Mimic the Way of Christ
1 Corinthians • Sermon • Submitted
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We all mimic something.
But what we mimic may reveal more about ourselves that we’re ready to admit...
And if there’s anything I want us to walk away thinking about today…as we follow Jesus in a world that doesn’t by mimicking him and his way of life.
So if you’re not there yet, open with me to 1 Corinthians 4. I’ll read the passage, pray, and then we’ll get started.
1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
Mimicking Godly Church Leadership
Mimicking Godly Church Leadership
If you remember from chapter 3, Paul is still working on the issue of Division in the church at Corinth—he’s heard there’s fighting, jealousy, arrogance and that the church has been picking and choosing which leaders they’re actually going to follow. And his point was that, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be in the church!
You’ll remember from last week that a major point Paul made was that the Corinthians should have been more spiritually mature than this. They should have known better.
Instead, they’re acting like children who don’t get their way.
But as he get’s to chapter 4, he starts to answer one of the obvious questions that comes up… “how do we pursue spiritual maturity”? In other words, how do we grow up?
And there are a lot of good ways to answer that question. But in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul talks about one essential way we grow and develop as followers of Jesus. He says this: you need a spiritual role model. Look at v. 14 (1 Cor. 4:14-16
1 Corinthians 4:14–16 (ESV)
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
That word imitate is the Greek word mimetes—where we get the English word mimic from. It means more than just follow an example…it means to “take on a way of life.” It means to be like the one you are mimicking. And Paul’s concern is that they don’t have anyone who really living out the way of Jesus they can easily look to. They don’t have a role model. So, he wants them to see him as their role model. Not because he’s as good as Jesus…or gets everything right…but because he is living as a credible follower of Jesus. He’ll actually say this same kind of thing later on in the letter in 1 Corinthians 11:1.
1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Mimic me as I am straining to be more like Jesus.
Godly Church Leadership
Godly Church Leadership
And to set all this up, he starts by explaining his posture as a leader…what he is like (which is something we would need to know if we’re going to mimic him). But what he records here are some of the most profound verses on Godly church leadership in the New Testament. So we’re going to camp out here for a bit, both to see what Paul was like, but also so that we get the snapshot of what godly church leadership is supposed to be like!
And I’m using leadership in a general sense—because what Paul says here applies to far more than just pastors or elders…but really, it applies to anyone who has spiritual influence. So if you’re here and are like, “Well, I’m not really leading anything right now...” don’t check out on me.
Like you might not be leading an official ministry in the church right now…but that doesn’t mean you don’t have spiritual influence somewhere…it might be at home, or even at work, or in your small group, it might be in a one-one-one relationship with someone else. Secondly, if you’re not leading right now, you still find yourself having spiritual leaders…and I think this helps you have a framework for what that is supposed to look like! Last thing I’ll say, you might be here today and not a follower of Jesus…but you’ve heard stories of messed up things done by church leadership, which rightly raises up a lot of questions. I think this helps give the standard of “here’s what git’s supposed to look like.” And honestly, know what the real thing looks like will help us all better spot a counterfeit version.
Look at v. 1 (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)
1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
When he says this is how you should regard “us”, he’s talking about himself, Apollos, Cephas and the other leaders who’ve come through the Corinthian church.
He says, we are Servants and Stewards.
And these are both words that we could easily pass over without giving a ton of thought to them, but I think it’s essential for us to understand.
Stewards of Christ
Stewards of Christ
That word for servant in the original language is the only time Paul actually uses this word in the New Testament. It shows up in a few other places and it’s usually talking about an officer or a guard. The important thing for us to know is that it always describes someone who is subordinate to someone else. It describes some who answers to someone above them. And that’s exactly what Paul says here: that as a leader he is a servant of Christ…meaning he answers to Jesus. And that’s not an arrogant statement, like someone saying “I only answer to the boss.” It’s actually this recognition that Paul knows he’s not really the one in charge! He is a leader under someone else’s authority. He will give an account to how he conductions himself as a servant to the Boss.
