Themes in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: Imitation

The imitation of Christ has always been an important emphasis within Christianity. Augustine believed that the whole point of the Christian life was to imitate Christ. Francis of Assisi also felt strongly about imitating Christ, in fact he modeled his entire ministry around the way Christ did ministry.  Francis advocated for a life of poverty and itinerant preaching, imitating Christ’s work in the Gospels. However the most prominent and well known advocate for the imitation of Christ is Thomas a Kempis. He wrote the classic devotional book The Imitation of Christ. This book is truly a modern classic. It is one of the most widely read Christian books apart from the Bible and it helped to spark the Devotio Moderna movement (along with Geert Groote). This book advocates for a spiritual imitation of Christ. Paul in his letter to the Philippians also advocates for a sort of imitation. But the imitation Paul advocates for is less spiritual and more tangible/physical.

 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Notice what Paul says in verse 10. He desires to know Christ and share in his sufferings…becoming like him in his death. Paul desires to share in Christ’s sufferings! He desires to become like Christ in his death and resurrection. I’m not going to comment on that too much today. I just want to let you sit with that and soak it in.

Is this a desire that you can say is yours as well?

I know it certainly isn’t for me. I know that I personally like the first part of verse 10. The part about knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, but the second part not so much! I don’t want to share in his sufferings and I don’t want to become like him in his death. I’m just being honest with you.

But right now you might be saying, “well that is just for Paul. Paul isn’t saying that we have to have this same desire.” If that’s what you are thinking right now check out 3:17

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Not only are we to imitate Christ, we are to imitate Paul and the example of those who have gone before us and followed Christ faithfully. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t unreflective following. This doesn’t mean you need to become like Francis of Assisi or like Brother Yun. Don’t blindly copy and paste someone else’s ministry/life onto your own. However

You should be looking to their lives, seeing how they are being Christ like, whether in “power” or in “suffering,” then imitate that!

Take that example that was set before you and use it to spur you on into knowing “him and the power of his resurrection that you may share his sufferings becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible you might attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Questions for Reflection

  1. Who are you looking to as an example of Christ-likeness? I.e. Who are you “imitating?”
  2. What specifically is Christ-like about that person?
  3. Who are you being an example of Christ-likeness to? How are you doing that?
  4. What is the missional impact of a community imitating Christ together before the world?

Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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