Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Example that Enables Imitation

Philippians 2:12-13
Philippians 3:17
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

          This week I have started processing how these two scriptures go together. If Paul calls us to imitate him, and follow the example of men like him, we are to consider this something God is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure. It also means there is some way for us to work this out with fear and trembling until we can say that we are putting into practice whatever God is working in us.
          The first question that came to mind when I thought about the biblical examples God has given us, and the way that godly men continue to set examples for us, is whether the examples we see stir up a feeling of entitlement, or of imitation.
          Entitlement is the sense that we deserve to be served. If pastors serve us, minister to us, do things for us, entitlement sees this as our due. Especially when churches feel they have hired a pastor to do the ministry, the ministry he does is considered what he owes the church. They give him a paycheck; he does the work.
          Imitation is the sense that pastors and elders, or any godly men who are following the example of faith we see in Scripture, are there to show us how we should do things. If they serve us in love, it gives us a picture of how we can serve others in love. Whatever they do for us in ministry, or things we see them do for others in ministry, give us ideas of how we could be doing similar things for people in our lives.
          No matter whether we lean towards entitlement, or imitation, God is working in us to have the will to imitate Paul and others who are presented to us in Scripture, and he is working in us to work the same things in present day experiences. It is our place to respond to this inner working of God’s Spirit by working out our imitation of these examples with fear and trembling.
          When Paul begins this new exhortation with the address of, “brothers,” he is making this very personal, but he is also making it universal. To speak of “brothers,” is to speak of the whole church. There is one body of Christ. To God the Father, we are all “sons of God.”[1] To God the Son, we are his brothers.[2]To one another we are the “brotherhood,”[3]which is why we are told to “love the brotherhood.”[4]
          This means that we cannot escape that Paul is speaking to a group. He is telling the whole group what to do. He emphasizes this by his choice of words, calling us to “join in imitating.” The emphasis is on imitation, but the word calls for togetherness.
          Now, add this to the things we are to work out with fear and trembling because God is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure. To do this, we must put off any sense of individuality. By individuality, I do not mean uniqueness. Each of us has a unique place in the body of Christ, but we do not live independent of the body of Christ. We do not live as individuals who can do as we please, but as a brotherhood that is “knit together in love."
          Peter emphasized this in his glorious expression:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.[5]
          Each of the descriptions Peter uses refer to one group of people. There is one race, one priesthood, one nation, one people. The instructions of the apostles to the churches are for the whole church, the one body of Christ. This is emphasized for us when Paul refers to us as brothers, a unifying description of all believers, and chooses the word for imitation that is unmistakably fulfilled in imitating together, or joining together in imitating those Paul directs us to look at.
          Paul was devoted to the brotherhood of believers, so, to imitate men like him, we must do it together. Paul taught extensively about the one body of Christ, so, to put into practice the things we see in him, we must do these things as one body of Christ.
          This exhortation follows immediately after “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”[6]Paul made clear that, even when people within the church “think otherwise,” if they will “hold true to what we have attained,” God would “reveal that also to you.”
          In other words, if the church gave  up its perceived right to divorce, separate, reject, show favoritism, isolate, or anything else that turns into division from the one brotherhood of believers, God could reveal to all of us how we can imitate men like Paul, even when we start out thinking “otherwise” about how to do it. If we act  like brothers, and join in imitating the apostles, we will find much greater unity in the Spirit than our sarks could ever dream.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Galatians 3:26
[2] Hebrews 2:11-12
[3] I Peter 5:9
[4] I Peter 2:17
[5] I Peter 2:9-10
[6] Philippians 3:15-16

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