I’m sure none of us will be quick to qualify ourselves in the manner that the apostle Paul does when he writes,
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
In our culture (and probably in most any culture) such a statement is likely to raise eyebrows and stir up the flesh. But still, Paul says it. “Do it”, he says. “BE imitators of me”. And, of course, he doesn’t leave that directive floating, but rather points to the how, Who, and why by including the necessary “…as I am of Christ.”
Over the past several years, I have found that along with the apostle Paul, there are some other men that live in such a way that qualifies them to fit into the ‘me’ in this verse. And so, I have watched them and tried to be imitators of them… as they are of Christ.
The following excerpt helps me stop and think about this subject of ‘holy emulation’.
In spite of all the legitimate warnings against hero worship, I want to risk waving a flag for holy emulation—which includes realistic admiration. Hero worship means admiring someone for unholy reasons and seeing all he does as admirable (whether it’s sin or not). Holy emulation, on the other hand, sees evidences of God’s grace, and admires them for Christ’s sake, and wants to learn from them and grow in them.
This theme is strong in the New Testament.
- “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
- “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17).
- “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
- “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
- “[Do] not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
- “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (2 Timothy 3:10).
- “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).
- “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity” (Titus 2:7).
The old Puritan Thomas Brooks comments on holy emulation in The Secret Key to Heaven:
Bad men are wonderfully in love with bad examples…. Oh, that we were as much in love with the examples of good men as others are in love with the examples of bad men.
Shall we love to look upon the pictures of our friends; and shall we not love to look upon the pious examples of those that are the lively and lovely picture of Christ? The pious examples of others should be the mirrors by which we should dress ourselves.
He is the best and wisest Christian…that imitates those Christians that are most imminent in grace…. It is noble to live by the examples of the most eminent saints. (12-13)
While it may be difficult to find such examples, they are there. The evidences of grace may not all reside in one person, but as God progressively sanctifies His church, there will be those who we will be encouraged and strengthened in imitating as they live out their faith, perhaps standing next to us, or living two doors down, or serving with us in the body of Christ. And, no doubt, there will be those whose ‘living example’ will carry on well past their death that will especially qualify them as worthy of holy emulation.
Excerpt taken from an article, Hero Worship and Holy Emulation, written by John Piper and posted June 9, 2009.