We are all born with innate ability to imitate others. From the day of our birth we use our senses to explore our environment and to imitate those around us. We learn to grab and use objects because we see our siblings doing the same. We learn to speak by imitating the sounds and words we hear (which is probably why “no” was one of the first words my children learned). It’s not only as babies that we learn through imitation. Throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not, we are constantly learning new skills and behaviors from those around us.
The Apostle Paul intimately understood this idea of imitation. Imitation was the primary educational method in Biblical times. A young man wanting to become a carpenter would not attend a trade school, but rather would find a master carpenter and apprentice under him for several years. Similarly, a religious leader like Paul did not attend a seminary, but rather studied under an accomplished Jewish teacher and leader. Paul and his readers therefore understood that learning is not just something done in a classroom, but something that often occurs through imitating the actions and behaviors of others. This led Paul to write the following, which I think is of great importance to all us 2,000 years later:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-8
While most of you may never given a sermon or share the gospel with a large audience in an auditorium, every day many people are encountering you, your words, your actions, and your behaviors. My question to all of us is: are you living a life worthy of imitating? In other words, if others starting living, speaking, working, and serving like you would they be living more or less as God desires us to? You may not like it, but as followers of God we are always on stage to the world. While this may sound intimidating, we need to embrace it as an opportunity. Every day, by simply following God’s ways, we have the opportunity to impact the lives and eternities of others. You never know who is going to be watching and learning from you, so let us always live out a life worthy of imitation.