Follow Me as I Follow Christ
There is a point in the first letter to the Corinthians where Paul invites the Corinthians to do as he does–to imitate him. In fact, Paul says this several times in the letter:
1 Corinthians 4:16 – “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.”
1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
In the first example, Paul is defending his apostleship to this congregation that he planted. Some within the community have begun listening to another teacher–something that is perfectly acceptable to Paul; however, they also then reject Paul as less worthy. This is where Paul begins his defense. He considers himself the father of their faith. He helped to raise them into faith. And so rather than reject him in favor of another teacher, they are to imitate him. Listen to other teachers and weigh their words? Absolutely. But do not reject Paul who has devoted his life to sharing the Gospel and who brought the Gospel to your community.
In the later verse, Paul begins talking about some of the particular issues that this community in Corinth is facing, particularly what to do with activities associated with the pagan religions. Paul’s answer to this dilemma? He says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “Everything is permitted, but everything is not beneficial.” Paul encourages the disciples there to use discernment. If something will not distract from the message of Jesus, then it can be done, but if it keeps you or someone else from understanding who Jesus is, then let that go. And that’s when Paul says this line–“follow my example as I follow Christ’s.”
And this is what amazes me about Paul and his ministry. Paul is able to adapt the Gospel to whoever needs to hear it most and stay true to the central message about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Jesus was able to do this too with the expectations that were present for a Messiah figure, with the regulations and rules concerning the Law, and even with social mores and cues that were present in the Jewish society.
Paul and Jesus both were able to boil things down to the most important level. For Jesus, this meant that we needed to learn to love God and love our neighbors. It meant that no one was outside of God’s attention. All people had value, even those who everyone else would rather ignore and walk right on past. For Paul, this meant that meat sacrificed to idols was a secondary issue to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It meant that customs and Laws were not the end to which the people needed to pay attention–the customs and Laws only served as a means to understand and come close to God. When the customs and Laws failed to help people draw near to God, then they shouldn’t hold anyone back from reaching God through the person of Jesus.
The idea was simple. Follow Jesus. Follow the people who follow Jesus. When a question arises about how to best faithfully follow Jesus, use discernment together. Trust the Spirit of God to lead you in the right path.
When Jesus first called his followers, the invitation was simple: “Follow me.”
And those simple words changed their lives. It didn’t make them easy and without questions along the way. (Remember, when we read about the disciples, they seem to get things wrong much more often than they get them right. It isn’t until they receive the Spirit at Pentecost that they begin to truly understand and devote themselves to this new way of living in the world.)
Today, may we be imitators of those early disciples and apostles, like Paul, who sought to follow Jesus. May we trust in God’s Spirit to lead us. May we discern together how we can best be faithful to the story of Jesus and message of hope that he brings to the world.