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by Jacob Ninan
These are the words of the apostle Paul to the people in the church at Corinth, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1Cor.11:1). Unlike many preachers who say, “Don’t look at me, look only at Jesus,” Paul was bold enough to tell people to imitate him. But he was not being proud in saying this. He knew that it was only the grace of God that made him what he was (1Cor.15:10), especially as he remembered how he used to be a blasphemer and persecutor before he came to Jesus (1Tim.1:13). Paul was not even saying that he was a good example for people to follow (even though we may now say that about him), but he was actually exhorting people to follow Jesus in the same way as he sought to follow Him.
Whether we like it or not, a lot of what we are now (but not all) is the result of imitating other people. As young kids we observed our parents (or whoever brought us up) and began to imitate their behaviour, words, accents, etc. That was the early part of our learning process. Since our parents were not perfect, we must realise that all of us have also learned many wrong things from them as we grew up. (I am not giving an excuse for dishonouring our parents! We are ourselves imperfect and maybe others are learning from us!) Sometimes it is sad to hear some young people say that they wished they had some good role models as they grew up so that many of their present problems could have been avoided. Of course we cannot change our past. But we can learn to change how we respond to our past, and we can make sure that we do not allow our past to ruin our present and the future. That is one of the things Jesus came to teach us.
When we come into the teenage years there is a natural tendency for us to become hero worshippers. Our heroes may be in games, sports, music, movies, etc., and our one ambition is to become like them. We watch them, observe everything they say and do, and slowly we begin to imitate them in different ways. Some of this imitation is innocent and will go away as we grow up. But some of it can lead us in wrong directions if these ‘heroes’ are of the bad sort.
When I was young my desire was to become a rock guitarist! My pursuit led me little by little into the world of rock and exposed me to that world’s accompanying vices. But thank God, before I could get sucked into it Jesus met with me in a youth meeting and turned my life around. My passion became to follow Him and to become like Him.
It is good to have good role models to follow. Jesus said about the master-disciple (guru-shishya) relationship that its ultimate aim was for a disciple to become like the master (Matt.10:25). We must recognise, however, that whatever examples we have now are not perfect like Jesus, and now we must be careful to pick and choose what we imitate.
If we try to imitate a hero in cricket or football, we can follow their actions, their techniques etc., with respect to their special expertise. But we know we cannot depend, for example, on what they say about religion even though they are great cricketers or footballers! Expertise in one area does not automatically make them experts in other areas of life. Some people do not seem to recognise this, and they make much about some famous sports star or film actor who has come to the Lord as if they are experts in faith also.
Suppose our hero is some preacher or a worship leader. What should we learn to imitate? Our tendency is to try and imitate their technique—how they speak or sing, what they do with their hands, how they move around, etc. We may think (without being aware of it) that if only we can do things the way they do we will also become successful. But that is not true. When it comes to a life with God, it is not techniques that lead to success but our heart attitude before God and our relationship with Him. Techniques may seem to succeed, for a time and with people who do not have much discernment. But real success comes with the anointing of God, and it is by God giving grace to us when He sees our heart right before Him.
We looked earlier at Paul telling the Corinthians to imitate him. If we read the previous verses (1Cor.10:31-33) we can understand the context in which he said this. He was telling them to imitate him in the way he was seeking to do everything for the glory of God and for the benefit of others rather than his own gain. It was not Paul’s methods or techniques that they had to follow, but his spirit, desire, ambition, goal and the approach he took to serving God and people.
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb.13:7). We need to consider how godly they have become (the result of their preaching in their own lives and in the lives of those who have heard them), and imitate their faith and not their techniques.
These are days when many are trying to become heroes. But not all who appear to be heroes are worth following, because godly fruit is lacking in some cases. So, as young people, choose your heroes carefully. Jesus tells us to look for fruit by which we can tell if we are looking at good or bad trees, when we are looking at possible role models. And, in order to be able to judge the fruit correctly, we must also have in ourselves a good foundation in the knowledge of God’s word, and it should not be something we have received second hand from ‘heroes’!
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