In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul offers a block of instruction on the topic of food. Christians in Corinth were eating food that the Law suggested was not good to eat. Other believers were invited into homes and their hosts were serving food that was sacrificed to idols. The issue however, was not the food or the Law, but the attitude of the believers toward one another. They had disagreements as to how others in the Church should behave regarding the Law, these hosts, and the various ideas surrounding food. Paul deals with the attitudes and at the conclusion of his instruction, Paul says, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV).
"Follow me," Paul says, "as I follow Christ." That's a bold statement! The first question we probably ask when we hear Paul's words might be, "Why wouldn't Paul just say follow Christ?" Some might even claim that Paul is being arrogant here. "He's making much of himself rather than Jesus" they may argue. How can Paul make such a statement?
Galatians 2:20 provides us some insight into Paul's thinking. He writes, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I life by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, ESV).
When Paul is saying follow me, he is really saying follow Jesus. Only as Paul is filled with the Spirit and sanctified more and more, he is able to demonstrate how Christ lived and instructed us to live.
"But why wouldn't Paul have simply instructed people to follow Jesus," we may still ask. "Why wouldn't Paul have encouraged them to ask, 'What would Jesus do?'" Well, at the time Paul didn't have the Gospels or the New Testament to turn to. As an Apostle, one of his responsibilities was to model the gospel and write God's revleation under the authority and guidance of the Holy Spirit for future generations. However, I believe he would have said the exact same thing even if he had the 27 books of the New Testament we have today. Paul served as an under-shepherd of Christ and was filled by Jesus himself. The more Paul was full of Jesus the less room he had for himself. As Paul was crucified, daily, he was becoming less. And the more he could be a living example of Christ (even if he could have handed someone God's written Word), the more people could see and experience the Living God through Paul.
People can and should read God's Word for themselves, but how much better would it be if they could meet Jesus in conjunction with their reading and studying? How much better would it be if God's people could follow Jesus, literally. One way to do so is to come in contact with God's people who are filled with Jesus. And God's appointed leaders, being filled with Christ, should be able to look at the people they are called to care for and say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." When the flock sees a shepherd, they really should see Jesus. When a lost person meets a missionary, he should see Christ. When a child looks to her dad, she should see God living in him.
It is in this way that a pastor can lead even when he may not have the personal experience or worldly qualifications. If he is dead to himself and filled with Christ, then it should be Christ guiding the leader so the leader can guide the flock. The key however, is that the leader is following Christ and being filled with the Spirit of God. And in this way, the leader can say "I'm following Jesus, journeying toward God; follow me if you'd like to get there too."
*The photo used in this post is in the public domain and is made available from the National Archives.