Scripture often warns us to avoid harmful influences. Regardless of our age or spiritual maturity. Because over time, those unwise influences will negatively affect our walk with the Lord. Our enemy, Satan, is determined to pull us into sin and wreck our lives, and he often uses bad influences to accomplish his goal. Paul had warned the Corinthian believers of this deception when he wrote them his first letter. In it, He said: “do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15: 33).”
As we have been working through this letter, Paul, we observed earlier, has exhorted these believers to pursue Christ and Christ-like-ness (along with) His righteousness above anything else. Now the Apostle is encouraging these believers to be observant in their daily walk and to follow, imitate people who are pursuing these goals themselves, and not follow the examples of people who are not. One path leads to the goal of vs. 20-21, the other to destruction!
But, how do we know when someone else’s example is to be imitated or not? What “pattern” of behavior are we looking for in other believers that may encourage and strengthen us in our daily lives as we pursue Christ? Does Paul, the “inspired” writer of this letter, desire to lead us away from looking to Christ to now look to men? May it never be! Everything in this chapter previous to these words says otherwise. And so too, his letters to other churches. So, what does the Apostle want his readers to understand, to do? Let’s read vv. 17-4:1 together.
17 Brothers and sisters, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even as I weep, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose God is their [a]appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who have their minds on earthly things. 20 For our [b]citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;21 who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with [c]His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 4 Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, [d]whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Worthy examples (17)
I think we can break down this verse into two parts. The first: following Paul’s example and the second, observing others who walk according to that pattern of living.
So, let’s begin with this man, the author of this letter and an Apostle of Christ, Paul. The first question we need to ask ourselves is: Is he truly a worthy example for us? After all, he persecuted Christians; he is not perfect. Do you remember what he said to the Romans (Romans 7:18-21)? How can he say things like this, what we read here and in (4:9)? “those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard and seen in me do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
Maybe you think Paul is a bit arrogant or perhaps misguided.
After all, this is not the first time he made statements like this: “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). To those at Thessalonica, he said: “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you. . . . Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).
But, in no way is Paul arrogant or misguided. He considered himself “the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle.” That he told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:9), later he called himself “less than the least of all saints,” in his words to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:8), and finally, he told Timothy, his “son in the faith,” that he was even the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). All of these realizations came throughout many years of a faithful walk with Christ!
Paul knew that his converts needed examples to see, as well as precepts to learn and obey. The Lord Jesus Christ, of course, is our most excellent example (1 Peter 2:21; Philippians 2:5-11). But by living a life patterned after Christ, Paul could say: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He could be a material example of what regeneration accomplishes in a sinner and a visible representation of what obedience to Christ looks like in application!
Paul lived a life of selflessness, sacrifice, and love. He suffered at the hands of men in many and varied ways. He was a humble, faithful witness, compassionate leader, bold preacher, and faithful to His Lord come- what- may. The Apostle is saying here that we need to see Christ in the lives of our Christian leaders, in the lives of one another!
AND by the grace of God, we also need to live as Christ did so that when people follow our example, they also will be following Christ. That’s what Jesus meant, at least in part, when He said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
I view Paul here with these words, standing out as a representative of leaders in the church, not just him. I think he is including Timothy and Epaphroditus as well. Men in which he earlier claimed, are living lives that are an imitation of Christ’s. So, if there are any Elders, Deacons, or leaders in the church reading this post, are your lives being lived in such a way that you can say, along with Paul, “brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine?”
Pastors should be godly examples to follow 1 Peter 5:1-3:
5 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over [a]those allotted to your charge, but [b]proving to be examples to the flock.4
But it’s not just the spiritual leaders who are under fire here. Notice part two of this verse in our text, “observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” This part is about the rest of us, the congregation of the saints.
When we as believers read our bibles and pray, as we sit under the sound teaching of the Word of God, as we live and move and build relationships among others of “like precious faith,” we are to be observant. We are to be looking for godly examples around us and learn from them.
Godly people exhibit godly fruit. Things like sacrificial love, heavenly joy, peace, patience, unwavering faith, self-control, etc. Godly examples are pursuing a deeper relationship with their Lord, fighting the flesh, are humble servants of Christ, they’re not worldly, and they glory in Christ.
People like this live in “a manner worthy of our Lord,” indifferent to the circumstances of the day. Such people stand out in our congregations, and it is such people Paul urges us to look for and follow their example.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
The writer of Hebrews said: “therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
If you are a runner, you keep your eyes on the people in the race ahead of you. Not only to know where they are at physically in the race but for encouragement. They are in the race like you are, they have sacrificed much to get here, they are dealing with various stresses and trials as they run like you are— AND THEY KEEP RUNNING THE RACE!! They are not giving up, and they are not breaking the rules; they “press on for the prize.”
Such an example during our race is as encouraging as it is instructive and helps us keep the proper perspective. Paul uses the analogy of a race to describe the Christian life of faith- and good examples in our walk of faith are encouraging, instructive, and help us to keep a proper biblical perspective as we “press on for the prize.” Christ Himself!
We are not to be, “imitators of evil, but what is good (3 John 11).
Dear reader, are you living a life that is an example for others to follow? I am not talking about perfection. I am talking about a life lived in faithful, humble, obedient service to Christ. Is your life a pattern of Christ’s? Are you “fixing your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith?” (Hebrews 12:2)?
But, sadly, verses 18-19 remind us that bad examples, unworthy examples, exist in the church, and they are not the examples we are to follow.