This post represents a shift in strategy for me. I feel like I’ve gotten cynical by watching the world around me, rather than keeping my eyes on Jesus. I was doing my homework this morning for my class at church called “Mining God’s Word.” Our assignment is to read a passage from Philippians 3, and memorize it. Well, at least that is part of the assignment. We have lots of homework in that class, as you might imagine. It’s a class in how to study the Bible, something I’ve always wanted to do better.
Anyhow, I thought I would take the passage I chose to memorize, quote it for you, and then tell you what it means for me. Philippians 3:17: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Here’s what I find interesting about this passage, Paul, the speaker, at least it is pretty much unanimously agreed that Paul is the sole writer of this Epistle to the Church at Philippi, he tells us to imitate him – Paul – and not Christ! That’s a pretty fantastic statement don’t you think?
It’s worth picking apart, diving deep because of that one reason alone. What he is probably saying is that he is following Christ, he has direct revelation from Christ, and is able to impart that to his listeners with very good accuracy. It is important to remember the reasons why Jesus chose Paul: He was a Jew, a Pharisee which means he was an expert in Jewish Law, probably at one time having memorized at least the first 5 books of the Hebrew Torah (the Pentateuch or books of Moses); Paul was also a Roman Citizen, and that meant a great deal in those times, it meant he was educated beyond what his Jewish training would have given him and this is evidenced in all his writings.
Paul was a very articulate man, he spoke fluent Greek, and was trained in the “classic” approaches of philosophy and wisdom. He was also highly trained in Rhetoric, as we see from his persuasive approaches in his Epistles. It was no accident therefore that Christ chose this man to be “His instrument for salvation to the Gentiles (us, all non-Jewish believers).
With a basic understanding of Paul’s background then, you can begin to see why he might make that astounding statement about imitating himself, because he in turn is following closely beside Jesus. Paul understands the struggles of the common man, having spent much time traveling about getting to know folks, living like common people, plying his trade (tent-making) and staying with people in their homes wherever he went. If you want to think of it, he was the ultimate “Schmoozer” able to rub elbows with anyone and be comfortable, and he says so in another of his letters. So, in asking us to imitate him, he’s telling us to not only do as he does, but to be as he is, filled with joy and wonder at his new-found relationship with Jesus Christ.
Much of Philippians goes on to cover the topic of joy. In another passage Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4). To me that means, that like much of life, you must choose joy. Joy is an attitude. This brings me back to how I started this blog entry, I have been getting too cynical, and my heart has been dragged down by the turmoil of the world around me. It’s very easy to let it in and let it get to you. On the other hand though, we can choose to keep our eyes focused upwards, on Jesus, and let Him worry about what goes on around us. He will supply our every need. All we have to do is imitate Paul who is following closely beside Jesus.