Imitate me as I imitate Christ
Actually, I'd rather if you didn't.
When Kara Slade posted the above image on Twitter, I identified with it in a visceral way.
You see, I deal with an unhealthy dose of imposter syndrome, and I’ve found the best way to deal with it is just to lay it out there. It’s why I call myself a “recovering hypocrite1,” which always feels awkward as a pastor.
I think what I am supposed to say is, “imitate me as I imitate Christ,” but I can’t muster up the words. I wish I could be more like the Apostle Paul, who wrote this phrase (or something like it) seven times. Seven!
I guess he thought this was a pretty important idea, but I’m not sure I could say that to my church with a clear conscience. I know leaders in Jesus’ church are supposed to live “above reproach2,” and those who teach are subject to “greater judgment3” (yikes), but this “imitate me as I imitate Christ” concept seems to ratchet up the pressure.
Maybe that’s why so many spiritual leaders, skulking after their patron saint King David, go to great lengths to hide their sins.
But what if “imitate me as I imitate Christ” could actually have the opposite effect? What if, instead of a crusty old finger pointing at our pathetic attempts at obedience, this phrase set us free?
The key to this is in the original context. Paul writes,
Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us.
You see it?
Paul says I haven’t reached the goal….I’m not perfect…but Jesus has taken hold of me.
Because of this, the Apostle can make every effort to hold onto the goal, forget the past, and reach out to Jesus (who already has a hold on him).
Maybe we can learn from Paul’s approach with two simple steps.
Acknowledge your weakness
There are times when “imitate me as I imitate Christ” comes from a place of strength and a hard-fought victory over sin. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. Contrary to what the world tells us, when we project strength too often it elevates us as the hero of the story or the person to emulate.
When we declare, along with Paul, “not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect,” those around us can imitate us as they exhale and refocus their hearts and minds on Jesus.
Let your weakness point to Jesus
It’s not enough to be weak—we are all weak—we must point to the one who is strong.
Notice how Jesus became the hero of Paul’s story! He can press on not because he has his life together or he has gained some level of maturity but because he belongs to Jesus. The only thing he can do is keep his eye on Him.
Paul only gives us tiny little nod to his own spiritual growth in this passage, but even then, he is not the hero: “Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you.”
Did you catch it? Christian maturity is focusing on Jesus, and God is the one who makes it happen. Yes, Paul is saying he is mature (this is an honest, self-aware assessment), but he is convinced that he wasn’t the one who made it happen.
When we get this, we can say, “imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
If the “me” or the “I” of this passage become the focus, we have missed the point!
Perhaps we could sum up Paul’s thoughts this way: “follow me as I stumble toward Jesus.”
1 Timothy 3:2
1 Timothy 1:15