Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Paul had a lot to say to the Corinthian Christians, because they needed a lot of instruction and guidance. While Paul’s words were necessary and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the words alone were not enough. The believers in Corinth also needed examples of how to live the Christian life, and Paul was one of those examples.
That’s why Paul told the Corinthian Christians, Imitate me. Paul knew he followed Jesus, so he did not hesitate to tell the Corinthian Christians to imitate his walk with the Lord. Knowing believers need examples, Paul was willing to step up and be one.
It seems like there are few people today who are willing to say what Paul said. Instead, because of compromise and ungodliness, we are quick to say, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus.” While it is true that we must all ultimately look to Jesus, every one of us should be an example of those who look to Jesus.
Paul simply did what he would later tell his young associate Timothy to do: Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). This meant that Timothy, and every godly servant of God, should be an example in what they say (word). They should be an example in what they do (conduct), in their love, in their attitude (spirit), in their faith, and in their purity.
In the specific context of the whole letter to the Corinthians, it is somewhat difficult to know if Paul’s words here relate to the context before or after. Does Paul think back to 1 Corinthians 10, and therefore mean, “Follow my example as I seek to bless others instead of pleasing myself”? Or, does Paul refer to what is to follow in 1 Corinthians 11, and therefore mean, “Follow my example as I respect God’s order and authority in the church”? Though he most likely connects his role as an example with what went before in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul was a good example in both cases.
Paul said more than “follow my example.” He added to that idea, just as I also imitate Christ. Paul knew he was an example, and a good example at that. He also knew that it was not “Paul” who was a worthy example, but “Paul the follower of Jesus” who was the example.
When the believer lives after the example of Jesus, then they are a worthy example to follow. God’s work in every one of His people is to conform them into the image of His son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). The more like Jesus we are, the better examples we will be.
So, look for ways that others are following Jesus. When you see some of the love, grace, power, courage, or compassion of Jesus in action, receive it as an example – and remember that you can be the example that someone else needs.