Summary: When we imitate Jesus as our Role Model, we become role models for others to follow.
As a child and youth I learned that anything which was an imitation was cheap and not as good in quality as the original. It was not the best product for your money. The first King James Bible that my parents gave me was genuine Moroccan leather, the very best quality in the entire world. I still have it in my library after all these years. I had other Bibles that were imitation leather, not “the real McCoy.” They soon became tattered, torn, beat up, and no longer are around.
We often think that the words imitation, an imitator, or imitate convey the idea that you simply copy the original and that the end result in not of the same superior quality as the master. Paintings of all the great artists are continually imitated, copied. You know they are phony, fake, and worthless in comparison. Yet our text this morning implores us: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The verb imitate and the noun imitator only appear a total of eleven times in the entire New Testament. This Greek family of words is the root from which we get our English equivalents mime and mimic. An actor that is proficient in mime entertains us by using only gestures and facial expressions, never speaking a word. Often that results in pleasure and joy.
However, one who mimics often ridicules others, and that brings negative responses. In the beginning the original Greek words portrayed the negative meaning. They “suggested an awkward attempt to ape someone else’s behavior.” [--Lawrence O. Richards, Expository Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publications, 1985), 352.]
Meanings of words often change in any language with the passing of time. By the time these words meaning “to imitate” or to be an imitator were used in the New Testament they only communicated a most powerful and positive message. They exhort us to follow the pattern of the most holy and godly role models we find in Scripture in living our own lives as Christian disciples. When the New Testament calls us to imitate the saints of Scripture, it is imploring us to follow them as a pattern for our own lives.
Who are the heroes and heroines you have made the patterns for your own life? Who is the role model or who are the role models for your live as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Paul upholds Jesus as our ultimate Role Model to follow in our Christian discipleship, but at the same time he can honestly lift up himself as a Christian role model as well. He exhorts the Church at Thessalonica in I Thessalonians 1:6-7: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” The Thessalonian Christians followed Jesus and Paul as their role models in Christian living and thus became role models themselves for all other Christians in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia to immolate and follow.
Paul could call on Christians in all the Churches to follow him as their role model because he set a good, positive, Christlike example, as he honestly testifies in I Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” The word follow and the word imitate are the same word in the original Greek. We can just as equally well translate this verse: “Imitate my example, as I imitate the example of Christ.” Jesus was Paul’s “All in all,” for he could affirm in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” As the praise and worship, scriptural chorus renders Paul’s testimony:
It’s no longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me.
He lives, He lives, Jesus is alive in me,
It’s no longer I that liveth but Christ that liveth in me.
[SCRIPTURE IN SONG: SONGS OF PRAISE (Mission, Kansas, 1978), 8.]
Paul was a role model for other Christians to follow because Jesus so clearly lived in him.
Jesus is our supreme Role Model for our lives as Christian disciples. Recall our text once more: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In imitating Jesus we “live a life of love, just as He loved us and gave himself up for us.” Such love is His agape love. It is always unconditional and self-sacrificing. It never discriminates against anyone and sets no conditions to receive it.