I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:12-21
Oscar Wilde said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I guess that’s a good thing if you think flattery is good. But flattery is not a good thing according to Proverbs 29:5: “To flatter friends is to lay a trap for their feet.”
By contrast, imitation is the best form of discipleship. There is much to learn in this passage about this, not the least of which is that discipleship is best caught, not just taught.
I am so very thankful for the theological education I received at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I learned there to think critically about God, truth, Jesus, grace, and the Lutheran Confessions. The truths I learned there are profoundly important.
When I began actual ministry, however, I discovered that there were other questions I had not known to ask until I was on the job. Some of them I dismissed as unimportant when certain professors taught us about pastoral practice and parish administration. Thankfully, I did not have to unlearn any fundamental theology. Perhaps I did have to unlearn an “I need to know all the answers” mentality. I needed a dose of humility, and some real-life opportunities to learn how to apply the truths I had learned.
This is why information is not sufficient for our Christian growth. We need to know about God to be sure. We need to know God without a doubt. But we need to learn how to take that knowledge and apply it to our daily lives, our relationships, and our everyday decisions.
That is best learned by walking beside someone who is mature in the faith, willing to listen to us, to ask questions of us, and to show us how this precious truth of God gets lived out.
If you think of the Christian faith as ascent to a corpus of theological truths, you will likely not consider the need for a mentor to be important. If you realize, however, that the corpus of theological truths is meant to be lived out in real time with real people, then you’ll understand just how important it is to learn by watching someone put the faith into practice.
Here is the good news in all of this: There are no perfect disciples. Even Paul had his flaws and foibles. But the greatest example we can provide to another – and the most important thing we can do is simply to walk beside someone in humble faith. Giving and taking, iron sharpening iron, and leading the way in acknowledging our sin and failures as well as rejoicing in Jesus’ love and sharing that love with others.