There are a number of things that even the casual reader of God’s Word can rightly conclude about those Christians who comprised the Philippian church while Paul was awaiting sentence on false charges in the city of Rome. First, we know that the Apostle Paul dearly loved them and that they were almost certainly his favorites of all those Christians and churches that he deeply loved and fervently prayed for. Second, they seem to have been the most responsive of all the Christians and churches that Paul was associated with. Third, they were generally a very spiritual and deeply committed group of people, willing to both suffer and sacrifice for Christ’s sake to advance the cause. Finally, they were not perfect, and even in a congregation so spiritual and so deeply committed and zealous, there was an undermining of their spirit of unity.
Perhaps we should thank God for the problem the Philippians had. For different reasons, Calvary Road Baptist Church, too, needs to work out some difficulties related to spiritual unity and harmony. While the Philippian’s lack of unity was perhaps in some way associated with persecution, opposition, and the threat of false teachers on the horizon, our lack of unity is associated with the dual difficulties of having recovered from a deeply divisive church split years ago (with its lingering effects), and dealing with the ongoing implications and ramifications of moving away from a decisionist approach of evangelizing sinners to a more scriptural way of seeking to insure real conversions. Both of those factors tend to unsettle people.
Whatever the differences between our two churches, the similarities make for some exciting applications of the truths that Paul reminded the Philippians of that we have of late been studying. Only God gives to a church unity. But there are precursors, ingredients in the recipe that God will use to bring about unity, if you will, that we can as individuals provide to the mix, by the grace of God. First, there must be individual humility. God gives grace for whatever is needed only to those who are humble, never to the proud. However, humility by itself is still not enough. Accompanying the humility of heart and soul each of us must possess there must also be direction in each Christian’s life. And what is the direction the Philippians needed, and what is the direction this church needs? It is to pursue Christ. When these two ingredients are present, humility and the pursuit of Christ, Lord willing, genuine unity in the congregation will follow. But how do you know as an individual church member that you are on track with humility and direction in your life? After all, those are rather abstract concepts to a great many people, and sometimes we don’t know whether or not we really have a handle on these two concepts. In our text for today, Philippians 3.17, Paul gets down to brass tacks, dealing with concrete realities that every Christian can come to grips with. Let’s stand and read that verse together, shall we?
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”
It’s wonderful to theorize and hypothesize about spiritual things if you’re not serious about living for Christ and serving God. After all, you can discuss and fidget around and pretend to be religious and spiritual and content yourself with all sorts of motion. However, the man or woman who is serious about seeking Christ, serious about knowing God more intimately, serious about making your life count for something for the cause of Christ, you don’t want to discover somewhere down the road that you are off track and that you need to back up and get redirected. That has already happened in the lives of some of you and you sense the passing of time and the opportunities to serve Christ slipping away as you grow older, and you want your life to count for Christ now. With such people who want to serve God effectively now, who want to make your lives count for Christ now, who don’t want to waste time heading off in the wrong direction, Paul’s remedy for you is spiritual mimicry. I said spiritual mimicry. In our society the concept of mimicry is too often associated with comedians, satire, entertainment and mockery. For the next few minutes I want you to put that notion of mimicry out of your mind and fix your attention on what I call spiritual mimicry.
Key to Paul’s remedy for disunity in a church, the Philippian church or our church, is spiritual mimicry. And what you have to realize is spiritual mimicry is a godly character trait that you will not engage in unless and until you are humble. The proud, you see, will disdain spiritual mimicry.
Three factors, in our text, comprise successful spiritual mimicry. Three simple questions will bring out these three factors:
First, WHO SHOULD MIMIC?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that spiritual mimicry isn’t for everyone. There are those who should not engage in spiritual mimicry and those who should. Sadly, we oftentimes see those who should not trying to mimic, while those who should mimic do not.
Obviously, wrong candidates for spiritual mimicry are unsaved people. Most who claim to be Christians are not, in fact, genuinely saved people. But these are the very people who engage in a great deal of religious activity. And how do they know to do what they do, reading the Bible, praying, witnessing, tithing, getting baptized and so forth? Simple. Since most of them are not spiritually awakened and their understanding of spiritual things is not illuminated, they do what they know to do solely by virtue of mimicry. They see someone doing something they appraise to be Christian behavior, so they do it. Why do you think so many men used to go to Promise Keepers back in the day? Why do you think so many people engage in what they think to be speaking in tongues and healings? It’s all mimicry on the part of those who are not saved, but for the wrong reasons want to be saved. How about those lost people to give tithes and offerings? Do they apprehend spiritual principles? Not really. However, they will imitate those who give by giving, and they will discover feelings of pleasure, delight, and accomplishment as a result. Will their giving suit them for heaven? Not at all. However, when sinners give they are sinning less than when they do not give. All in all it is mimicry of the saved by the lost, imitating deeds though not imitating obedience to Christ by obedience to the gospel.
Right candidates for spiritual mimicry are those who are genuinely saved. Take note that Paul addressed his comments in our text to those who were “brethren.” This is the third time in his letter to the Philippians that he specifically refers to them as “brethren.” And since the Philippians, for the most part, were a Gentile congregation with no known Jewish members, in a city without a synagogue when he first arrived there, Paul is likely not referring to Jewish brothers, but was referring to those who were brothers in Christ, fellow members of the family of God. Thus, believers and only believers, saved and only saved people, should consider themselves as fit candidates to embark on a life of spiritual mimicry, following those who are credible examples of the Christian lifestyle.
Second, WHAT IS MIMICRY?
