On Being Imitators

He said, “Are you an inspired apostle?” To ask the question is to get the answer. There are no inspired apostles living today. So why was the question asked? All who find themselves on the wrong end of the sword of the Spirit ask this question. They reason, “I am not wrong; I can’t be wrong. You must be wrong, but you have shown me the example of the apostles and they are not wrong, so you must be wrong in following their example.” Such reasoning is dishonest and deceitful because it ignores the very facts of the scripture wherein the apostles command their example be imitated.

Paul, the apostle, wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” The American Standard Version says, “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.” The New King James Version translates the passage thus, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” The word “imitator” in our English language is derived directly from the Greek word in this passage, “mimetai.” The word means to follow a pattern of behavior set forth by another, to mimic that behavior. It means to behave exactly as the one who sets the example behaves. In so following their example–their pattern of behavior–we can be like them in our behavior.

To suggest that because one is not an inspired apostle means that one cannot follow the example of the apostles is to repudiate most New Testament scripture because that scripture largely deals with the example of the apostles. In 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me.” In Philippians 3:17 Paul writes, “Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:7 Paul states, “For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you.” Again and again Paul tells those whom he taught to be imitators of him. To fail to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ is to fail to live the way that Christ would want us to live.

“Oh, but Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit,” comes the reply. Paul’s message was inspired, that is true, but Paul’s behavior was his own. God did not take away Paul’s free will because he was an inspired apostle. Paul’s life was a reflection of how the Holy Spirit taught Paul to live and we have the inspired command to imitate that life as it imitated Christ. To what degree, then, should we imitate Paul’s life? We should imitate it to the fullest possible degree, as he imitated Christ. But does this mean we can do miracles? Not in the least. Miracles had a very specific purpose-to confirm the word (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3, 4; John 20:30, 31). The word has been confirmed, so there is no more need for God to confirm it again today. However, there is no other aspect of apostolic example that we may not imitate.

Moreover, the very suggestion that the apostles were inspired and they were somehow “above” the normal practice of Christianity as God would have it to be practiced is ludicrous. The apostles were men, just like we are men. They were subject to heaven’s decree just as we today are subject to heaven’s decree. They had no authority to go about on their own making up just whatever doctrine pleased them (Galatians 1:11, 12). They had no authority to just behave in any old way that it suited them. They were just as much subject to the laws of Christ as any other human being is subject. This is why Paul could rebuke Peter for being a hypocrite (Galatians 2:11-14). This is why Barnabus could disagree with Paul about taking John Mark with them on their second journey (Acts 15:36-41). This is why Agabus the prophet could prophesy that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10, 11). The apostles were subject to the same temptations, frailties, and weaknesses to which we are subject as well and as such, they were subject to the Holy Spirit’s message.

Jesus said in John 16:13 “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come.” The apostles’ behavior was subject to the dictates of Christ through the Spirit. Their behavior, therefore, serves as our example as they imitated Christ. There is no particular behavior in which the apostles engaged, short of their work in confirming the word, which we have right NOT to imitate. The Holy Spirit’s command is that we must imitate their example as they imitated Christ.

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