1Cor. 4:14 ¶ I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children.
1Cor. 4:15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
1Cor. 4:16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
1Cor. 4:17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
Paul was worried about the different teachers who had come and influenced the church in Corinth. His concern came from his deep heart of love and compassion for those who had come to faith under his ministry. These were his spiritual children and he loved them as a father. He wanted to remind them of that father's love which runs much deeper than that of a simple instructor. Often the instructors were more concerned about their own reputation than the spiritual lives of their students. The students could be used by a teacher to further their own reputations and career goals and this motivation was in stark contrast with that of the Apostle Paul. He wasn't concerned about himself, he he was concerned about them. Why? Because he was their spiritual father, and as a father his desire was that his spiritual children. That is why he's willing to put himself on the line and tell them to imitate him.
Why would Paul suggest that they should imitate him? One might think that is a rather arrogant statement, however, we must remember that at this point and time they have to Bible -- there is no New Testament. Paul's letters are the earliest writings that we have from the New Testament period. Therefore, the living example of Christian faith is Paul. For many of these churches he is the first person they've ever met that had personally encountered Jesus. Later in chapter 11 Paul declares that they are to follow him as he follows Christ. What Paul is trying to do here is to make a connection for these people. He doesn't want them to go to these extraneous sources to learn about Christ for he is not sure of those teachers' motivations. Instead, he is willing to put himself out there, on the line, as their spiritual father and tell them to imitate him and his life -- because he is imitating Christ.
Paul realizes that at the very core of the Christian life we are to become Christlike. How does one become Christlike? Why not become imitators of Christ, and if you can't see Christ (or don't have access to the Word), then imitate someone who has known Christ and is living a life of Christlikeness. Stop listening to the fancy teachers who like to teach and hear themselves speak but who do nothing about living like Christ. Paul understood that it's not just talking the talk, but walking the walk! If I want to become like Christ, why wouldn't I practice by imitating him?
One of the most difficult periods of my life was saying good-bye to our spiritual sons and daughters in the former Soviet Union. The process of saying good-bye lasted for about 4 months as we traveled from country to country saying our good-byes during final meetings and assemblies. I think I actually cried every single day of those four months. I felt like my heart was being torn out of my chest. I absolutely loved and adored our Russian-speaking spiritual children. Many I had watched since the day they had given their lives to Jesus Christ. I had seen the way they had struggled to walk spiritually, and had then grown up and become spiritual leaders themselves. Today we feel like proud spiritual parents but leaving them was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.
I can only imagine what Paul's pain must have been regarding the church in Corinth. His spiritual children had been influenced by teachers who did not have the best interest of his spiritual children in mind. Instead, they wanted to use his spiritual children for their own personal gain. This did not set well with the Apostle. Therefore he had to go back to the spiritual children and admonish them to keep their eyes on the real reason and purpose for their faith -- which was to know Christ. And then, out of a father's heart, he asked them to imitate him. Not to repeat back what he taught, but to live their lives just like him.
It seems that these days there are many who can talk about the Christian life. There are those who like to debate what it means to be a follower of Christ but in the midst of all the talk, how many are taking up their cross and following Jesus on a daily basis? Yes, teaching and education are all good things, but not if they become a distraction from Christlikeness. The goal is to become like Christ. Paul was saying that if they needed and example of what it meant to follow Christ -- then follow his example. Now, that is a stunning point because it means that he is holding himself up as an example to his spiritual children. However, I think of my husband and his relationship with our daughters. He would do ANYTHING for them…and that means that if they were lost somewhere, he would go and find them and then he would be willing to go ahead of them, creating a path for them to get out of the wilderness. He would tell them to follow him. Not out of arrogance, but out of love. Paul loves his spiritual children and he says to them -- follow me and I will lead you to Christ.
But that leads us to an interesting point. What would happen if people imitated you and me; would our lives lead them to Christ? Are we imitating Christ in such a way that if others imitated us they would find him? This is truly the purpose in imitating Christ. I want to hit the mark -- I want to reach the goal -- I want to be like Christ. Why not begin by imitating him here on this earth and then, not out of a works theology, but instead -- out of imitation comes participation with Christ. The result is a moment when we no longer know whether it is imitation of Christ, or Christ in us which is revealed to the world around us. Paul knew this and he was inviting his spiritual children into this divine relationship of knowing Christ through imitation of Christ.
Lord, please help me to imitate you today in my life. Amen.