Choose to Imitate not Impersonate
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,
2:2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
2:4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.
2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
2:12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
- The famous civil rights activist Mohatma Gandhi was reported to have said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He is noted to have made this observation as he waged a campaign for justice for his people of his homeland India. He evidently had run into or observed impersonators of Christ and not imitators.
- We are called to be imitators of Christ, living in a way that reveals we are being transformed into his image and that his Spirit is living in us. Unfortunately, some choose to be impersonators and not imitators.
- What’s the difference between an impersonator and an imitator? An impersonator will go to great lengths to put on the appearance of being someone else with an external veneer, while an imitator is clear that they are not the person they admire, but they aspire to and are trying to be just like that person.
- “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” When you pattern yourself after someone else, you are saying that you really respect that person as you try to be just like them.
- Probably most if not all of us have had someone in our lives who we aspired to be like, someone we looked up to and said, “when I grow up, I’m going to be like them” —maybe a family member, a teacher or coach, co-worker, a famous athlete or politician, neighbor, or friend. Someone who inspired us to change. To become more like them in the way we behaved, spoke, or dressed.
- Sometime along the way, we recognize that we can’t be just like that person. It’s hard to be just like someone else when all God really wants is for us to be is ourselves and to be like Jesus. And even that is hard. Many of us wind up being Jesus impersonators and not imitators.
- So what makes us impersonators and not imitators of Jesus? According to the Apostle Paul, when we try to be like Jesus in our own strength and by our own power, we become impersonators. When we stop trying to grow into his likeness we become impersonators. An impersonator is not trying to be transformed, but is merely going through the motions, tapering off at some level of religious practice that is comfortable but not trying to increase or deepen their faith or intensify their walk with God.
- So how can we be a reflection of Jesus? By striving to cultivate a humble heart, one that exhibits increasing capacity for empathy and compassion and confidence that God is still God and in control. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate humility in taking on humanity both literally and figuratively.
- That has and probably always will be counter-cultural when the typical reaction to situations and circumstances is to put self first and to panic when things go wrong. Think about your reactions when major events that were upsetting happened—attack on Pearl Harbor or the WTC- 9/11, assassinations of the Kennedys and MLK, economic collapse of 2008, school shootings, the recent cases where justice has been denied with regard to police brutality—this week in particular as we remember Breonna Taylor. Did or do we throw up our hands in disgust and despair, resort to violence in word or actions, yell or rant and rave? Or do we imitate and reflect the mind of Christ, adopting his attitudes in the face of such situations, remaining calm yet committed to the ongoing work God is doing in the world and in each of us individually? When bad things happen, do we react like those who live without faith in God, or do we imitate Jesus and reflect him to others in our actions and our words? Situations that reveal the mind of Christ in us don’t even have to be that serious: A bad experience at the beauty salon or barber. How do you react and treat the stylist, barber, or someone else providing a service can reflect the mind of Christ abiding in you (or not).
- Our imitation of Jesus does not mean being complacent and inactive. Quite the contrary. Paul tells us to continue to work out your salvation for it is God who is working in you to create 1) the desire to do good and then 2) the capacity to reflect Jesus through what you say and do. The world will see Christ in us when we are willing to do what Jesus would do in any given situation. (Note: Jesus already bought our salvation by dying on the cross. When we acknowledge that, it begins the process of being made more into his likeness. We participate with God in the perfecting process.
- What will we do about what we observe happening in our country today, as the nation is in such turmoil around us? What are we empowered to do? Picket, protest, contact elected officials, vote, take the census, be informed about candidates and issues up and down the ballot. Having the mind or the attitude of Christ means being strategic and being involved, striving for the values God upholds (Think Micah 6:8. do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God), loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- Continue to teach the things of God to your children, grandchildren, that the generations to come will not forget and let them see you live it. They will learn to imitate Jesus by imitating you. (Psalm 78: 1-4; Proverbs 22:6)
When times are tough for us personally or collectively, when injustice abounds, when the world is craving a word of hope and action that propels us towards God’s beloved Kingdom, let people see Jesus in us as we are his imitators not impersonators, not perfect but authentically modeling ourselves after Jesus and striving to be like him when we grow up.