1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Paul is not out to big-note himself. He is not on an ego trip boasting that he has it sorted and he is the only one worth following. Not at all. Paul is to be imitated to the extent that he imitates Christ. Paul is saying that if the Corinthian believers want to learn how to live as a follower of Christ, then they are to watch and emulate him.
Paul understood that Christian character is as much caught as taught. That is, it is learnt by constant association with others. Older Christians are the models by which younger Christians learn the holy habits and godly lifestyle that distinguishes them from those who do not know Christ. By nature, we are imitators and learn this habit from an early age in life. So, it is crucial that as God’s men and women we are imitating the right people.
If we do not have sound godly models leading us in the faith, we are likely to follow poor or misleading examples. So, whom should we follow?
Christians need to emulate those who are interested in the well-being of others, rather than putting their own desires and interests first. Paul exalts the character of Timothy who was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the church in Philippi. “For all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:21). Godly leaders have learnt to caste aside self-interest, self-comfort and self-focus. Do we follow leaders who have developed this habit of helpfulness through self-sacrifice?
Christians need to emulate those who have proven themselves in hardship. Paul was eager to send Epaphroditus to the Christians in Philippi who longed to see him “for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” (Philippians 2:30). Leaders who have faced discomfort and risked danger for the sake of the gospel have a testimony that bears witness to their love for Christ and His church. Their example shows that they truly seek first His Kingdom before their own comfort and security.
Christians need to emulate leaders whose confidence and boast are in Jesus Christ, not themselves and their credentials. Paul reminded the Philippians that if anyone should have confidence in themselves it was himself. He then gives a thorough list of his personal achievements and completes his rhetoric with the statement, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Nothing counts as much as knowing Christ. Paul’s humble leadership is a fine example in which he makes his boast in the wonder of knowing Christ, rather than the achievements he had gained through his own efforts. An exemplary leader can join with Paul in saying, “ For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:8).
Christians need to emulate those who are continuing to grow spiritually, rather than stagnate. Do we follow a leader who yearns to know Christ? Or do our Christian leaders settle for a shallow, naive knowledge of the Lord? We must emulate leaders who are pressing on to lay hold of more of Christ in their lives and whom Christ is able to freely get a hold of!
Paul attributes this way of thinking to all who are mature in Christ. It is mandated that all Christians should grow in their knowledge of Christ both in daily living and in doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16) so that holiness becomes more and more attractive and our sin less and less excusable. Leaders who persist in keeping a close watch on themselves, and on their teachings, will save both themselves and those who emulate them.
Christians need to follow those who eagerly await Jesus’ return. Unlike those “whose end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3: 19), we would do well to follow leaders who have crucified the desires of the flesh and live their life in the light and anticipation of Christ’s return.
Finally, Christians ought to emulate leaders who have disciplined their minds to think about and speak all that is holy. We recognize godly leaders by the words that proceed from their mouth.
Philippians 4:8 whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’
Christian leaders are to set a standard of talk that influences believers in a godly and Christ-honoring way. If our leaders grumble and complain, whine and whine, focus on the griefs of the current climate and neglect to uphold conversations that point others to Christ, His Word and His eternal goodness, we have not chosen our leaders well.
A congregation is only as mature and godly as their leaders. Young Christians need older men and women who will help them aspire to maturity, not keep them as infants in the Lord. We live in an age when people give plausibility to anything and certainty to nothing. But God’s leaders who love Jesus and train themselves unto godliness, are able to dispel false doctrine as they are grounded in the truths of the gospel. These are the men and women who will be the very best models that set the example for younger believers to emulate and aspire to become.
Let’s consider with all seriousness the models that we are following, and if a leader ourselves, what we are modelling before others.