Paul was a very special man. Privileged with a high status in the Jewish community (of the tribe of Benjamin), himself knowledgeable and a teacher of the law [Phil 3:5], and owning a Roman citizenship [Acts 22:28] – He was an elite amongst the elite, and he sought to persecute Christians, the trendiest hobby of the Pharisees then. He stood and stared and gave his approval as the Jews stoned Stephen [Acts 8:1], a man of faith, to death. Still known as Saul, whom the Church and the apostles feared and avoided, he headed towards Damascus and was converted in godly style [Acts 9]. From then on a huge enemy of the Church was removed and a great apostle was gained, and he preached the message of Christ like the elite he was, planting churches and nurturing many great leaders of the Church, scolded other apostles for their weaknesses and waging war on the false teachers by calling them out. Eventually, he martyred for the Lord.
A very lacking summary of Paul, but what a man he was. Even if a man like this doesn’t say, imitate me, don’t you feel the urge to imitate him?
Analysis: Imitate Me
As proud as I urge you to imitate me may sound, Paul teaches us a huge lesson on leadership by saying it. That’s what he was, a leader of the church, an apostle, a role model for the Christians. He lives a holy and blameless life so that he can always point to himself as an example for others without pride or hypocrisy. He had such confidence in his own integrity – which was not made up of boasting, but an integrity that can be testified by others and evidenced by his actions. Paul speaks of his consistency – he teaches the same things everywhere in every church, which is in agreement with his way of life in Christ Jesus [1 Cor 4:17]. At all times, a leader should live out a consistently upright life. At times, a leader sacrifices for the good of those who look to him as example [2 Thes 3:9]. Paul appeals for everybody to learn from him, and practise it out – Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you – just as it has been with him [Phil 4:9]. And if learning Christian leadership, who best to look to then Paul himself?
In context of 1 Corinthians, Paul had just chided the Corinthian Church for their tendency to form sects and honour people instead of God [1 Cor 3:3-9], so why tell them to follow him now? Paul was most likely trying to say, look at me, I only follow Christ, and not anyone else. I only imitate and honour Christ. You should be like me. Imitate me by not forming sects. Follow Christ. He was not trying to breed a following for himself, but to use his own life as an example to break down the divisions in the Church caused by such tendencies.
In all his qualities and actions, there is one important underlying factor – Christ. If Paul says imitate me, yet did not have a life rooted in Christ, or did not point us back to Christ, he will literally be asking people to follow him out of his worldly ways and human intellect, and that would have been pride. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ [1 Cor 11:1]. Paul is essentially saying, imitate me, because I imitate Christ. In his claim, there is no pride or hypocrisy, because he truly led a Christ-like life.
Analysis: Imitate Jesus
I am the light of the world.Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life [John 8:12]. That we should look to Jesus and act in a Christ-like manner is a concept that Jesus himself had preached. When he calls for people to follow him [Luke 9:23|Article], it is not just a call for us to put our faith in Him, but to follow his ways, which he had lived out.
I’d like to think of Jesus not as a role model, but the goal itself. Paul was a role model, not the only role model, certainly, but perhaps one of the best in the Bible. Paul was a role model on how to live like Jesus. Our goal is Jesus. But we can take heart in the fact that man is capable of living a Christ-like life, as Paul had demonstrated in all his teachings and actions. Paul explained the teachings of Christ and lived it out as an example for others to follow, applying himself in a way that made him more relevant in the context of the earlier church as an example.
The underlying message is clear. Imitate Jesus. Have a Christ-like life. But Paul offers his own life as guidance on doing it. He imitates Jesus. Imitate Paul, and we imitate our Lord Jesus.
Jesus was perfect, upright and blameless, and we can say that in confidence. What about Paul? Even those he was specially chosen to be an apostle, even though he lived such an upright life and taught so much – he was still mortal. While there’s perhaps nothing to fault him in his actions, he hasn’t been the easiest man to like. I honestly don’t like him very much, even though I appreciate his epistles a lot. He watched and approved the stoning of Stephen! How horrible! Granted, that was before his conversion. He reprimanded Peter for his hypocrisy! Granted, Peter deserved it, but still, I like Peter and his deeds – they are so much easier to relate to. He refused to take John Mark back [Acts 15:38] when Barnabas wanted to and had an epic falling out with Barnabas [Acts 15:39]. Granted, it is hard to blame Paul in those circumstances, for Mark really did desert him before [Acts 13:13] – and Barnabas was allegedly Mark‘s cousin. Whether these were considered faults or not (probably not), Paul was undoubtedly a (very) strict man who refused to compromise on his Christ-like ways. As much as he was hard to like (for me, at least), what a man he was! What a life he led!
Our ultimate aim should be to imitate Jesus. But in situations that we don’t know how to go about doing that, let us imitate Paul, who had demonstrated it out for us. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you [Phil 3:17]. Paul is not our only role model. In the Bible, there are many. Throughout history, there have been many. In our own lives, surely there are many as well. Let us follow their examples, because it helps lead us one step closer to a Christ-like life.