Posted: 29 Mar 2011 12:00 AM PDT
IN PAUL'S LETTERS HE OFTEN, implicitly or explicitly, tells his readers not only to understand and follow what he teaches, but to imitate him. Nowhere is this theme stronger than in Philippians 3, reaching a climax in Philippians 3:17: "Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." Not only does Paul instruct believers to imitate him; he has been building up a cadre of leaders who exemplify the pattern of life he has been teaching, so that they can serve as models for others to follow. Some reflections:
(1) Almost certainly one of the reasons why Paul provides so many details about Timothy and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:19–30) is so that they may serve as models to be admired and emulated. Paul says of Timothy, "I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 2:20–21). He expects the more godly among his readers to react instinctively and resolve to become like Timothy. Paul is even more explicit with respect to Epaphroditus. After detailing the man's Christian courage, Paul adds, "Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him" (Phil. 2:29)—not only "him," but "men like him," for Paul teaches patterns of life that should be admired and imitated.
(2) Paul's suggestion that the Philippians imitate Timothy and Epaphroditus, and his instructions that they follow his own example and the pattern of living Paul had regularly taught (Phil. 3:17), is proffered in part as an antidote to the alternative models that surround us. The assumption is that we inevitably imitate someone. There is always an abundant supply of bad models. Paul warns against "those dogs" (Phil. 3:2) who were trying to impose observance of Jewish covenantalism. Doubtless they appeared wonderfully pious. The apostle similarly warns against the "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:18) who, judging by the context, are almost certainly professing Christians who do not really grasp what the Gospel is about and who do not really live with eternity's values in view. They too must have had some plausibility, or Paul would not have warned against them. Christians must be intentional in choosing whom they should imitate, or else they may drift toward poor models.
(3) Paul's strong exhortation that the Philippians follow his example is saved from self-righteousness and religious cant by his insistence that he himself has not arrived, but is still on a pilgrimage (Phil. 3:7–16).
So follow someone who follows Christ; follow a pilgrim who insists that you live up to what you have already attained, and then press for more.
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