Okay, so that my long intro for what I really want to cover this morning.
Paul says in v16, imitate me because I am your father in Christ.
When it comes to discipleship, there are 2 extremes we should avoid. We should avoid–be just like me because I am your older and I am a spiritual authority in your life by virtue of my seniority in this church or my position. That’s one extreme to avoid because we have to first evaluate, is this person worthy to imitate or not? If the answer is yes, then by all means, imitate that person. But don’t imitate just because he has a position or title.
The other extreme to avoid is–you don’t have to imitate me because you have Christ. That’s a cop out. That’s for someone who is struggling with their walk with God who says, do as I say, not as I do. That’s shirking of responsibility. The fact that Christians are to disciple others is a positive pressure on the discipler to ensure that what I say is what I do so that when I share with someone I am discipling, there is force behind my words.
Why should we imitate Paul?
Simple answer: we can imitate Paul to the extent that 1) he was being faithful to the gospel, 2) he had a Christ-like character and 3) he lived in a Christ-like manner.
First, we should imitate Paul to the extent that he was being faithful to the gospel. We already covered this one. We know that Paul was faithful to the gospel. He was faithful in preaching it. He was faithful in ensuring that nothing was added or taken away from it. To the Corinthian church, whose members were departing from the gospel and chasing after spiritual gifts and elevating leaders, his rebuke was simple–you are not rejecting me, but you are rejecting the gospel. So you guys have to return to the gospel.
Second, we should imitate Paul to the extent that he had a Christ-like character. Christ models for us humble submission and dependence to his Heavenly Father. Jesus prays to God, he depends on God, he doesn’t do anything unless God directs him, he gives all the glory to God. So Jesus in His relationship with His heavenly Father is modeling for us how we, as Christians in the body of Christ, ought to relate with Jesus, who is our head. Just as Jesus depended on the Father, we depend on Jesus. We point others to Jesus. We give Jesus the glory. He occupies the center stage and we belong to him, we serve him, not the other way around.
Third and this flows out of a Christ-like character, we should imitate Paul to the extent that he lived in a Christ-like manner. There is power in Paul’s life because he not only preached the gospel, but he embodied the gospel. Meaning, he lived it out.
Earlier, we went over the stark contrast between how Paul lived out his faith in Christ vs. how the Corinthian leaders lived it out. To sum it up, Paul lived by the theology of the cross while the Corinthians followed a theology of self-glory. For Paul, the cross was more than a theology. It was a way of life.
12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
Paul suffered for the gospel, he was rejected for the gospel, when he was wronged, he blessed. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? Isn’t that the kind of life Jesus lived?
Jesus suffered, he was rejected, he was mistreated, yet he blessed, he loved, he forgave the very people who were out to kill him. It’s the way of the cross. Jesus didn’t live the way of the cross only in the final moments of his life when he was about to die. The cross permeated everything that Jesus did in his earthly ministry. And the world called Jesus a fool.
We really need to think through these verses carefully. When you are cursed by someone, how do you respond? Is it to bless that person? Put yourself into Paul’s shoes. When you are persecuted, do you bite your lip and endure it? When you are slandered, do you answer kindly? When someone calls you scum of the earth, the refuse of the world, do you take it?
These are sobering questions. I have met too many Christians and if you measured their lives against these verses, they would fail miserably. Their version of these verses would be something like this: when I am cursed, I curse back; when I am persecuted, I fight back; When I am slandered, I slander that person to my spouse, my friends, my church, I even blog about it to the world; when someone calls me a scum of the earth, first of all, how dare they; second, I can’t even repeat what I might want to shout back, or if I am more civilized, what I might mutter under my breath.
Your response when someone curses you, persecutes you, slanders you is a good indication of whether the cross has remained merely a theology in your life or it has really sunk deep into who you are. Check your life. This is really important.
Jesus was called a fool in the eyes of this world. Likewise, Paul refers to himself as a fool for Christ in v10. Paul’s everyday life was impacted by the cross. It was more than a theology for him. It was more than head knowledge. It was a way of life. That’s why he says in v17 —
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.