Ever been counseled about the spiritual life and practices with the words Paul wrote to the Corinthian church – “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ“? Usually this is an invitation given to someone who is struggling to look upon the life of another who is getting by much better in order to learn how to really live effectively for Christ. Certainly, that is the gist of Paul’s message.
Yet, what is the example of Christ that Paul is imitating and beckoning others to emulate?
Any time I have seen (or sadly used) these words, it has been from the perspective of performance. Jesus was perfect, so Paul must be saying that he was going to live up to the example of Christ. A living, breathing example of perfection.
That is the trouble when set Jesus as an example of how God wants us to act. We must imitate his actions and constantly ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?”
Following this kind of example would be exhausting and frustrating. Exhausting because it would be our self-effort, our external appearance, that was making us approved by God. Frustrating because every failure, every mistake would remind us that our actions are not adequate. Our willpower is not enough.
That is the mask in action or we can call it our false self. Style over substance. Performance based Christianity. Confidence derived from our actions; thinking that you are approved by God because of the things you do. An identity not rooted in Christ. And the problem is that it is not about Jesus at all – it is all about us, putting us at the center of salvation by works.
That is not the example Paul is directing us to at all. It is actually quite the opposite.
Christ did not consider equality with God his to grasp. Which is odd, considering when we employ our self righteousness, we are necessarily lessening the eminence of God.
Christ made himself nothing. Not tearing others down to puff himself up, rather for our sake, He took on a form of weakness.
Beginning His ministry in the wilderness, Christ was taunted in his weakness by the devil who dared him to display his power. Jesus chose dependence.
In the garden, Christ rebuked Peter for his attempted display of violent power. Instead of calling a legion of angels from heaven to his side, Christ chose to drink the cup set before him. Jesus chose humility.
In a similar way, following the example of Christ, Paul chose to display his weakness. Chief of sinners. Thorn in his side. Having the desire to do good but not able to carry it out. But Paul found delight in this, because in his weakness, Christ’s Spirit was able to be strong. To increase its weight. To be glorified.
That is the example for us. Honesty about our weakness. Denying our inclination to try reaching God through our own effort. Being clothed in Christ and living out of our identity in Christ. Not making weakness our identity, but allowing our weakness to give Christ prominence.