.
Surprised? To hold yourself up as a model for others may seem like brash immodesty. But I expect we fail to say "Imitate me" only because we don't want the pressure of being such a model.
I said you're being unbiblical if you've never held yourself up as an example. Here's proof:
1 Corinthians 4:15-17: "For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be
imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church."
1 Corinthians 11:1: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."
Philippians 3:17: "Brothers, join in imitating me...."
Philippians 4:9: "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me -- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9: "For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil
and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate."
2 Timothy 3:10-11: "You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that
happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra...."
In fact, Christian leaders are explicitly called upon to be the models that others can copy:
1 Timothy 4:12: "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Titus 2:7-8: "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works...."
D.A. Carson highlights these verses in his new book From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days, and he
illustrates the point with a story from his student years:
As a chemistry undergraduate at McGill University, I started a Bible study for unbelievers.... I soon found myself out of my depth in trying to work through John's Gospel with this nest of students. On many occasions the participants asked questions I
had no idea how to answer.
But in the grace of God there was a graduate student on campus called Dave Ward. He had been converted quite spectacularly as a young man. He was, I suppose, what you might call a rough jewel. He was slapdash, in your face, with no tact and little
polish, but he was aggressively evangelistic, powerful in his apologetics, and winningly bold. He allowed people like me to bring people to him every once in a while so that he could answer their questions. Get them there and Dave would sort them
So it was that one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave. He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then asked one of the students..., 'Why have you come?'
'I come from a home that you people call liberal,' he said. 'We go to the United Church and we don't believe in things like the literal resurrection of Jesus -- I mean, give me a break. The deity of Christ, that's a bit much. But my home is a good home. My parents love my sister and me, we are a really close family, we worship God, we do good in the community. What do you think you've got that we don't have?'
For what seemed like two or three minutes, Dave looked at him.
Then he said, 'Watch me.'
'I beg your pardon?'
Dave Ward repeated what he had just said, and then expanded: 'Watch me. I've got an extra bed; move in with me, be my guest -- I'll pay for the food. You go to your classes, do whatever you have to do, but watch me. You watch me when I get up, when I
interact with people, what I say, what moves me, what I live for, what I want in life. You watch me for the rest of the semester, and then you tell me at the end of it whether or not there's a difference.'
Carson concludes with this exhortation:
You who are older should be looking out for younger people and saying in effect, 'Watch me.'
Come -- I'll show you how to have family devotions.
Come -- I'll show you how to do Bible study.
Come on -- let me take you through some of the fundamentals of the faith.
Come -- I'll show you how to pray.
Let me show you how to be a Christian husband and father, or wife and mother.
At a certain point in life, that older mentor should be saying other things, such as: Let me show you how to die. Watch me.
Excellent points! And I would also add:
Come -- I'll show you how to recover from a failure.
Come on -- Let me demonstrate how to repair a damaged relationship.
Watch me -- I'll show you how to ask forgiveness.
In other words, to say "Imitate me" does not assume we'll never make mistakes. Demonstrating how a believer should recover from our stumbles is important, too.
As I said, though, it may not be modesty that's behind our reluctance to call for others to imitate us. No, it might be because we don't want the pressure of being such a model. Regardless, Scripture tells us to encourage people to try to be like us. That's the burden of Christian leadership.
(This LeaderLines post was written in reflection on a post by Justin Taylor.)
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