Godly church leaders see themselves as servants…they work at the bidding of the boss! And Paul says the boss is Jesus. And it’s scary how fast we can loose sight of this! Because when you find yourself in a position of influence over other people—that can become so easy to take advantage of. That influence can quickly become a lot more like manipulation when there are no guard rails put up against it! But you see, the servant as Paul’s talking about, is not looking to accomplish his own agenda, but the agenda of the one he serves.
Godly church leaders are not looking to build their own little kingdoms they can sit on top of. They are not looking to build a name for themselves. They don’t sit back and insist on their own way…their own way of doing things…they serve.
Stewards of the Mysteries of God
Stewards of the Mysteries of God
Look at that second word: stewards. In the original language it’s the word oikonomos. And it’s word that means something: household manager, or most of us would think of something like a manager position in company. The manager has significant influence, but they’re not the owners. Stewards, like servants, are in submission to the one who is actually in charge. In this case, he says they are stewards of the mysteries of God. What he means is that godly church leaders see as part of their responsibility that they’ve been entrusted by God with the message of the Gospel—the good news of Jesus. They’ve been entrusted with the mystery of how God offers forgiveness to humanity through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. They’ve been entrusted with seeing that message shape and form those who are under their influence…for their good and growth as followers of Jesus.
And again, the point is for both Servants and Stewards, their work is not about them.
Servants and Stewards know they are not top dog. They work for another. They represent another. They report to another. They are held accountable by another. Godly church leaders are first and foremost godly followers. They are not on top. They become servants of everyone else. And by the rest of cultures standards, they drop to the bottom of the pyramid. Their influence looks upside down and backwards compared to how it happens in the rest of the world.
Look at v. 6 (1 Cor. 4:6-13) Paul says:
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
And if it sounds like Paul is being little overly affirming it’s because he’s being sarcastic with them. And he’s trying to show them how twisted their own views of influence, power, and leadership have become…and, ultimately, how antithetical it is to the way of Jesus!
One of the things we talked about at the beginning of this series was about the city of Corinth was a relatively new city…it was rebuilt by the Roman empire about 100 years before Paul was there and the Romans populated Corinth with former slaves, foreigners, outsiders. But that meant Corinth was one of the few places where someone could actually start to climb the social latter…and in a world were you pretty much had to be BORN into wealth and power…and were given it by virtue of your family, Corinth was one the rare places people not born into power could gain it themselves. It was a proud city. This is what the Corinthians were all about…making something of yourself.
And when we know that, we see how jarring Paul’s words really were. He says, tongue-in-cheek, “You, Corinthians are RICH! You’re KINGS, You REIGN, You’re WISE, STRONG, HONORABLE! But if were saying this to their face, he’d be using air quotes. Because he contrasts that with the model of godly leaders…that they, in comparison, are fools, weak, in disrepute, they hunger and thirst, poorly dressed, homeless, reviled, persecuted, slandered…like the scum of the world and refuse of all things…which means exactly what you think it means.
And his point is that the tell-tale sign of spiritual immaturity is in thinking too highly of yourself…of putting yourself on a pedestal and being convinced of your own importance, influence, and power. And it’s dangerous when people who think like that are in positions of leadership and influence in the church! Because that’s the kind of leader who’s going to shut down any kind of push back…that’s the kind of leader that’g going to run over those who disagree or seem to get in the way. It’s the kind of leader who will do whatever they need to do in order to keep the influence they’ve accumulated over the years.
But friends, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be! It’s not the way of Jesus. It’s mimicking the accumulation of power and influence that we see in the world around us. But the way of Jesus is far different.
In the Gospel of John, there’s a story about Jesus I find so strikingly counter culture in depicting leadership. In John 13, shortly before his death (which he knows is coming), Jesus gathers with his closest followers in the upper room of house so they can celebrate the passover meal together. And he is preparing to give them his final instructions and we read these words:
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
It was not the task any respectable person would do. It was dirty work. It was beneath him…and actually if you read the story yourself, the disciples are kind of offended and embarrassed that Jesus would do this for them. In many ways, when Paul talks about being the opposite of everything the Corinthians valued, he’s taking that from the life of Jesus!
