About ten years ago a friend of mine showed me how he purees his salsa. He doesn’t like the big chunks in it so he blends it all up and eats it on his nachos like that. I went home, tried it myself, and found I liked it. To this day I still puree my salsa. I haven’t seen that friend for years (he moved away) but what he showed me with his salsa taught me something lasting about influence.
Just as we all may influence one another with the little things in life – how to eat salsa or bake cookies or whatever – so too, we all may influence one another in how we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul spoke often of this principle. He urged the Corinthians to “imitate me just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor.11:1, 4:16).
He instructed the Philippians: “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Phil.3:17). He told the Thessalonians to do the same (1 Thess.1:6, 2 Thess.3:9)
Imitators of God
Ultimately, the basis for imitating any follower of the Lord Jesus is because we are to imitate the Godlike qualities they are displaying. All of us are to “become imitators of God as dear children.” Imitation is the highest form of worship. It is good to admire a certain quality about a person. To pattern ourselves after another person’s character or actions is even better.
It seems to me that God has left us three avenues to learn Christ. We can read His Word. We can hear His Word preached. Or we can observe His Word lived out. All three in combination is best. But at times Bibles are not so readily available. Sometimes preachers can be fallible. And many times, His followers are not so fully following.
Followers of God
To know intimately a mentor of such wholehearted devotedness as Caleb and Joshua, who “wholly followed the Lord,” is true discipleship indeed (Num.32:12). Such men have an entirely different spirit about them. The reason the Apostle Paul was so effective in his discipleship of Timothy, Titus, Philemon and so many others was because he was such an effective follower of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But in our assemblies, our imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ is partial at best. This surely is a problem, for if we are to provide an example for others to imitate, and that example is flawed, then those who follow will surely be flawed too. So what’s the solution?
Imitate those who imitate Christ
I suggest the solution is found in following multiple examples. Let us not follow the example of one person only, basing our lives entirely on the pattern of one. When we do so we may find we will inherit the “genetic weaknesses” of the person we follow (traits that are usually recessive and not easily detected).
To protect ourselves and diversify our “gene pool,” we should pattern ourselves on the best traits of others. We should imitate others insofar as they imitate Christ. We should not imitate them in everything, but only in those things which exemplify Christ’s character and example.
A variety of imitators
In my own life several followers of our Lord Jesus Christ have provided me an example to follow but no one in entirety. From one woman of our assembly I have learned meekness, for I have never ever heard her complain about her husband or our church’s leaders – not even once – in almost two decades.
From another saint in my assembly, a very diligent elder, I have been inspired to be more diligent in my own responsibilities. From an elderly saint, I have learned to connect and be encouraging to everyone in the assembly and to strive to know each person by name and something about them.
From another brother I have learned to be more conscientious, to choose my words more carefully and to check and double check my work. From another I have learned not to judge. From another I have learned to preach better. The list goes on and on… The word that perfectly describes this process of multiple influences is confluence, which the dictionary defines as “a flowing together of two or more streams, rivers and the like.”
The fact is, we influence each other more than we know, and in more significant ways than how we eat our salsa. Firstly, this fact should inspire to live more wholeheartedly for the Lord so that we may inspire more. Secondly, this fact should encourage us as we consider the potential significance of all we say and do.
Lastly, this fact should cause us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, realizing that others may be directly helped or hindered by the life and legacy we leave behind.
A blend of others
We are all amalgamations of the people we have met and interacted with over the years, a mixture of the people we have seen and heard in our lives. No wonder the Apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil.4:9).
Inherently we are social learners, for that is the way God made us. Not all things can be learned from a book; we need to see the book in action. At every moment, the video recorders of our eyes are recording everything our eyes see, the tape recorders of our ears are recording the tact, tone and timing of everything that is said, and afterward, the computer in our brains processes it all, filtering out the bad, inculcating the good.
Inspired to grow
This process of filtering out the bad while inculcating the good, happens both consciously and subconsciously. Consciously we may be inspired by the conduct and of another person and then choose to base our life on the same life-choices they have made. We may admire the way someone raises their children, loves their spouse, submits to church leadership, or fulfills their responsibilities.
Their faithfulness engenders faithfulness in us. That’s what Hebrews 13:7 is all about: “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (italics mine).
On a subconscious level, and this happens a lot with regard to raising children, people will automatically follow the paths of those who have gone before them. This is how tradition starts. This is why cyclical patterns of abuse continue. Negative prototypes of marriage end up producing negative photocopies of the same.
On a positive level, though, if we set the bar high and refuse to live pathetic lives of carnality and half-heartedness, everybody wins – the Lord gets the glory, we get the blessing and the generation that comes after us receives an example to follow.