Then I urge you, be imitators of me 1 Corinthians 4:16
Then – Paul calls us to follow his example because he follows the example of Jesus. We know that this is the divine pattern of the Christian life – follow the leader. But what we often overlook is the description that Paul provides of the imitated life. Paul doesn’t call us to just any kind of ethical behavior. He calls us to particular kinds of actions; actions that he describes in verses 9 to 15. If we forget that this famous verse begins with “then” (oun), we won’t see that it is the direct result of a very scary declaration.
The Greek word oun acts like a bridge between thoughts. It is often translated by “accordingly” or “therefore.” Paul’s argument begins with his description of how he behaved. Since he is the one who brought the good news of the gospel to these Corinthians, he tells them that they are to behave in the same way. What is that? Let’s take a serious look.
First, he notes that those sent to proclaim the good news (apostles) are considered spectacles. They are society’s scapegoats because they stand in opposition to the systems of this world. Furthermore, they are consigned to death as a result of taking up this calling. Paul says they are fools because of the Messiah. In other letters we know that Paul considers this commitment to Yeshua more important than any other relationship or treasure in life. He counts all of his personal gain as garbage compared to this. I wonder if we think of this kind of example when we hear Paul say, “Imitate me.”
Next Paul says that his example is an example of weakness. That doesn’t sound very appealing in a world that glorifies strength. Our culture worships the strong. Paul’s example stands utterly opposed to such idolatry. If God is going to use us, it will not be through those things that we are able to do on our own. If we are to imitate Paul, a lot of pride will have to be set aside.
Paul follows with a comment about honor. Those who subscribe to the world’s standards can expect to be honored for their achievements. But that doesn’t apply here. Those who carry the message of the forgiving God are more likely to be held in contempt. They are dishonored. They are rejected. They are considered deranged, unwelcome and distasteful. Furthermore, they defer all accolades to the One they follow even when they are recognized. They live lives of ignominy. Their world is a long way away from the cover of Forbes, Sports Illustrated or Vogue.
Paul concludes with a series of descriptions that would make most of us run: hungry and thirsty, naked, homeless, used as punching bags, wandering, laboring with our own hands, cursed and persecuted. What is Paul’s response? To bless, to bear up, to intercede on behalf of the abusers.
Now we know what imitating means. Now we can evaluate our own life copies. I don’t know about you, but I have a long way to go and a lot to change.
Topical Index: Discipleship