1 Jan 2001

What about being imitators of Christ?

Submitted by theshovel
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Greetings my dear brother! I need some help. I read an article awhile back dealing with Christ as our life and I wholeheartedly agree with one quote:
"...the objective of the Christian life is not an imitation of the life of Jesus, but the manifestation of the very life of Jesus...The Christian life is not IMITATION, but MANIFESTATION of Jesus as us!" (Emphasis mine). His whole point is that we have died with Christ and it is His Life in and through us. However, can you help me in answering the critics who throw the following (NASB) verses at me regarding the concept of IMITATION:
1 Corinthians 11:1 "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ."
Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children..."
1 Thessalonians 1:6 "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord..."
Any insight you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Alan

Hello Alan! Always good to hear from you, bro!

You know, whenever you make a statement of contrast you're often going to use some words, or concepts, that are found in a Bible verse somewhere that seems to contradict your point. When you consider most of the "problem passages" in the Bible the "problem" is usually connected to the contradictory nature of some of the same words used in different ways by different - or even the same - Biblical writers. Classic example: Paul vs. James regarding "faith and works". The individual contexts of the writings in question must be taken into consideration so that it can be seen what was being stated by the choice of words as used by each writer. Once realized, it becomes obvious that the writers made their own separate cases even though they used the same words and phrases together.

The same holds true with the point being made by the CONTRAST of "imitation" versus "manifestation". Consider the fact that we've grown up in a culture that has produced mass imitations of genuine articles so that we can afford to own something that looks and acts close enough to the real thing. "Imitation" - to US - means inferior quality, not genuine, cheap, fake, an so on. But is that how it was viewed by those in ancient times? Though it probably COULD HAVE taken on that sense in certain contexts I don't think it was the way they viewed the word at all.

Why not? Simply because of the way the verses you quoted express it. As the word itself simply means to "follow another's example", and keeping in mind that they had no concept of the mass production of inferior "imitations", they would have sensed something altogether different. Take a look at the meanings given to "imitation" (from an online dictionary called Word Web).

    IMITATION - Noun:

  1. The doctrine that representations of nature or human behavior should be accurate imitations.
    (Interestingly, this meaning is stated to be a "type" of "mimesis", which means - "The imitative representation of nature and human behavior in art and literature". And guess what? That word just happens to be almost identical to the Greek word for "imitator".)

  2. A copy that is presented as the original
  3. The act of imitating
  4. A representation of a person that is exaggerated for comic effect
    IMITATION - Adjective:

  1. Not genuine or real; being an imitation of the genuine article
  2. Artificial and inferior

That first definition surprised me, for it reflects more of the meaning I suspect they would have understood. In other words, they recognized the natural similarities found in relationships, as in "like father, like son". These were "accurate imitations" that would have declared the obviousness of the relatedness of the individuals.

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

If we relate this to the context of the whole letter we might be very surprised what it was that he was encouraging them to "imitate". This is the second time in this letter Paul had made this statement.

For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.1 Corinthians 4:15-16

As a FATHER TO HIS CHILDREN. But what was the drive behind it all?

It's all throughout the letter, but chapter 4 is potent because Paul is contrasting HIMSELF to the BOGUS REPRESENTATION they had been taking on. They were reflecting the lives of their false teachers!

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become ARROGANT IN BEHALF OF ONE AGAINST THE OTHER. For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, WHY DO YOU BOAST AS IF YOU HAD NOT RECEIVED IT? You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings WITHOUT US; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, AS MEN CONDEMNED TO DEATH; because we have become A SPECTACLE TO THE WORLD, both to angels and to men. WE ARE FOOLS for Christ's sake, BUT YOU ARE PRUDENT in Christ; WE ARE WEAK, but YOU ARE STRONG; YOU ARE DISTINGUISHED, but WE ARE WITHOUT HONOR. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I DO NOT WRITE THESE THINGS TO SHAME YOU, BUT TO ADMONISH YOU AS MY BELOVED CHILDREN. 1 Corinthians 4:6-14

Their TRUE "imitation" was made FALSE in taking on the perceptions and subsequent attitudes of these self-honoring leaders. Do you realize what Paul was suggesting to them as being their TRUE representation? To gladly accept the shame, the dishonor, the persecution they had witnessed in Paul ... and as he took further, in Christ. Why? Because Christ was the #1 Loser of all time ACCORDING TO THE FLESHLY MIND. See, they KNEW within them that this is how the world - especially the religious world - would view them ... and they had been fighting their own destiny! They had known Christ through Paul and felt the "shame" of the gospel. That's why Paul stated that he was NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL, and had encouraged Timothy not to be ashamed in the same manner - in other words, an accurate reflection of the life of Christ as had been seen in Paul (i.e. imitation).

You see, Paul was not making any kind of a statement that our life is to be a mere inferior "copy" of Christ, but was relating how the true reflection would result in being rejected by the world. And we know this from within ... but so hope to avoid it.

The men who would use these verses to dispute the distinction you make to them are frantically grasping for anything by which to prove you wrong. Some have lived long in fear of these very things and would love to see the fear in these verses disappear, others will reject any attempt to dislodge it. As an encouragement, let me say that to the religious mind I am nothing but a loser of the worst kind ... stand with me and reflect the same!

Love, Jim

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