When I find a topic I’d like to write about for this site, but am not quite ready to write about it now, I often jot down a brief outline of what an article might look like and save the file to my desktop. I tend to invest some time in thinking about the topic and, within a few days, write out a full article. Sometimes, though, I just can’t seem to make an article say what I want it to say and it remains on my desktop for weeks or months. Such is the case with a file called “Imitate Me.” It has been on my desktop for many months now. Through that time I have often opened it up to try to add to it, but nothing I’ve written down has quite done justice to the topic.
Last week I was interviewed on another web site and the final question I was asked was, “As a father, what is the lesson you want to pass on to your children, and how do you plan on accomplishing that?” I had to think about this question for a good long time before I felt that I could answer it adequately. And when I found an answer, I realized that it may just be the key to finishing the article I entitled “Imitate Me.”
Not too long ago I was convicted by the words of the Apostle Paul where he urges Christians to “imitate me” or, in the ESV, to “be imitators of me.” It strikes me as the very height of arrogance for a man to exhort others to be like him and to imitate him. And yet Paul wrote those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Here is what he says in 1 Corinthians 4:16: “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” Seven chapters later, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (a verse that clearly belongs to the preceding chapter and not to chapter 11) he writes again “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul is so convinced that what he is doing is right and godly, that he urges others to imitate him. The reference in verse 11 makes it clear that he seeks to imitate Christ and urges others to imitate Christ by imitating him.
Matthew Henry explains these words in this way: “Follow me as far as I follow Christ. Come up as close as you can to my example in those instances wherein I endeavour to copy after his pattern. Be my disciples, as far as I manifest myself to be a faithful minister and disciple of Christ, and no further. I would not have you be my disciples, but his.”
It seems to me that any person who wishes to be in a position of teaching or leadership should be able to echo the words of Paul and say to others, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” A man who does not feel his pursuit of God is worthy of emulation or a man who knows that he is not imitating Christ is a man who does not meet the biblical requirements of leadership. I have never heard a person exhort others to imitate him. Yet I have met men who are worth imitating. My family recently began attending a new church and one thing that drew us to this new church was the pastor, a man who I soon realized was, in many ways, a man we felt we could imitate. We met the other church leaders and were drawn to their example of humility and godliness. This was a church with many people we felt we could imitate.
As I considered the interview question that had been posed to me, I soon realized that, as a father, I wish to model a life that my children can imitate. I wish to be able to say to them, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” I want them to see in me a life of godliness that they want to imitate. I want them to see and to know that I love God best and first and that I love Him more than anything or anyone else. I want them to know that nothing will come between myself and Him. I want them to see and to know that I love my wife second only to God–that she is and will always be my closest companion, my best friend, and that nothing and no one will come between myself and her. If forced to choose between my wife and any other person, I will always choose her. And I want them to know that I love them deeply and dearly, that I love Christ’s people the church, and that I love my neighbor as myself. I want them to imitate me.
And yet in many ways I do not want them to imitate me. As my children they see my sin more clearly than anyone. They see those areas in which I refuse to submit to God and they see the sins that constantly plague me. They may see me at my best, but they also see me at my worst. I know that if I am to be able to say to them “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” I will have to make many changes to my life. Were they to imitate me now, they would imitate far too many flaws, far too many sins.
And yet I do want them to be able to imitate me in the ways that I imitate Christ. I see no way of accomplishing this–of accomplishing my goal of being one they can imitate–but by being a student of the Word, by having my heart and my life shaped continually by the very Word of God. And maybe, if God is gracious to me, I will someday be able to say to them, when they wonder how they are to serve Christ in this world, “Be imitators of me.” And God will be glorified.