Have you ever found yourself in a new, awkward or foreign social situation where you looked to others for queues about social mores? Maybe you didn’t know which utensil to use first or how to greet someone from outside your social sphere. Looking to others who are more experienced than us and imitating their actions shields us the embarrassment of acknowledging our ignorance or committing a faux pas. Likewise the New Testament is sprinkled with repeated instruction to imitate others in their walk with God. Four Biblical authors in six different books call us to imitate those more mature in the faith than ourselves or learn from examples of those who walked before us.
Consider these passages from three dimensions 1) We tend to imitate who we respect. As a quick self assessment, who is this in your life? Who do you say to yourself, “I want to be like him/her?” 2) Who can you look to as an example that you’d like to imitate as you seek to better know, love, trust and obey Christ? As you consider this question, keep in mind that the answer may not be in one person. You may want to replicate the prayer life of one Christian, but the dedicated service of another. 3) You are also an example to those around you and especially to those newer to the faith. How can you be more consistent in your walk that they might seek to follow you following Christ? How can you adjust your priorities to make yourself available to others who want to be discipled?
- Jesus’ command about servanthood: When he (Jesus) had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:15)
- Paul’s explanation of the Exodus: For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did….Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 1:1-6, 11)
- Paul’s encouragement to follow Jesus: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
- Paul’s example of his own maturation: I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6)
- Paul’s imperative to follow him following Jesus: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)
- Paul’s guidance for who to mimic: Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:17)
- Paul’s explanation of why he didn’t burden the church: 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 Thessalonians 3:7-9)
- Hebrews’ author points to who to follow: And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:2)
- Hebrews directs us to learn from those before us who endure hostility: Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:3)
- Hebrews points us to follow the lives of church leaders: 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)
- James looks to prophets as patterns for how to suffer: As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11)
- Peter directs elders to be an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3)
Each of these passages points us to the general theme of following those more spiritually mature than ourselves, but doesn’t cover the categories of life in which to mimic. The simple answer is in everything, but Paul is more specific than this in 2 Timothy 3:10a when he praised Timothy for following “my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings”. We can break this list down into three categories (see John MacArthur’s sermon for more detail):
- Ministry (teaching, conduct): Alignment of teaching and living; integrity
- Personal characteristics (aim, faith, patience, love): motive/passion/desire, trustworthiness, patience with people, love of God/church
- Challenging experiences (steadfastness, persecutions, suffering): patience with circumstances (jail, ship wreck), threats/beatings/stonings
Timothy had proven himself faithful by becoming like his mentor in his ministry, his nature and his times of testing.
In summary, we’re called to follow Jesus, both generally and in humble service to others, the prophets in their suffering and Paul’s life that we find in Acts and through the Epistles. The most actionable in our situation is to imitate our church leaders’ lives. Consider having a meal with a leader or suggest to a pastor that one or more of them speak at church about how they plan and pattern their lives to glorify God. Once you’re intentional about imitating mature Christians, you’ll be better prepared to provide an example to be imitated by observe all that Jesus commanded and making disciples in fulfillment of Matthew 28:19-20.