Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. 1 Corinthians 4:16
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1
Just what was Paul saying here? Haven't we always been taught not to follow men but to follow Christ? Didn't Paul himself rebuke the Corinthian church for following men such as Apollos and Cephas and even Paul himself? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:3-7, 21-23)
The word "follow" has a number of different meanings (as do most words!). I'll mention them here just briefly with a Bible reference to help show the difference.
#1 Pursue: Follow after (pursue, strive toward) charity, and desire spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:1
#2 Imitate: Be ye followers (imitators) of me, even as I also am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1
#3 Follow from behind: Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after (to follow) them. Acts 20:30
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after (follow) me, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27
#4 Walk with me: And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow (accompany) me. And he arose, and followed (accompanied) him. Matthew 9:9
The "following" Paul rebuked in 1 Corinthians was the third meaning: to follow from behind. Note the two verse references - one negative and one positive. "Following" of this type seems only appropriate when it is the Lord Jesus Christ we are following!
The second meaning of the word - imitate - is what Paul is talking about when writing Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1). Imitate me, Paul said, even as I also am imitating Christ.
Just recently, this type of following - imitating - was brought home to us. After spending a significant amount of time with a girl a few years younger than herself, my daughter received a letter in the mail. I quote just some of it...
"I am writing to thank you for the time you spent with [our daughter] but especially the influence you had on her. We realized the effect when we saw that [she] talked and acted like you."
This young girl was following - imitating - my daughter! Thankfully, the influence was for good and I'm grateful this mother took the time to write as it caused my daughter to do some real thinking, and myself as well.
A couple weeks later, another letter came in the mail, this time for me. The writer knew nothing about my meditation on influence, and in his short note he shared some thoughts and facts on (believe it or not!) influence. One fact was, influence will last a minimum of 100 years and often for longer.
Hmmm. That's great news, if the influence is for good! 100 years and more! But, unfortunately, the flip side is also true, leaving the impact of a negative influence for just as long.
Paul wrote to Titus and said,
In all things [shew] thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; Titus 2:7-8
He also wrote to Timothy,
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
Be a pattern. Be an example.
What was Paul's bottom line?
Live in such a way that others have someone to imitate.
Paul practiced what he preached. He wasn't perfect and he openly admitted that in Romans 7:14-25. However, Paul did seek to imitate the steps of Christ, just as Peter wrote,
... Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 1 Peter 2:21
Christ is our ultimate and perfect example, the primary One we are to imitate. It naturally occurs, however, that as we seek to follow our
Lord, we will at the same time leave an example for others. This is exactly what Paul wrote to the Philippians,
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. Philippians 3:17
Mark them which walk.
Mark: observe with a view to imitate.
Follow my example, Paul said, and not mine only. Look around you. Observe how others are living. Carefully choose good examples to imitate.
History, from the beginning of time, is full of examples - some good and some bad. Once again, Paul wrote,
Now all these things happened unto [the Israelites] for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition. 1 Corinthians 10:11
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Romans 15:4
Sarah, Joseph, Ruth, David, Daniel, Esther, Mary, Paul, and the list goes on of good Biblical examples. The same is true throughout the centuries following the time of Christ. Many biographies have been written of saints who have lived and died for Christ leaving us examples of godly living for today. But Paul's encouragement to the New Testament believers is also true for us in 2014. Mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. Look around you today for modern, real-life examples that you can imitate.
Young people especially, mark out those that are following the Lord. Observe, with a view to imitate, those Christians that are living lives that bring glory to God and not to self. At the same time, remember: each and every one of us, no matter how old, are living examples to others. There is always someone watching. How is our example? Would it be good if 100 years from now people were still imitating us?
Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica and said,
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord ... So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7