In Philippians 3:12-16 Paul has just given us an understanding of what Christian maturity entails. It is seen in someone who is very aware that they have not yet arrived at the final state of completion in Christ. The mature Christian presses on toward the goal and the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul places himself in this category which certainly removes any of our temptation to say that we could be any better. I am no Apostle.
In verses 17-21 Paul begins by saying that the Philippians should imitate him and take note of any who are like him in the way that they exhibit Christian maturity. Some might think Paul to be a little proud to expect people to imitate him. When we understand the context, we understand that all pride is removed. We imitate Paul when we pursue Christ with a relentless passion. Paul doesn’t want worship, he wants to be a human pointer toward worshipping Christ. We are to imitate the way Paul loves Jesus. Paul uses this same call two times in his first letter to the Corinthians (4:16, 11:1). His request for the church in Corinth to imitate him comes after him already telling them not to follow humans such as himself, Peter, or Apollos, but to only follow Christ. Only imitate a human who is running after Jesus as his prize.
Why is imitating a mature Christian such a good thing to do? Because “imitate” is a “do” word. When we see a Christian pouring over the Scriptures, adoring Jesus, loving others, praying without ceasing, enduring suffering, boldly witnessing, dying with dignity, finding satisfaction in Christ, and displaying the fruit of the Spirit, we are compelled to put these things into practice in our own life. We are not merely called to read that Paul does these things and say, “That’s nice.” We are called to imitate. My father in-law is a man who shows tender grace and gentleness to people. In him I see a wonderful godly attribute that I recognize in my Savior. I am attempting to imitate him as he imitates Jesus. This is something that is growing in me and I have by no means arrived, but this man gives me a godly attribute to follow. I see the way he practices it and the words he uses and how his actions align with what the bible says. I am thankful for him and God has used him to help me grow in this area as I practice and discipline myself.
When we are at our best, we are living in the light of Christ and helping each other to grow in being more like Him. Those who do not care to imitate the godly lives of others may also be those who have no desire to call themselves into action in practicing holiness and living out life in our Redeemer. When we do not care to be discipled by another, we are really saying that we have already arrived, there is nothing more anyone else can add to me. Even worse, some of us may even be guilty of desiring to only be a discipler, rather than ever being discipled. Are you one who is always looking for opportunity to disciple others but never seeking to be discipled yourself? This is dangerous. Let me remind us again and again - We Have Not Arrived! We press on together helping each other in the upward call of God in Christ and we await eagerly the day of His return in passionate activity as we imitate godliness.
Who are you looking at? What attributes do you see in them that you would like to develop in yourself? How do they show you Christ in action as you read the Scriptures? What are they doing and saying that you can imitate in pleasing Christ? Have you asked them some questions? Have you asked them to help you?
When Paul commends the Thessalonians for imitating him in suffering (1 Thes 1:6), he encourages them in the power of the Holy Spirit also to be an example to the believers in Macedonia (where Philippi is located). Let’s imitate so that we can be one who others can imitate. Imitate me, only in as far as I imitate Christ and pursue Him alone!