17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
Imagine a great forest. The trees are dense and the brush is troublesome to push through, but there is a path to walk. A path that has been worn from years of travelers who know the way through the forest. Those who have gone before have pushed through the brush and followed the path that was laid by the owner of the land. You see, the owner has a kingdom on the other side of the forest. He owns the forest and He owns the kingdom. The people who seek the kingdom walk the path. So, if a person seeks the kingdom, they too walk the path that has been worn by others. What Paul calls the Philippians to do is walk the same path.
Imitate godliness. Find men and women who follow Christ well and seek His glory, then copy their lifestyle. Examine those you admire. Be careful to ensure that those who are respected are worthy of such respect.
Two errors are common among young believers seeking worthy men to follow.
First, they will give too much respect to a leader without evaluating that person’s life. Often age is given credence over righteousness. Christians ought to be cautious when seeking those to imitate. Age does not automatically indicate maturity or wisdom. Indeed, Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 seems to indicate that young men are capable of being the necessary example for the congregation. Sometimes experience is prized when the leader has done a poor job assimilating that experience to their life. Be careful not to give respect to someone who has simply had experiences. Be sure that they have processed those experiences and learned from them.
The second error that young believers fall prey to is in over-evaluation. With tremendous zeal to ensure that they are seeking leaders who are pursuing Christ, they set their standards too high and drift into legalistic judgment of those who could encourage their walk. It is important to recognize what Paul has already said about himself: he has not already obtained the resurrection and is not perfect. Seek men and women to imitate who are honest about their own flaws and are pursuing Christ.
When a believer finds a person whose life and efforts exemplify Christ, that believer should labor to become like Christ by following their example. Follow the example of those who have walked the path of righteous obedience. Find men and women who have led holy lives and have exemplified Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul exhorts the believers to “imitate me as I imitate Christ.”[i] Paul’s exhortation to imitate him is based on the reality that he is imitating Christ. The goal of Christians is not to become more like holy men and women who have gone before but to become more like Christ. Sometimes it is easier to evaluate one’s own walk by examining and imitating the life of a fellow believer who has a faithful life. Believers should aspire to imitate godly men and women in so far as those leaders are imitating Christ.
Oh beloved Christian, find godly people to look up to. Find men and women who lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Find people who delight themselves in eternal truth and God’s provision for the soul. Find men and women worthy of respect. They will not look like the world. They will not have the trappings of this world and, at first, their lives may not be appealing. But, look closely and see that the holy ones who walk with Jesus are content when no one else is. Find them, follow their lead, and you’ll begin to walk through the forest with greater ease.
[i] This is my own translation.