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“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
Here in verse 17 of our text we find another of those places that make us cringe just a little inside, as Paul invites his readers to follow his example and to walk according to the pattern he has set for them and the tendency is to think to ourselves that we could never be so bold. We know our faults and our own failures, and I think there is also a tendency to venerate Paul, great Apostle that he was, and to feel that he had attained to some high spiritual plane that is unreachable for the rest of us.
Well of course we would all agree, I’m sure, that Paul was a very great man and that he was probably the best preacher of all, second only to the Preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. After all, we develop most of our sermons from what we have been taught by the Apostle. But let’s be reminded that Paul expressed a personal dissatisfaction with his spiritual maturity; not in the sense of a self-prideful self-flagellation over personal failures he saw in himself, but in the sense of an awareness that there would always be a work going on in him to conform him to the image of his Lord until the day he was taken home.
In other words, Paul didn’t worship Paul and he was not calling for us to worship him when he wrote, ‘…join in following my example’.
What he was conveying was that he was absolutely and joyfully certain of his eternal acceptance with the Father on the one hand, and on the other acutely aware of the fact that God was not finished with him yet and he was therefore determined to cooperate in the sanctifying process, walking in the way of holiness, in the world but not of it, confident that God would complete what He had begun.
That is the example Paul wanted his readers to follow. His example of belief and practice. Assurance and diligence. Not anything mechanical; not mimicking some act or idiosyncrasy distinctive to Paul, but the pattern of absolute confidence in the finished work of Christ to make him secure before the throne of God for eternity, and earnest, relentless reaching forward for the heavenly prize that awaits him which is ultimate conformity to the very image of Jesus.
In that, we can indeed follow Paul’s example and insofar as we are doing so we can, without false humility and without hypocrisy, encourage others to follow our pattern also.
We have a crown of righteousness laid up and waiting for us who have loved His appearing. We know that when we see Him we shall be like Him for we shall see Him face to face. He has made it a surety for us and promised us He will return and take us there.
In the meantime He wants to call us deeper in and higher up, and forsaking the things of the world and the flesh we are pressing on toward that upward call.
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