When I was a kid, one of the rainy day games we would play was Simon Says. A leader would stand before the class and announce something like, “Simon says nod your head.” The rest of us standing and facing the leader would dutifully nod our heads. Soon the leader increased the pace and eventually would give a command without the critical game-changing phrase “Simon says.” Those of us who forgot to listen for that critical bit of information had to sit down (and I was usually in the first wave of those caught listening to the command without attaching it to the giver of the command). The game was all about following commands, but only those that were authorized.
Wind the clock ahead a few years. As a teen challenged by my Sunday school teacher to spend time in God’s word every day, I read in one of Paul’s letters where he said the people he was writing to should follow his example. What hubris, I thought. How could anyone say, look at me, live like me, do as I do? How could anyone set themselves up to be Simon?
Much later I learned that Paul claimed the role only so far as he followed Christ. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
I’m beginning to think this “copy the model” way of doing things is a key in God’s plan and purpose. After all, He created Man in His image. He told Moses to build the tabernacle exactly like the pattern God showed him. And He told the people of Israel to not copy the nations living around them.
God’s plan, in fact, was for the other nations to learn from watching Israel:
So keep and do [the commandments and statutes], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?
– Deuteronomy 4:6-7 [emphasis mine]
This method of imitation continued throughout the New Testament. We are to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Believers are being made in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We are to be lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). Christ Himself was to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).
What’s the point? Israel was to serve as the model to the other nations, but they failed because they became the imitators of the other nations in direct disobedience to what God told them to do.
Today the Church is supposed to be a beacon in the dark world, but instead of embracing our role we seem to be more interested in blending in than standing out. It seems we’d much prefer to hide our lamps under a basket rather than put them on a lampstand.
I know it’s a lot easier to talk about living boldly in a way that shows Christ to the world than it is to do it, and I’m not living in a nation where my family will disown me for my faith in Christ. I’m not living in a land where a pastor can be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for believing in Jesus. Being an example to others costs those Christians more than the little embarrassment or mockery it might cost me.
I’m not at the place yet where I celebrate ridicule for my faith. Clearly I have more to learn about following Paul who followed Christ.
The bulk of this article first appeared here in 2011 under a different title.