Tag Archive for: imitation

Two things spur on the call to imitation.  The first, and more common, is a positive example.  “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17).  Paul, being the spiritual father of the Philippians, shows them the way that they ought to walk.  However, the second, and by no means less important, is a negative example.  By showing where walking contrary to God will lead, a negative example pushes us in the opposite direction.

These things are “types” for us.  Types, literally derived from “a hit” or “a blow,” can be impressions in a material, such as stamping a coin or an engraving.  When applied in a moral sense, as it is here, they are examples provided for us that will shape us in a particular way.  “Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  Yet stamping a coin, for example, is not only a matter of creating a particular image.  It also involves removing material, so that the image can be seen.  Artistic relief in general is as much cutting away material as it is creating the desired image.

Therefore, the example which the Israelites of old provide is a negative one, but an important one, as Paul says.  They are an example of how we must not desire evil, as they did, because God destroyed them.  Even despite their many signs of God’s favor–passing through the Red Sea, food from heaven, water from the rock–they persisted in unbelief.  Sin is not a joking matter or an indifferent thing.  Idolatry and sexual immorality, no less sins in our day than in theirs, put Christ to the test.  It is literally tempting God, because it turns His gracious promises into an opportunity for worse sins than before.  God does not overlook sins because of Jesus.  Being a Christian means walking in a different way than the Israelites did and not as enemies of God.

Christians should also remember that there is even less excuse for us who live in the end of the ages.  God’s justice is not arbitrary, nor is His wrath random or easily excitable.  God provides examples of His mercy and His wrath in order to teach us.  There is no need for further lessons in God’s school.  Scripture gives us sufficient warning by telling us what God did in the past.  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).  “But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:24).  We should not imagine that God is less angry because He has not punished us in the same way.  If, for example, we have not died for abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:30), God is not less angry now, but has shown us clearly what awaits those who abuse His mercy.

Therefore, as Paul says, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  Negative examples provide a clear warning to us so that we do not imagine that our situation is any different.  “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?  Are we stronger than He” (1 Corinthians 10:22)?  Shall we abuse His patience by sinning all the more?  By no means!  We are His new creation, called to walk in holiness.  We do not become holy by being unholy.  Holiness is formed by examples which conform us to Jesus, not by the works of the flesh.

St. Paul calls us to imitate him, because spiritual fathers worthy of the name are worthy to be emulated in what they say and do.  Nor is this limited to the apostles, because in every age the Lord richly provides His Church with saints that we should honor and imitate.  Frequently, however, such saints fall into obscurity, blazing as lights within their own generation, but largely forgotten in the next.  Yet the Lord never forgets them, and on the last day their crowns will shine like the sun.

When the days were getting colder in the year 1831, a young man riding on a horse arrived into New Philadelphia, Ohio.  All he carried with him were his meager belongings, a few books, and some letters authorizing him as one sent to labor in Christ’s vineyard.  He had no idea where the Lord would send him, only that he was to travel westward until the Lord called him to stop.  His name was Emanuel Greenwald.

Greenwald had a letter of introduction to a man named Michael Doll who lived in New Philadelphia and was warmly received.  That same evening, at the request of Mr. Doll and the people of New Philadelphia, who had been without a pastor for several years, Greenwald held a service, preaching on John 15:9.  Though he imagined that he would go on further west the following morning, the Lord had other plans for him.  October 27, 1831 thus marked the beginning of a ministry lasting for twenty years.

Being largely alone in that part of the American frontier, Greenwald nonetheless labored mightily.  At one time in the course of that long ministry, he served no less than fourteen preaching stations.  As his biographer Haupt tells us:  “East of New Philadelphia he established a congregation eighteen miles distant; northeast, another at fourteen miles; north, another twelve miles from town; west, twenty-one miles; southwest, twenty-seven miles; south, twenty-three miles; southeast, ten miles, with intermediate places, six, eight, five, seven miles; making, in all, at one time, fourteen preaching places, at which, as often as possible, Sundays and weekdays, in every month in the year, services were held.”  Thus in an area hundreds of square miles in size, riding long on horseback preparing his messages, Greenwald fulfilled his ministry.

Greenwald would go on in the course of his life to serve three other congregations in Columbus, Ohio, Easton, Pennsylvania, and finally in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  He would become a prolific writer, especially devotionally and for children.  He would serve as editor of several periodicals and as president of his synod.  That is beyond the scope of this short article.  Yet one other anecdote told by Gerberding provides a terrific insight into Greenwald’s character:  “Dr. Greenwald once went to synod, and on his arrival was asked to join a pleasure party before synod would open.  He excused himself and said that he must hunt up a servant girl, lately removed from his parish.”

