“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1st Corinthians 2:2)
When children are young, they tend to look at their parents as super heroes, who are capable of doing just about everything. Sometimes this image is transferred to older siblings, who are a source of inspiration for the younger ones, and the latter want to do and be just like their older brother or sister. Occasionally, this perfect “image” we have of someone remains long after we grow up. Our childhood heroes, who can pick us up in the air, do everything and know everything, are replaced with a more realistic hero, who is human and, therefore, fallible, like us, yet much better and worth of imitation. For some, our heroes may be a family, or well-known person in society, or even a literary figure.
We all have people we admire, some more, some less. And, we usually wish we could spend all, or at least much, of our time with them. We try to emulate them, start to like what they like and dislike what they dislike. We try to associate ourselves with people, or the type of people, that they associate with. We attempt to dress and talk like that person and try to think what that person might be thinking. Slowly, but surely, usually without noticing it, we mentally place them on a pedestal, look up to them and, in a sense, worship them. I don’t mean that we actually bow a knee to them, although some might actually do just that, particularly the younger generation with certain pop personalities. I am talking about exalting a person to a place where only one is worthy to be, one who, alone, is worthy to receive all our admiration and esteem, one whom we should aspire to follow and imitate.
As life goes on, we can so easily place others even above the Lord Yeshua, perceiving their words and actions as infallible. We aren’t so different from little children, who may think their parents are perfect and never wrong. Then we grow up and realize that our perceptions were not correct. This could lead to genuine disappointment when we discover that our childhood heroes are not what we believed them to be (see, in this blog, Keep your eyes on God). We can go to extremes trying to compensate and even put ourselves on a pedestal, seeking for others to be like us. There is always the danger of pride taking root and our becoming oblivious to our surroundings and anything that is not related to what is on the pedestal we have created.
The reason for wanting to be an example needs to be examined. If we act with a wrong motive, it will ultimately be revealed and our example will be affected by it.
Paul told the believers in Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1st Corinthians 11:1). Did the great apostle really tell others to follow him? The meaning of the word “followers” in Greek (mimētai) means “imitators”. We are to follow earthly teachers and examples only if they follow Christ. How did Paul set an example for others? He did not say, “look at me, look at what I do and imitate it”, but rather “imitate me as I imitate Christ”. The focus is on the Lord Yeshua. We are called to imitate the Lord, and Paul was setting himself as an example for us to look at, of how to do so. Paul tried to be a visible representation of the Lord. Paul could be seen and heard. He was in such a close relationship with the Lord that he could say “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8).
How could Paul tell others to follow him? Paul was so close to the Lord Yeshua, that he was, in fact, imitating him to such an extent that he could tell others to follow his example how to imitate the Lord Yeshua, but not to take His place. This is particularly true for church elders or pastors. They are to be an example for us, yet not exalt themselves so as to replace the Lord Yeshua. Many times I hear people say that they go to “this person’s” congregation, or to “that person’s” congregation, mentioning the elder’s or pastor’ name. Those people are appointed to shepherd the flock that God entrusted to them. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you (Hebrew 13:17). Yet, even the church and flock they are entrusted with, are not theirs, but belong to the Lord Yeshua. So the next time someone says about a church that “It is John Doe’s church”, we can correct them gently and point out that “it is Christ’s church”, for He alone is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). Our terminology matters and our choice of words reveals alot about our attitude.
It is noble to aspire to be good, God-fearing and God-honoring examples for others. The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to do just that – “but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1st Timothy 4:12). Timothy is told to be an example in five respects – in speech – the tone and choice of words with which we relate to each other (see, in this blog, about our manner of speech in What’s in a Word?); in conduct – the way we behave towards one other and the way we carry ourselves when with others; in love (see, in this blog, Where has the love gone?); in faith – adherence and profession of the faith; and in purity – chastity in all aspects in life. Timothy and Paul had a “Father – Son” relationship in the Lord, and undoubtedly, Timothy admired Paul very much. But in all things, Paul kept directing Timothy’s attention to the Lord Yeshua, not to himself or his deeds.
If angels did not approve of John bowing down to them (Revelation 19:10; 22:9), saying they are “fellow servants”, we, too, are to esteem others and ourselves as “fellow servants”, nothing more.
It is allright to have someone as an example in your life, or to be an example for someone else. It is even encouraged (Titus 1 and 2). But, when we come across a person whom we could view as an example, we should watch and see if they exhort us as Paul exhorted Timothy, if they set an example worth following and if they do not desire that they themselves be the focus of our attention. If we seek to teach and be a positive example, for the purpose of encouraging others in the Lord, we should keep ourselves alert. Many teachers come and go, yet not all are worth following (read – imitating). May we choose wisely and be careful who we choose to imitate and more so, not to put that person (or ourselves, for others) above the Lord Yeshua.
Who is on our pedestal today?