You've heard of that which is "inimitable". That is, it can't be imitated. It is typically intended as a compliment, a recognition of that which is truly unique. "There's no one like her." That's the idea. Now, in the history of humans, if there was ever anyone that fell in the "truly unique" category--the "inimitable"--I would think it would be Jesus Christ. I mean, who could possibly be like Him? He is the God-Man, God Incarnate, the perfect Son of God. We even write His personal pronouns with capital letters because He is not like us. Jesus is the inimitable. And yet ... we are supposed to be "conformed to the image of His Son." We are commanded to be "imitators of God, as beloved children." (Ephesians 5:1). How is that for a tall order?
Paul saw it as such, so he broke it down for us. He wrote, "I urge you, then, be imitators of me." (1 Corinthians 4:16). Oh, now, see? That's not as difficult. Paul was not Christ. But you have to admit it sounds a little ... arrogant. "Imitate me and you'll be like Christ." And it might be arrogant, except Paul clarifies. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1). And that's something different. Paul commends the Thessalonians when he says "you became imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 1:6). "Us and." Because Paul is imitating Christ and they were imitating Paul, they were imitators of Paul and of the Lord. And that's good.
I've always had this flight response to Paul's encouragement to "imitate me". I mean, it's all well and good for a super-saint like him to say it. But whatever you do, don't imitate me. I am not a prime example. Now, to be fair, Paul was not saying, "Do everything I do." He said, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." That is, "When what I do and say and think and feel is an accurate imitation of Christ, imitate that." Because Paul was not shy in admitting his own faults. So it wasn't "imitate everything about me." And so, in the final analysis, the aim from Paul for his readers and from God for His readers is that we imitate Christ. You know, the Christ we've just determined was inimitable.
A few thoughts, then. First, the Christian walk is all about doing the impossible. We are to be holy, something we cannot accomplish on our own. We are to be perfect, something we cannot achieve. We are to work out our salvation as if we have that capability in ourselves. We don't. And that's okay. Because everything we are commanded to do and cannot actually do is properly satisfied by God's work in us. "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13). That is the means for us to do the impossible. God, working in us, provides both motivation ("will") and empowerment ("do"). Nothing more is needed. Get your legs moving and walk as Jesus walked. Cooperate with God and do the impossible ... daily.
Second, Scripture calls us to imitate Christ, but it does so by means of surrogates. Paul was a surrogate. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." We are to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:12). The author of Hebrews says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7). Christ is difficult to imitate, perhaps, but we have examples of Christ in people who are imitating Christ. Imitate them.
Finally, in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul reminded them that while he was with them, he didn't rely on them for food; he worked. "It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate." (2 Thessalonians 3:9). I told you that I'm always a bit disturbed by Paul's "imitate me". That's because I think, "Don't imitate me!" And I would like to encourage you as I am encouraging me to become imitable. One definition of the word "imitable" is "worthy of imitation." Are you imitable? Are you someone in whom others can see Christ? Are your attitudes, your actions, your thoughts, your behaviors an imitation of the Savior? Could you say to someone, "Imitate me." I'm pretty sure we cannot, but what we all can and should say is "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." And then, of course, we set about being imitators of Christ. You who are disciples of Christ have Christ in you (Colossians 1:27). Make your life a reflection of that truth.
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