Far more could be said of this remarkable man.  Yet consider the example he provides.  May our zeal match his, especially in a time when travel is far easier and the tools we have make the labor far lighter!  May we be so willing to serve the Lord wherever he places us, and not merely the places where we think we would serve best!  The Lord raised up Emanuel Greenwald to accomplish His purposes.  Let us not forget his labor, even as we give thanks to the Lord from whom all such blessings flow.

Paul addresses the divided Roman congregation and exhorts the strong to bear with the weak.  The temptation in conflict is to seek vindication, especially at the expense of the other.  Note, however, that Paul does not say that each is equally right or valid.  “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:2).  We bear with the weaker brother with the aim of building him up, so that he will no longer be weak.  Knowing who is in the right is a matter of knowing the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit, of course, but even being in the right is not a license for arrogance, which was the whole problem.

Christ Himself, the strongest of all because of His sinlessness, bore with our weaknesses, even to the point of taking our guilt upon Himself.  Imitating Christ, therefore, calls for us to welcome the weaker brother with the aim of raising him toward a still more excellent way, just as the Holy Spirit raises us up out of darkness into light.  Arrogance gets this relationship exactly backwards, as if Christ would have nothing to do with us because of our weakness, when in fact we needed Him the most for that very reason.

Paul points here to the Scriptures as a means of building us up.  As he said also to the Corinthians, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).  The judgments of old, in this case upon those in the wilderness, served as a disciplinary example for them, but we in these last days learn from them.  The unbreakable Scriptures, as the living voice of the Holy Spirit, strengthen us and build us up, making us one people.  In the Lord is unity and harmony, something which the Romans were sorely lacking.  Heeding the voice of God in the Holy Scriptures and learning from them is the way out of this sinful impasse.

Paul continues with a few Biblical citations in order to prove his point in another way.  Christ the Master became a “servant to the circumcised” to show that God was not lying when He made His promises to the patriarchs.  More than this, by going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6; 15:24), He was “found by those who did not seek me” (Romans 11:20, citing Isaiah 65:1).  The Strong Man bore with the weak, so that the Gentiles too might praise Him for His mercy.

Since this passage falls within the wider section of Paul’s exhortation, beginning in Romans 12, his point is clear.  Bear with one another’s failings as Christ bore with yours.  Build up one another as Christ has built you up.  Love one another as Christ has loved you.  Turn to the Holy Scriptures and learn from the living Spirit, so that “by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).  There is no room for boasting or arrogance, nor is it love to assert that there is no weakness.  But imitate Christ, so that you will have “all joy and peace in believing.”

Biblical piety is God centered.

But what does that mean, especially on a practical level? The living God calls us to worship Him in Spirit and truth, but how is that done? Why is piety important? These are the sorts of question that this series hopes to answer.

I want to clarify a couple of things before delving in. Speaking about piety should not be taken as coming from one who is perfect. I speak as a dying man to dying men. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Yet we are not Christians in isolation. The Lord desires that His Church be built up and not torn down, and even a man like Paul is encouraged by the faith of another (Romans 1:11-12). May my words abound to the building up of the Church and the promotion of the glory of God. I must decrease, so that He may increase.

Also, writing seriously about a topic like Biblical piety can be somewhat self-defeating. Most of you, I suspect, are those for whom piety is already a serious topic. An article seeking to improve piety among those who do not care is not likely to accomplish much. Those who need it most are also most likely those who will not read it in the first place. The way out of this impasse is also a Biblical one: to be a living book. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).

Do not be discouraged either by the small number of those who seem to be serious. The Lord is perfectly capable of using whatever He chooses to accomplish His purposes. A small band of conspirators can accomplish so much when set in league against the devil and his kingdom of darkness. Men will leave behind their indifference and flock to the holy banner of Christ when they hear the clear trumpet calling and see the zeal of His mighty saints. Not all are generals in the hosts of the Lord, but even a brother in a foxhole fires us for the fight.

Therefore, this series will discuss Biblical piety with the hope of building up the Church and strengthening the hands of the saints. But before one turns to the practical ends, one must first lay the foundation. If one does not know where he is going, how will he reach his goal? Beginning next week, then, I will begin that work by clarifying the goals and the means.