Imitation: The Christian's Survival Method
Have you heard this saying? “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” While it may be true in most cases, imitation in the Christian life is not mere flattery. It’s necessary for survival.
God never intended us to live alone. We were created for community and fellowship with other people. Therefore, our spiritual walk also needs the fellowship and community of other believers. We can’t do it alone.
But not only do we need like-minded people in our lives to keep us going, we also need excellent role models and leaders we can be encouraged by and inspired. Paul knew this and warned the Philippians to be wise and discerning in who they followed. His words of warning and instruction are just as important for us today as they were over 1,000 years ago.
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
Imitate. Follow after. Mimic. Ever been around a copycat? Sometimes it can be really annoying, but if you look beyond the bothersome aspect you may be blessed by the action. Many times young children or preteens will pick up the mannerisms, looks, behavior and posture from those they admire. They will start mimicking them in speech and action. While it may be annoying at first, we should be blessed that these youngsters so highly revere us as to imitate our actions.
In a similar way, Paul encouraged the Philippians to imitate him. He didn’t necessarily mean that they needed to talk the way he did or use the same hand gestures (if he used any at all!), but he wanted them to imitate his spiritual life. Paul was okay with his sons and daughters in the faith to watch how he lived his Christian life and then patter theirs in a similar fashion. He didn’t get annoyed by it as some may, but rather encouraged it.
Why? Because he knew the crucial importance of imitation in the Christian life. However, he warns the Philippians to be careful about whom they mimic. Not every person is worth imitation!
Paul gives the Philippians and us an example of those not to imitate, those who are enemies of the cross. These individuals come into the church and appear to be Christians, but then try to lure away the faithful with lies. This is why we must be vigilant and extremely careful about whom we pattern our lives after!
As a side note, Paul’s irony in this passage is humorous. For generations the Jews called the Gentiles dogs. They felt that they were superior and better than everyone else. So therefore, they called those not Jewish (Gentiles) dogs because that’s the value they put on them. However, here Paul, a Jew and former Pharisee, is calling the Jewish false teachers dogs to a Gentile audience!
But back to imitation….
Imitating mighty men and women in the faith is not only important for the Christian’s success, but it’s vital. Without fellowship and strong leadership to follow and imitate, we probably won’t make it to the finish line. While Christ is the ultimate example we are to imitate, His perfection is something we cannot attain. Therefore, it is helpful to pattern our lives after those who gone before and successfully completely their race of faith.
So let us heed the words of Paul and remember this short, but powerful exhortation he gave to the Corinthian church that echoes the command here in Philippians.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
~I Corinthians 11:1
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