Can you say with the apostle Paul, “Be imitators of me?” (I Corinthians 5: 16). If you can, congratulations!
“Well, I’m no apostle, so I doubt it.”
But those to whom he was writing were not apostles either. So he must have meant something short of that. Otherwise, they couldn’t have obeyed his command.
“Hmmm . . . I guess that’s true.”
And if and when any of the Corinthians did as he ordered them (notice that the statement isn’t anything short of a command) they too would be in a position to tell others the do the same (omitting, naturally, the apostolic authority that was behind Paul’s words).
“You mean if I learned to imitate Paul, I ought also to be someone that other Christians could also imitate?”
Right. And what a blessing you might become to many of them!
“What, exactly, did he have in mind that the Corinthians (and by extension, that I) should imitate about him?”
Paul wasn’t narrowing things down to any one specific matter in the passage. He notes that he had led them to faith in Christ, and was their spiritual father (vv. 14, 15). He wanted his children to be like their father in the faith. The church had been upset by false teachers and needed help becoming what it ought to be both in beliefs and in practices. Paul was sending Timothy to help straighten them out. He says that Timothy would “remind” them of his “ways in Christ Jesus”(v. 17), leaving the statement quite general, and therefore, unlimited.
So, we have an injunction to think, say and act as Paul did. I wonder how many Christians who admire his efforts for Christ ever think of the fact that one reason why we have his words and example is to provide a model for living in “ways” that please Christ.
“Worth thinking about, surely.”
Right. And it’s not like we are short on information (both by precept and example) to learn of Paul’s “ways.”
“That’s for sure. There are all of the epistles as well as most of the book of Acts.”
Of course, we must distinguish what he did and said as an individual from those things he did and said as an apostle. But matters like perseverance, hard work, giving comfort to others, willingness to cheerfully accept hardship and persecution, and much more of the same sorts of things, are what he had in mind.
“How do you think we might go about this business of ‘imitation?’”
Well. There are lots of ways, I’m sure. But probably the place to begin is in making imitation an adjunct of our New Testament study.
“What does that mean?”
Simply this: whenever studying passages written by or about Paul, we should not be satisfied with understanding the meaning and purpose of the passage (as central as those two things are), but go on to ask ourselves, “What is there in this passage that I ought to imitate?” In that way, we will be able to accomplish two things at once.
“Makes sense. Thanks for the discussion.”