And when he finished washing their feet, He said this:
13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
You see in all of this, Paul is not saying he does anything more than what Jesus has first done for him! Serving is the way of Jesus. And Paul’s role model, if you will, is Jesus himself! And while Paul has influence, he wants to use that influence like Jesus!
And this all comes together when he gets to v. 14,
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
Be like me in straining to be like Him. And he’s not just asking leaders or future leaders, or aspiring leaders to do this…he is calling all who claim to follow Jesus! Be like me in straining to be like Jesus.
Human Condition: We Do Not Desire That On Our Own
Human Condition: We Do Not Desire That On Our Own
But I think the question we need to ask is: what am I mimicking? Because like I said at the beginning of this, I think we all end up mimicking someone or something. It’s not a matter of if we mimic, it’s what we mimic…and if you really want to get deep…why we mimic that particular person or pattern.
You see, we end up mimicking the thing we most want to be like. And in some ways, it becomes the great revealer of our deepest motivations and desires, doesn’t it?
That’s why we say “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” It’s because we try and become that which we truly desire. And we’ve got to be honest with ourselves on this and really try and uncover what’s going on in our hearts on.
Like it’s one thing for you as Mom or a Dad to want to mimic the parenting styles of someone else you deeply respect and believe is worth imitating. That’s not a bad thing—in fact that’s perfectly admirable. That is doing exactly what Paul says we should do! But that desire can hide something far more sinister if all you really want is a shortcut to being a better mom or dad. And you just want to follow the blue print…follow the equation…without having any the of heart work done in your own life.
For me, it’s mimicking other pastors:
It’s one thing for me to want to emulate what is good about what they do so that I might grow and better serve
It’s another thing for me to start thinking that I just need to do what they’re doing so that I can have the same prestige and honor they have. To be like them to have the influence they have…to have the kind of church they have…the kind of following they have.
Chasing after a particular position at the office—can so easily become about the status what other people think of those in that position. Where you live, your school choices, all of these kinds of things are people, patterns or pathways we can mimic because of how it can end up making us look…feel…in the eyes of everyone else around us. And the catch is…once you arrive or successfully mimic that which you’re chasing, you still tend to find something or someone else, just out of reach…just another step beyond you.
And what we have to realize is that it doesn’t end…because in mimicking these kinds of things, we are actually trying to validate our own worth and value. And in climbing the latter, we find ourselves trying to prove to ourselves, that we matter. The problem is there will alway be another wrung.
Gospel: Mimicking the Way of Jesus
Gospel: Mimicking the Way of Jesus
And yet, as Paul puts it…the way forward is not going up, but going down. The way to find what we’re looking for in imitation is looking in the way of Jesus…who came not be served, but to serve and give his life.
Paul spent so much time talking about this in chapter one…this is what the message of the cross is all about! That Jesus works in ways that don’t naturally make sense to us…he works in ways that look foolish, humiliating, and weak. That’s what the cross looks like! And yet the message of the cross, is that when we come to what looks like death and we find life…life to the full! We find life the way it’s meant to be lived by faith in Jesus.
The story of the cross shows us Jesus who was willing step down to enter into the dirt, the muck, and scum of our lives! He’s not repulsed by it…he’s not disgusted and repulsed by it! He enters into the mess of our lives not simply to give some good advice about how to “climb the latter” and finally arrive at the good life! No enters into our own broken mess to do for us what we could not do ourselves! He is the one who lived the life we should have but failed to live…perfectly obedient to all of what God had commanded of us! And yet, instead of just giving us an example and blueprint to follow, Jesus chose to die in our place…for our sin…and give us his clean record of perfection before God! He extends to us forgiveness from God that we have not earned and do not deserve! He extends to us everlasting life. He gives us the gift of grace, simply by faith in him.
And with all of this in mind, in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul says, that’s what I’m mimicking. That is the way of life I am following! And this is the way of life he invites us to follow!
We mimic the one we spend time with. What are you giving your time to?
This is the question we need to ask ourselves when we get out the door in the morning…before we step out the door…before we talk to our kids…before we confront…before we
Are you living a life worthy of imitation?
If you are, have you made yourself available to other people in such a way that they can walk alongside you and grow in becoming more like Jesus.