The word “mimhthV” is a Greek noun that is used in several places in Paul’s writings. It is also the Greek word that our English word “mimic” comes from. It is found in First Thessalonians 1.6, where Paul wrote that “ye became followers of us.” What he meant, of course, was that, in the absence of New Testament scripture that that time, those early Christians became imitators of Paul and those who traveled with him. They became mimics of the only Christians they had ever seen or heard of. By the way, mimicry is how your kids learn to act like adults. They simply imitate what they have seen in your life. That said, the word found here in Philippians 3.17 is not exactly the same as the Greek word for “mimic.” Here we find the only time in all of Greek literature the verb “summimhtai.” The preposition added to the front of the verb means “with, or together with.” Thus, we get the words “followers together” in our text. Mimicry, in this verse, then, has to do with imitating.
It is, first, commanded imitation. Notice that in our text, Paul urges the brethren to “be followers of me.” That word “be” so happens to be a verb. But it’s more than just a verb. It’s an imperative verb, which means Paul is issuing a directive, a command, an order. This means that you are, as a child of God, required to engage in imitation. That’s a good thing, since you do it anyway. If you know how to pray you have likely learned to pray by imitation. If you are a tither it is likely that you learned by imitation. It’s also plausible that you attend church regularly, if you in fact do, because you have imitated others in doing so.
It is, second, continual imitation. Not only is our little verb “be” an imperative verb, but it’s also what is called a present imperative verb. That means imitating, mimicry, is not something you do for a while and then decide you know enough and stop. Oh, no. Mimicry is an ongoing process that should never stop. You should never stop imitating the good Christian behavior you observe in others. And there will always be those times and occasions when you are taught something about some aspect of the Christian life from someone else, no matter how spiritual and godly and mature you think yourself to be.
And, third, spiritual mimicry is communal imitation. There was a reason why Paul took the normal Greek word for mimicry and added the preposition “sun” to it. You see, Paul didn’t want the individuals at Philippi to each, on their own, work on isolated and autonomous spiritual mimicry. That would have a very limited benefit in preparing a people for unity. He wanted them to work on spiritual mimicry together, in a communal fashion. How can you have unity with a fragmented congregation, each doing what they are doing on their own in isolation? And how can you have spiritual unity result from something unless it’s something which requires humility to accomplish? When members of a congregation like ours will obey the command to imitate, will imitate continually, and will imitate communally in the church membership group, humility will be on display in a concrete way. The proud like to stand off aloof from the rest of us. They call it shy or reserved or some other thing. But that which waddles, has webbed feet, and goes quack is a duck. The refusal to engage in congregational Christianity is sinful. Therefore, once the ignorance problem is dealt with, the only reason a church member will not engage in commanded, continual, communal and congregational imitation is because he has not the humility that is called for.
Finally, HOW DO YOU MIMIC? HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT IMITATING?
The easy part is just doing what you see others doing. Babies learn how to walk by watching others walk and expending tremendous efforts for months to reproduce the behavior they see and desire to imitate. So, that part is simple to understand and difficult to do. But anything worthwhile is difficult to do. The difficult part, judgment wise, is as follows:
First, when you mimic, there must be consideration. Paul told the Philippians to follow him and to mark them who would be good examples of Paul’s lifestyle. Let’s consider what is actually called for here. First Thessalonians 1.6; First Corinthians 10.31-11.1; Hebrews 13.7, 17:
6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.
31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Generally, when deciding whether or not to imitate someone’s Christian lifestyle, you should make sure that it is someone who is not unnecessarily offensive, that it is someone who follows Christ, and that it is someone who is accountable and responsible. That can be a pastor, a deacon, or some godly individual in the church who is in a position where he or she is held accountable for their actions. I would suggest that you seek to imitate someone who actually serves God, faithfully attends church and participates in our outreach ministries, has a devotional life, and exhibits the characteristics of a rich and full spiritual life. In short, be very careful who you imitate until you learn enough scripture to be able to rely on the Bible more than you are able to early on in your Christian life.
Second, when you mimic, there must be imitation. I deal with this again, lest you think there will ever come a time when imitation should not play a part in your Christian life. Some will think themselves pious and spiritual who will say, “I use only the Bible as my guide.” That sounds good until investigation reveals the man to be proud and contentious. In fact, there is no Christian who can’t learn something of the proper application of Bible truth through the example of other godly church members. There is not a month goes by that I do not learn something from watching and then imitating the members in our church. So, be careful you who think you can’t learn from others by mimicry.
Finally, when you mimic, there must be limitation. Does it need to be said that the responsibility for your life is yours and yours alone? Of course those who are to be imitated are only mortal men and women, capable of both sin and a lousy example. When that happens, because it will happen, you are responsible before God to follow the good examples of those around you, not their bad examples. Follow someone only as he or she follows Christ. Do not stop tithing if you find someone has stopped tithing. Do not drop out of evangelism when you discover someone has dropped out of evangelism.
This business of imitating the right people, spiritual people, and imitating them together with others in the church, is profoundly important because God’s plan for every Christian’s life is to change, to grow, to throw off inappropriate conduct and replace it with spiritual conduct. Men praying together and following the example of a real prayer warrior, together. Women doing the same. This goes for witnessing and Bible study and husband-wife relationships and raising kids and everything else you can imagine. But we need to do this together. Why? Because what churches accomplish they accomplish as a church, not as individuals. So, teamwork is needed. But teamwork is impossible without humility. And unity is necessary. But unity will not be given without humility. Spiritual mimicry is central to all of this.
Learning what to do, and learning it from someone who is headed in the right direction, seeking to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. This is what spiritual mimicry really is.
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