Recently, one of my good friends showed me a book he was reading. The book was called For the Fame of God’s Name; Essays in Honor of John Piper. The book is a collection of essays and articles written by 27 different authors and ministers, in honor of Pastor John Piper and his over 30 years of influence on the Christian church. For those of you who know of Pastor John and his ministry, one thing is very clear about him; he desires God’s name to be hallowed in all things for the joy of all peoples.
Though I am not one of the 27 authors or ministers who contributed to this collection, I am one of thousands that have been deeply influenced by this man. From the winter of 2009 until the winter of 2013, I had the privilege to sit under Pastor John’s teaching during his final years as the lead teaching pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. As I began to think more deeply about this book, I asked myself, “What would I write about this man?” After all, there are few men who have influenced my life more than Pastor John.
Though there are many things to be said in honor of Pastor John, my intention here is not to write an essay adding to the 27 that have already been published. I believe those men are much wiser and more gifted to appropriately pay tribute to Pastor John. Therefore, I will let their collection stand as sufficient means to bring appropriate honor to this man. Rather, I wanted to simply think about and consider influence.
When I think about influence, many men and women in my past come to mind. Yes, they were more than just teachers and coaches, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, pastors and friends. As I listened and watched how they lived, they formed the very fabric of my thinking and how I understood life. These people instilled in me what was right and wrong, good and bad, just and wicked. My behaviors and my actions were shaped and molded by the influences of these men and women. I learned to be an imitator of their way of life.
And that’s the test of being truly influenced, isn’t it? Imitation is the outcome of true and lasting influence. A child imitates their parents, a younger sibling their older sibling, a pupil their teacher, and an athlete their coach. Imitating the influences around us isn’t a choice. We all receive influence whether it is right or wrong, good or evil, true or false. It’s there, in our face, and all around us. That much we cannot control. The question is though, who will you imitate?
The Apostle Paul was likely the largest influence on the Corinthian church. So much so, that he calls himself their father (1 Corinthians 4:15). It would follow rightly then that Paul charges the church in Corinth to be imitators of him (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1a). However, Paul doesn’t stop there. He gives the Corinthians clarity of what type of person to imitate. He gives them a lens of testing to look through that would show them how to imitate him. That lens is Christ (1 Corinthians 4:17b, 11:1b).
Paul is not concerned about making more “Pauls.” He isn’t looking to gain an audience that favors him over the other teachers of his time. In fact, he refutes this wayward thinking earlier in his 1st letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:1-11). Rather, Paul is concerned that men see past him to Christ. Paul was not a man without influence. His mission was to point past himself to Christ, who had changed him in an instant, and caused him to consider all he had gained to be loss (Acts 9; 2 Corinthians 11:21b-30; Philippians 3:2-11).
So it is clear then, that when Paul charges the Corinthians to imitate him, what he means is, as far as he is imitating Christ. But, how are we to imitate Christ? And why? I think the answer to the first question will lend a hand in answering the second.
The question of how to imitate Christ is a bit tricky. Of course, there is not a soul on earth that can make atonement for the sins of another because there is none without sin (Romans 39-18, 23). Jesus death is sufficient to atone for sin because, being God, his atonement is eternal, and being man, he never sinned (Hebrews 9:11-13; 1 Peter 2:22). So it would follow that we are not to imitate Christ in the effect that we are to atone for other’s sins. Rather, we are to imitate Christ in the laying down of our lives to save others.
This may sound like the same thing. To clarify, let’s look at what Paul says just prior to his charge to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 11:1.
Paul says he glorifies God in all things, not by seeking his own advantage, but by seeking the advantage of many. He demonstrates then, that in seeking their advantage above his own, what he means is their salvation (1 Corinthians 10:31, 33b). Paul imitates Christ in the setting aside anything that would be advantageous for himself so that others might hear the good news of the gospel and be saved. Paul’s laying down of his life was not to make atonement for sins. Rather, it was dying to the comforts and temptations to gain his own advantage so he could clearly point to the only one who truly and finally takes away sin. In the same way, we are to imitate losing our lives for the salvation of others and the glory of God.
And now the question of why? I mean, this all seems a bit scary, right? Losing your life sounds like a big deal.
Jesus says in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He doesn’t give a third option. You can save your life by imitating the world and its desires of the flesh. Going along with the wave of social pressures will likely bring a life of pleasure and ease. In the end though, 70 years of pleasure and ease in a fallen, imperfect world, is incomparable to an eternity of perfect pleasure and full joy in the presence of God (Psalm 16:11). By imitating Christ, you lose your life in the sense that you no longer imitate the world and its desires, but rather, you imitate your Creator. The world sees this as a life wasted and lost. But in reality, a life spent imitating the Creator is a life lived as it was meant to be lived. It is true life now and in eternity.
This is why Paul could say, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). He truly was out for the best life now and in eternity. It is also the reason Paul considered as loss what he once counted gain (Philippians 3:11). Paul understood that life can only be found in Jesus Christ (John 1:4). And what does that exactly mean? Everlasting life with God through Christ (John 17:21a).
So, it would stand to take care and be watchful in your life and household, Christian. Examine yourselves and the heroes you herald through the lens of Christ. The question is not will you be an imitator, but who will you imitate? One leads to everlasting loss of life, the other to the everlasting gain of it.
It is good to have heroes, especially heroes of the Faith. John Piper is one of them for me. Though I have only known him in the 3rd person, I am indebted to him for his influence on my life. More appropriately, I am grateful for seeing past him to Christ.
Blog post written by Dave Mishler. Dave is the co-leader of one of Kaleo Church’s Missional Communities and helps oversee the liturgy and order of service at Kaleo Church.