I had a most unusual conversation with someone who said they doubted we should trust anything the Apostle Paul wrote because of the “arrogance” he exhibits in 1 Cor. 4:16 and 11:1 when he tells the Corinthians they should imitate himself.
I explained that context is a critical part of understanding a biblical passage. For example, shortly before his statement in 4:16 he notes that “no one should boast in men” (3:21), and in 10:31, the verse immediately preceding 11:1, Paul says he is “not seeking my own advantage.”
Additionally, the context of the Corinthian letters reveals that the members of the church had attached themselves to false teachers, thus warranting Paul’s command to imitate him, who was teaching/following the truth and was himself imitating Christ, rather than imitating false teachers. Of course, Paul’s desire was for the Corinthians to be like Christ above all.
Not long after that conversation came Christmas Day, and Jamy gave me an incredible gift—the Lego version of the 1969 Camaro. I’ve always loved the look of this car from the year of my birth. I had fun putting it together and, while doing so, I kept thinking of the conversation I had with the person about imitating Christ. It dawned on me this Lego Camaro was an illustration of that imitation.
First, the advanced Lego set had incredible, tiny details. The engine, the dashboard, the classic car mag in the back seat, even dice hanging from the rear-view mirror! If we’re going to imitate Christ, we must be holy and obedient in the little things. Many times we think those things do not matter, but they do. Failure to be faithful in the “little” things will lead to failure in the “big” things.
Second, many of the details were actually hidden from view. In building the car, there would be tiny, colorful pieces put together only to be completely hidden by a larger piece that covered them all. Imitating Christ means being holy and obedient in the hidden things. What I do when no one else is looking or no one else would know still needs to conform to the image of Christ.
Third, after building the car, I realized sometime later it was missing a piece on the hood. Imitating Christ means being mindful of the missing things. We usually equate following Jesus with sins of commission, but it also includes sins of omission. We must remove sinful things that are present in our lives, but also begin those things that are absent.
Fourth, imitating Christ includes relational things. The Corinthian church members had deeply connected themselves to others who were leading them astray. Yes, Christians should spend time with those who do not know Christ to reach them for Christ, but we must be careful about the people and things that influence us. If we are to imitate Christ, our relationship with Him must be healthy and vibrant. In addition, relationships with others who encourage and edify us in our walk with Christ help us to imitate Him.
May Paul’s command to the Ephesians be our aim—”Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).