When you’re looking to launch a movement that is focused on something more than its own growth but looking to send laborers who will multiply their lives for the kingdom you become enthralled by Paul of Tarsus and Jesus. These two guys were all about multiplication.
One of the things I am more and more thankful of are Paul’s letters. I like them because they give us glimpses into Paul’s thoughts and heart. For a very long time I have loved the letter to the Philippians. I think I’m drawn to it because of its tone of love and kindness. Paul isn’t dealing with any major problems but he is writing to folks who have cared for him and supported him. He is giving them words of encouragement and saying “thank you”.
In particular I have spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about the ramifications of 3:17:
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
This verse has me thinking hard about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Here are some quick reflections, these are a bit raw, not fully formed, but I think very helpful:
The word “imitating” is a noun that has the sense of “joint imitators”. Paul is not wanting them to imitate him as much as he wants them to join with him in imitating Jesus.
He wants them to imitate all the things laid in the previous few verses:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
What are they to imitate? A forgetting about lies behind and a straining forward to what lies ahead. He doesn’t want the Philippians to get stuck in their own heads or hearts, focusing on the past and their sin. He wants them to imitate him in embracing the identity that they have in Christ, the reality that Jesus has made them his own. This means that their pasts are forgiven, mercy granted, grace overwhelmingly extended, and an unconditional love lavished on them in spite of their past and brokenness.
Could you imagine if we lived this way? This is a radical move from the normal Christian way of life and thinking. We no longer focus on our pasts and we are freed from worrying about the pasts of other. We instead strain toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. This is liberty. This is freedom. This is grace made real.
When it comes to launching a movement this call to imitation is critical. This is the very way of Jesus’ discipleship. Paul has tapped into this truth in a fundamental way. We invite people into our lives and we model the grace centered life by forgetting the past and straining toward God. We invite people to join us in imitating Christ the same way that Paul has.
The thing that is running through your head is this, “My life is unworthy of imitation.” And a sense of shame, guilt, or futility sets in.
But, that’s the beauty of the whole thing. Paul even says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.” He knows he doesn’t have it all together. But, that doesn’t stop him from inviting people in because he knows that he is straining ahead because “Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
This is the beauty of the gospel life. If you can say in faith that Jesus has made you his own then you can invite people to imitate you. You’re discipling people then and multiplying your life.
Now send them to do the same…