So, I must start off by confessing that I love a good mimic. Good imitations and impressions fascinate me. For me there’s always a bit of tension to see of the impressionist can deliver. A bad impression is cringe-worthy. It hits right in the middle-school feels (the on-stage in front of everyone and you just blow it kind of feels). But a good imitation? A good mimic is a thrill. A good mimic -briefly- becomes their model. They say what they say and look like they look. Becoming another person is so uncanny. And that’s one of the central goals of our faith.
The first letter to the Corinthians is… well… pointed. This church was in a bad way. There were divisions. There were fights. There was more, but this is a letter about family to family, and I won’t drag their name through the mud on the Internet (we find out in the second letter they got their act together quite well).
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church he contrasted his lifestyle and Jesus’ lifestyle with their own. The difference was pretty stark (his poverty, reproach, and beatings vs. their lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous antics), and after addressing many issues, he twice calls them to imitate himself as he imitates Christ.
I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.
-1 Cor 4:14-16
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
-1 Cor 10:31-11:1
Whole books are written on 1 Corinthians; I will make no attempt to do so in one post. Rather, I am drawn to these two passages for that one word: imitate.
What Does It Mean to Imitate?
The goal of imitation is to look and sound like a model. Right now Miss E is learning to walk and dance and talk. Every day I see more and more of her actions that are mimicry of mine and Mrs. J’s. Little things like how she pats my tie even before I ask her not to untie it (when I first started to teach her not to untie it I would pat it down) or how she tries to say “thank you” when I hand her something (which she only started saying when I thanked her for giving me something).
We imitate when we copy speech patterns and words. I can often tell on my campus who has which professors by the phrases they choose and the topics they study. They do more than learn from their professors, they mimic their passions and study.
Paul told the Corinthians that they may have instructors without end, but few fathers. I’ve had many professors, but I find myself only truly mimicking my parents, grandparents, and mentors. These are the people that copied their patterns into my life. And now it’s my turn. As a parent we don’t simply instruct, we teach by putting our children’s feet onto ours and dancing.
Discipleship and Imitation
In my post “Are Discipleship and Stewardship the Same Thing?” I make the argument that Discipleship is the process of Learning and Teaching the Way [of Christ] while Stewardship is Practicing the Way [of Christ]. The process of making disciples means that we share the Gospel, then teach new believers what it means to do the same. Teaching them all that Christ commands means that we not only acquaint one another with Christ commands, but that we demonstrate what that looks like. We demonstrate what loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength looks like. We demonstrate what loving our neighbor as ourselves looks like. We demonstrate what serving one another looks like.
Or if you rather: we take new believers feet onto ours and show them how to dance.