Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Re: XLT’s comments on IMITATE ME!

Thanks Josh. I appreciate your keeping me in line. You addressed these comments in the form of questions, so I guess I need to answer them. I’ll try.

“Where is the line? For both right actions and sins when am I doing the right things enough or resisting sin enough to begin preaching for the virtue or against the sin?”

“Isn’t it too important to the spiritual life of the congregation to sit back and wait until we are comfortable with our mastery of a virtue or mastery over a sin, to warn those in our care of its dangers?”

You referred to James 3:1: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” I don’t believe there is a clear cut line, but I believe that as teachers we should be dealing with the areas about which we teach. The New Testament gives principles and warnings but often doesn’t draw clear-cut lines. James doesn’t in this verse.

I do believe, however, that we ought to examine our own lives. The qualifications for spiritual leaders are pretty tight. See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. The expression “above reproach” seems to me to sum them all up. I don’t think Paul is talking about complete perfection, but of relative maturity. These men are to be exemplary to the congregation and according to 1 Timothy 3:7, to “have a good reputation with those outside (the church).”

If we don’t find ourselves meeting these qualifications, at least in some measure, I believe we may have to remove ourselves from teaching.

“Is past struggle with a sin area to be an indication of hypocrisy in our teaching?”

No. But dishonesty about our past struggles is. I also believe that we need to admit our present struggles. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

I think you know me well enough to know that I don’t have “a kind of comfort level with (my) mastery over sin.” I hope I didn’t imply this. I haven’t mastered and I’m not comfortable.

I agree “that Paul is speaking of particular actions of his that are worthy of imitation,” in 1 Corinthians 4:16. The list is there in verses 11-13. But there’s more than actions here. He is battering them with sarcasm to try to get them in line and to remind them that he is their spiritual father.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he is concluding a section dealing with the attitudes of the strong toward the weak (chapters 8-10). He has held himself up as an example not only in this verse but throughout the section. In chapter 9, he presents himself as an example of one who foregoes his rights. His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, “do all to the glory of God,” also includes the words “just as I …” (verse 33).

I believe a careful reading of these texts shows that Paul is going beyond simply “imitate me in this” to just plain “imitate me.” While this imitation includes actions, it also includes attitudes and character traits. Of course, our criterion for imitation must be “as I imitate Christ.” John adds another criterion: “Beloved do not imitate what is evil but what is good” (3 John 11).

Of course Paul doesn’t expect his readers to imitate him in matters that are not directly related to our imitation of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 7, he says that his preference is for the single life, but he does not expect everyone to imitate him in this matter. See especially verse 7: “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”

I agree with you that “One thing in which it is impossible for us to imitate Christ is the proper response to personal sin, …” We can’t challenge people as Jesus did, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). But even here as a Christian leader I have to be honestly striving to deal with personal sin in order to imitate Christ. And I should be an example of how to do it.

The frightening thing to me is that people do imitate us, whether we want them to or not. We can’t escape it!

A number of years ago, when I was pastoring a church, it was decided that we should have a “youth Sunday.” The teenagers were in charge of everything: the music, the announcements, even the sermon, which was preached by a young man 16 or 17 years of age. They all did a great job, but I was especially impressed by the young preacher. As I listened I thought, “This is great preaching!” He had it all put together! When I whispered my opinion to my wife, she whispered back, “Of course you like his preaching – he sounds just like you!”

That’s frightening!

Bill Ball


XLT said...

Thanks for the clarification. I agree with you and appreciate your time in responding.

Please know I was not attempting to be accusatory in anyway, but was framing questions that I have had about these issues. And they were not intended as commentary, I apologize if it seemed I was only veiling commentary as questions. I have dealt with these questions often in my own mind without the opportunity to really bounce them off of anyone.

Not trying to "keep you in line", just trying to learn.

I think the key is, as you stated, honesty regarding past and present struggles with sin. The manner in which we deal with this must be as transparent as the truth of our teaching. The manner in which we deal with sin in our own lives is as much a communication of the truth as our teaching itself.

Being "above reproach" is certainly a tall order. I do agree that it is a matter of relative maturity... in other words, at least in my understanding, if the people following me will be growing spiritually by imitating me, then I am in some measure fulfilling the requirements for leadership. I think that this is what Paul was getting at in these verses, not claiming perfection, but honestly acknowledging his own progress towards the likeness of Christ and sincerely desiring those in his care to make that same progress.

I guess I am mostly reacting to the distinct tendency among those in the church to "shoot their wounded" as cliche as that statement has become.

Key words in your response here for me are striving and struggling. I think they are two sides to the same coin. Striving for the image of Christ in our lives is inherently a struggle against sin. When we cease to struggle is the same moment we have ceased to strive. But people don't want to see the struggle in their leaders, just the end game.

The church seems often to condemn their leaders for struggling against sin, when in fact, they should be condemning the leaders who have stopped struggling against sin.

It is frightening, sobering, and humbling that we are called to be examples of this magnitude. Thanks for the reminder.


Bill Ball said...

Thanks, Josh. I appreciate you and your insights. You're a big guy! Bill

XLT said...

yes... I am that...always the big ones that are troublemakers!! :)