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Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Faithfulness
Preparing for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Three Days before Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Old Testament: Genesis 29:1-8
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:14-20
Psalter: Psalm 119:129-136
Old Testament: 1 Kings 1:28-37
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:14-20
O sovereign God, in Jesus Christ you set your holy reign upon this earth and within your people. So let its coming be like the mustard seed that grows into greatness, and like the leaven that mixes with the grain until the whole becomes greater, to the praise of the triune God, who lives forevermore. Amen.
I am not writing this to make you ashamed but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I fathered you through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and trustworthy child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church. But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power (1 Corinthians 4:14-20).
Imitate me. Embrace my values. Do things the way I do them. This in essence is Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians. The first impression would have us believe that Paul is being arrogant. How would we hear that if someone said that to us today? The Corinthians are divided. They are fighting amongst each other. There are those in the church who believe that they know what is right and good. Such arrogance is tearing the Corinthian church apart.
So, what good can it do for Paul to inject himself into this conversation to say, “No, you’re doing it wrong. I know how it’s done. You imitate me.” Do the Corinthians need one more self-confident and self-righteous leader? Is that the way to view Paul’s words? We deflect praise by saying things like “I was just doing what anyone else would do,” or “I lucked out and got it right," or “Other people have greater accomplishments than I do.” Of course, humility is good but should genuine humility keep us from acknowledging the truth about ourselves when that truth reflects well on us?
An interesting question to ask is whom should the Corinthians imitate? They live in a pagan culture where they have no examples of what it means to follow Christ. Whom would Paul possibly point to other than himself in reflecting the character of Jesus? Is Paul expressing a self-righteous arrogance by insisting the Corinthians imitate him or is he using himself as an example to counter the self-righteous arrogance of many in the Corinthian congregation?
In one sense, Paul is putting a great burden upon himself in charging the Corinthians to reflect his attitudes and his actions because he dare not get it wrong. If Paul is the one who reflects Jesus Christ to the Corinthians, he must faithfully imitate Christ. Paul dare reveal nothing less than the person of Jesus in his thoughts, words, and deeds. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I tell you that would be a lot of pressure to have to live with.
Fortunately, today we have plenty of examples of those we should imitate because their lives imitate Jesus. We don’t necessarily have to point to ourselves as the example, but we must live our lives in such a way in order to be a good example of Christ that others can imitate. So, while I do not have to single myself out as a prime example, I must remember that I am an example of living the Christlike life, whether I like it or not.
People will see Christ in me and hopefully will imitate that Christ. May God forgive me when I have reflected less than the life of Jesus and led people down the wrong path.
PRAYER: Seed-planting, fish-netting, bread-baking, pearl-hunting God, you shape us into living parables. Pray with your Spirit in us so that we may understand our experiences as healing metaphors, and become creative and abundant stewards of the environment you entrusted to our love. Amen.
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