1 Corinthians 4:16
Why I beseech you, be you followers of me.
The Revised Version of this passage reads, "I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me." It may, however, be disputed whether the word "followers" is not a better and more suitable one to express the apostle's idea. Mere imitating is the work of the unintelligent; it is represented by the mere reproduction of sounds and manners such as we have in the parrot or the monkey, or more fully in the child. For men, all mere imitations are either signs of mental and moral weakness, or they are the accidents attending on an intelligent acceptance of the principles which another man exhibits in conduct. We are not, in the limited sense of the word, even to imitate Christ; we are to "copy his example," and to "follow in his steps;" but when more fully and worthily apprehended, we find that what we really are to do is to "let that mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus." In the passage now before us St. Paul has been speaking of his relationship to the Corinthian Christians. He was their father in Christ; "For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." And he is really pleading with them to preserve the family likeness which should accompany such a relation. But it may be said - Are we ever justified in following or imitating our fellow men? We reply - Yes, so far as men are Christ like, we may; so far as they are more Christ like than ourselves; so far as they have reached any Christly virtue or grace beyond us, we may. And since there is a sense in which Christ must ever seem to us out of reach; since of his virtue we must ever say, "It is high, I cannot attain unto it;" - it may often be really helpful to us to see his virtue reflected in a fellow man, and manifestly brought within the reach of human attainment. This may help us while we are weak, but when we more fully grasp the truth of our Lord's humanity, we shall realize that Divine virtues were shown by him in a human life precisely that we might feel the possibility, of attaining them, and so seek to be "changed into his image." After dwelling on the "imitative faculty," its uses and abuses, consider that -
I. GOOD MEN MAY BECOME MODELS FOR US. Observe:
1. That in every age some men have risen above their fellows in moral virtues; and some have been set in prominent positions so as to attract the attention of their fellows.
2. From the Scripture models which are preserved to us, learn:
(1) That no merely human being can present his entire human life, the whole circle of his doings, for our imitation. "There is none righteous; no, not one." Illustrate the sides of moral infirmity in all Scripture characters - Abraham, Moses, David, Hezekiah, Peter, Paul, etc.
(2) That each becomes a model of some one characteristic feature; e.g. Abraham of faith, Moses of disinterestedness, David of habits of personal piety, Paul of singular loyalty to the living Christ. So with modern saints, and the holy ones from our own circles; in some one thing each is strong, and just in that one thing each may be a model.
II. GOOD MEN'S MODELS ABE, AT THE BEST, BUT IMPERFECT. Sensible of this, David says in his prayer before God, "My goodness extendeth not to thee; but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent." Even in the one thing in which they are strong, God can find weakness. When we most admire, we are compelled sadly to feel that the "trail of the serpent is over it all." So we must use men's examples as but incomplete copies of the Divine, and remember that our aim is to transcend any previous human attainments, and to be "perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect." Whatever there is in men that is imitable is but a reflection of Christ, and we may have shining on us what they have in measure caught, even the very light of Christ himself. We may "follow his example, who did no sin?
III. CHRIST IS OUR GREAT MODEL, AND MEN ARE MODELS ONLY SO FAR AS THEY BRING HIM NEAR AND GLORIFY HIM TO OUR THOUGHT. We must take this knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus, and have, in measure, caught his likeness. Impress that we may fully copy Christ's life, but only very seldom can we copy men's actions; we can only seek to be possessed and ruled by the same principles. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.