Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.
Philippians 3:17 NLT
Will others around you look more like Christ by imitating you, by following in the footsteps of your life?
This question might either humble you by the lack of Christ’s power in your daily walk – or it might humble you in fear that you might judge others by considering more of yourself than you really are. However, if it immediately instills confidence in you about your spiritual state in comparison to others, I hope that there is a measure of humility paired with that boldness or you might be in pride, friend. This is the self examination that this verse leads me to initially.
To understand why I say that, it’s important to look at the surrounding verses, not just use cookie cutter verses to support our own opinions and desires and agendas. Even the devil tried to twist single verses of scripture to justify following His own purposes:
and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ”
Matthew 4:6-7 NLT
You see, the whole of scripture is where truth is found, because the Word of God is truth. We are told to use the Word of God to test all spirits, to examine all thoughts, tovtake them captive and to guard or hearts. The one truth, the one way, the one life – found in Jesus Christ – is the life that is not in conflict with even a single verse of the Scripture. And that is the example that we are to press in to follow. We might not yet be perfected, but that is our aim and our goal.
When taking Paul’s bold statement of “follow our example” within the context of Paul’s message, we can understand that it is part of a message that is both humble and bold. You see, Paul has just acknowledged that he doesn’t value his own efforts and that he doesn’t claim to have yet reached his goal, but that he is striving and pressing on towards it. And it is this attitude of desperate pursuit of the Lord, it is this attitude of following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ that he is encouraging us to imitate. He is not saying “measure yourselves by my stack of evidence”, he is saying “measure yourself by Christ’s example, find yourself not yet a completed work, and keep drawing closer to the Lord’s will until you are fully reconciled to be like your teacher” – because that is what I am doing.
Just before Paul’s statement encouraging them to follow his example, Paul says:
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:8-14 NLT
He isn’t speaking from a place of pride in himself. He is talking from a place of awe and wonder over this example laid out for us in Christ Jesus, God come in the flesh to bring light to a world of darkness. He is talking from a place of faith where he sees the power of Christ changing his own life to be more Christ-like as he follows in His footsteps. He is testifying that He is a new creation in Christ. And he knows this because of the change in his life, because he is no longer participating in lawlessness, he is no longer a slave to sin, He is a believer, follower, friend, and lover of God. And this has a marked effect on a life. The Holy Spirit is one of power, love and self-control – which is quite different from the ways of the flesh and sin.
May your life be surrendered to the will and purpose of God, and to following in His footsteps, and to being and example and not a stumbling block to others – may you be the imperfect but striving church, alive and growing – so that you can say “follow our example”. Amen.