Monday, June 11, 2007


Sounds pretty arrogant, doesn’t it?

I often hear Christians saying just the opposite:
-- “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus!”
-- “I don’t want people to see me. I want them to see the Lord.”

Or, when someone is commended for some accomplishment:
-- “It wasn’t me, it was the Lord.”

Now I know these folks mean well, that they’re trying to be humble and give God the glory. I’ve even said this sort of thing a few times myself. But I believe this is a false humility, not a biblical humility. Look at the apostle Paul. I would suppose that he was a humble person, but look at what he says:
-- “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16).
-- “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us (2 Thessalonians 3:7).
-- “ … to offer ourselves as a pattern for you, that you might imitate us” (2 Thessalonians 3:9).
-- “Become imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philippians 3:17).
-- “In everything I showed you … “ (Acts 20:33-35 – read the whole thing).

And he expected those who imitated him to get others to imitate them:
-- “ … you became a pattern to all the believers … “ (1 Thessalonians 1:7).
-- “ … become a pattern for those who believe” (! Timothy 4:12).

(NOTE: I have tried to consistently translate the Greek words mimeomai, mimetes and tupos as imitate, imitation and pattern.)

How can Paul say this? It was because Paul himself was an imitator of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he makes this clear. “Be imitators of me just as I am also of Christ.” Also see 1 Thessalonians 1:6, “You also became imitators of me and of the Lord … “

Christ is our example and He holds Himself up as the example for us to imitate.
-- “I gave you an example that you also should do just as I did to you” (John 13:15).
-- “ … love one another, just as I loved you (John 13:34; 15;12).

Jesus is the ultimate example. He wants us to imitate His behavior and character. There are plenty of examples of that in the Gospels. But He’s not around us in the flesh, and neither is Paul, or any of the other New Testament saints. So we’re stuck with our fellow believers. And our assignment is not only to imitate but to be patterns or models of Jesus for others to imitate. That’s frightening!

Last week was a tremendous week for me. I taught a one-week crash course at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston. It was one of those summer classes where the students go all day long from Monday through Friday and receive 3 hours credit. The title of the course was “Foundations of Spiritual Life.” We covered everything from theological foundations to the actual practice. The practice is harder to teach than the theology.

I know that the students were doing more than reading the material – they were reading me. That’s an awesome responsibility. Twenty people, not only clinging to my every word, but observing my every action. I pray that they saw the real me and not just an actor. And I pray that in the real me they saw Jesus. I know that they picked up a few bits of wisdom, a few illustrations, a few clichés. But I just pray that they might have picked up a little bit of Jesus.

We who are teachers and spiritual leaders have no right to excuse ourselves with a false-humility. Nor do we have a right to say “Do as I say and not as I do.” Jesus had a word for folks like that. He called them “hypocrites.”

And by the way, we are all someone’s example. We do not have the right to say as Charles Barkley is alleged to have said, “I’m no role model.” We are role models to someone.

I had a boss once who said (jokingly, I hope), “Ball, you’re not completely worthless – you can always serve as a bad example!” I pray that Jesus doesn’t have to say that.

Bill Ball

1 comment:

XLT said...

I agree with you, Bill, particularly on the first part. "False Humility" = devaluing God's gift to us.

This is similar to a discussion we had in SS in the James study this past year...

1) 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?

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

It seems that this kind of comfort level with our mastery over a sin is also a false humility, one which usually precedes a lapse/relapse into that very sin or worse.

If we are awaiting perfection, we might as well go find another vocation and not stress over the stricter judgment (Jas. 3:1):).

In the first set of verses you cited, it seems that Paul is speaking of particular actions of his that are worthy of imitation. The exception seems to me to be Phil 3:17, where the emphasis is on the imitation of Paul specifically while he realized he was in the throes of imperfection, but was also in tenacious pursuit of Christlikeness.

So when we tell people "imitate me", we've got to limit that statement as he did. "Imitate me in this" not just "Imitate me." Imitate me in those things I do which emulate Christ.

2) One thing in which it is impossible for us to imitate Christ is the proper response to personal sin, which is also uniquely important for human leaders to model (and uniquely lacking on the current leadership scene).

Anyway, sorry this got so long, but these are some questions I had kind of swirling in my head as I read your post.