I have to admit, as a younger Christian, Paul's statement here bothered me. I submitted my life to Christ just before my 21st birthday. I was enamored with Jesus (still am)! And I couldn't figure out this guy telling people to imitate him, and not Jesus. It rubbed me the wrong way. As I read more Scripture, I noticed this wasn't a one-time thing for Paul. He devoted quite a few verses to this idea:
"For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us . . ." (2 Thess. 3:7) "It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate." (2 Thess. 3:9) "And you became imitators of us and of the Lord . . ." (1 Thess. 1:6)
And then I noticed the author of Hebrews piled on:
"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb. 13:7) ". . . so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Heb. 6:12)
As I grew in my faith and knowledge of the Scriptures, I came to understand that Paul wasn't being brash, or arrogant. Paul and the author of Hebrews understood imitation as an important part of discipleship.
I want to remind you today that part of your call is to be a model for your students to imitate.
I recently had the chance to speak to a large gathering of youth ministers in GA. One of the challenges we discussed was this concept. As people with a sin-nature, we know that our hearts are far from perfect. We know our personal weaknesses. We know where we stumble. And because we know exactly where we fall short of God's standard of holiness, we shrink away from seeing ourselves as a model to be followed. But this is a mistake.
You should be able to echo without hesitation, Paul's words: "be imitators of me." I understand how this feels. I understand that you might not want to accept this challenge. I understand that you might even defer based on biblical principle. You might be inclined to say, "Wait Andy, I want my students to imitate Christ, not me." Well, the way I see it, I'm not sure you have the luxury of separating the two.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." Paul could tell people to imitate him because he lived his life imitating Christ. Was Paul perfect? No. And he knew this. That's why in Ephesians 5:1 he said, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children." Paul understood that Christ was the ultimate model. But he also understood that a vital element of discipleship was for an individual to imitate the spiritual leaders in his or her life.
Want a practical example? Think about a bottle of water. An assembly line can pump out millions of bottles all shaped the exact same size because it uses a model, or a form. The plastic is molded to a specific shape by conforming to the model.
You are one of those models for your students. You are a mold that shows them the shape of a Christ-follower.
Let me challenge you today: You must live your life in such a way that you welcome imitation. It's a challenge that, if you're going to continue to be in a position of influence in teenagers' lives, you simply can't back down from. It's not a challenge from me, but from Scripture. You are undeniably called by God to be a model of practical "faith-living" to your students.
Maybe you don't feel like your life is worthy of imitation. Trust me, I understand. But the fact of the matter is this: your students will imitate you whether you want them to or not.
The question you must ask is what kind of model you are being.
If your students are imitating you, what kind of Christ-followers are they becoming?