When you hear the word “copy,” it probably doesn’t illicit happy thoughts, but rather makes you think of cheap knock offs and unoriginality. In fact, here are some famous imitations that we have all probably noticed:
- ANY soda that tries to copy Dr. Pepper’s taste or likeness (come on, he has his PhD in being the best tasting soda, stop trying to copy him).
- “Ice, Ice, Baby“ shamelessly ripped the bassline from Queen and David Bowie’s masterpiece. It’s cool, Vanilla Ice paid for it monetarily and in public shame.
- Parks and Rec looks eerily similar to The Office with some characters and jokes. NBC owns both, I guess it’s cool if you copy yourself. We all know which one is better, anyway…
- “Antz” vs. “A Bug’s Life.” Not sure who copied whom, but those movies are basically synonymous. We all thought it, I’m just saying it.
It’s not just movies and multimillion-dollar companies that imitate, we do it, too. We may not always be proud of it, but we are hardly original. Whether it’s a certain hairstyle, social media trend, or political alignment, we all see something we like and put it into practice in our own lives. As a culture we frown upon imitation (sorry Dr. Thunder) and praise originality (yay, hipsters, you did it first!), but I am going to pose that as Christians we should be doing exactly that, copying. Not lives that copy our favorite athletes or those celebrities we see on the red carpet, but lives that imitate Jesus, through the example of his followers.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says it this way, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul doesn’t say “be imitators of Jesus, just like I am imitating Jesus,” but rather, he urges those Corinthian Christians to copy himself! Why would Paul urge his readers, and the billions whom would read his letters through the millennia, to follow the example of a Christian rather than solely following the Christ? I mean, in theory it should be a pretty simple task to imitate Jesus. We’ve been given four different accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, we have letters from Paul and other apostles, and we have countless teachings from the greatest Christian minds to ever walk the earth (Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis- to name a few), and yet we still struggle to produce lives that mirror our Lord’s.
Obviously, the main (and only) call of the Christian life is to follow Jesus, first. It’s right there in the name Christian. But, Paul told those in Corinth to follow him because he was a tangible example of what it looks like to pursue Jesus. Paul was following Jesus in such a way that if someone is walking in the footsteps of Paul, they are walking in the direction of Jesus.
If you are anything like me, you need a physical example of how to do a certain task before you can excel at it. Take the case of learning an instrument or a certain sport. If you attempt to play the guitar or throw a baseball exclusively from a written handbook, you might eventually become proficient. However, imagine how much more excellent you would be (in far shorter time, too) at playing the guitar if you had an expert there with you guiding your hand on the fretboard, or how much better your baseball throwing motion would be if a pro baseball player corrected it by moving your elbow up or down and showed you how to grip the baseball properly. That is exactly what Jesus did for his disciples! He guided them and taught them for three years on what it looks like to bring the Kingdom of God to the world around them. Paul did the same thing for the churches he guided. Discipleship is hands on… it’s demonstrative.
We have a practical example we can draw from in Paul and Timothy’s relationship. In 2 Timothy 3:10 Paul says to Timothy:
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.”
Earlier in the same letter (2:2) Paul gives Timothy the same charge when he says,
“and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
Paul wants Timothy to take what he has learned from Paul and emulate it for others to see, teaching them. Count the “spiritual” generations in the bolded verse above. There are four of them: Paul, Timothy, faithful men, others.
Two challenges for you (probably in this order):
- Find a Paul in your life that can mentor you. This means identifying someone you know that looks more like Jesus than you do (that should be an easy task, I know it was for me). Ask them to disciple you (that’s the more difficult task, but worth it). For some that looks like grabbing lunch once every week or two and discussing spiritual walks. Throughout the process of being discipled you have to humble yourself and accept the advice given. Open yourself up in humility and let that person speak into your life and genuinely listen. Proud people can’t be discipled.
- Find a Timothy that you can mentor. Discipleship must have outlets, in addition to inlets, to be healthy. You have to be imitating and following other Christ-like people, but you also have to be intentionally pouring into those whom aren’t as far as you on the journey of following Jesus. Sometimes they will ask you to disciple them (rare, but it happens), other times you have to take the step out and say “Hey, I recognize a lot of potential in you. Want to read through a book of the Bible together?” It may be awkward at first, but, hey, it’s worth it.
Discipleship is NEVER done in isolation. You need other believers to guide and direct you on the path to Christ. So, follow them well, with some intention! Then, once you are getting down the Christian life and are ready to show others how to run the race, grab someone who you can run a few steps ahead of and model Jesus for them. You can’t lead until you follow. This is command Jesus gives us in Matthew 28:20,
“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”