Home Economics. <shudder> My most hated subject at school. Three years of heartache and pain and, to me, an imperfect report card. Why?
Because when it comes to knitting, sewing, cooking, I just can’t seem to stick to the pattern!
While my academic agony was easily solved by dropping the subject as soon as I could, my problem with pattern-following perseveres because the Christian life is all about following the directions and instructions of God.
In his letter to the Philippians (3:17-4:1), the apostle Paul speaks about two possible patterns for living: as enemies of the cross or imitators of Christ.
Naturally, none of us would comfortably consider that we might be enemies of the cross. We love the cross. We are grateful for what Jesus endured upon it to secure our life and freedom. But does that necessarily make us Imitators of Christ?
Paul tells us that it is neither words nor intention that demonstrates what pattern we are following, but how we conduct out lives.
As we look carefully at the passage, we discover that enemies of the cross share the following in conduct:
- They follow their appetite – for food, for sex, for luxurious things, for power and control, for reputation. Self-gratification and self-indulgence are their primary concerns in life. They worship what they want and don’t really consider the cost or the consequences of their relentless pursuit to satisfy their desires; to feel “full.” Their use of their resources shows exactly where their heart is: check out where they spend their time or what makes up the majority of their monthly expenses and you’ll know exactly what their priorities are.
- They brag about shameful things – putting a positive spin on what is not good or right. They can get 100 likes on Facebook for “kicking that cow to the curb” or two thumbs-up for teaching the guy who tried to cut them off in the traffic a good lesson. They make fun of those who pay their help above minimum wage or who are waiting to be deeply in love with another before sharing in the intimacy of sex. Their racist comments are re-shared because they’re just SO funny but all the time they are putting into the world that which breaks down and devastates without a second thought.
- They are preoccupied with the present – with this life, the here and now. They want to live life to its fullest which means that they don’t have to be particularly mindful of the needs of others, or to discipline and self-control. Many of them will still take out “heavenly life insurance” so that they can carry on with their before Christ life while securing their place in heaven should something go severely wrong as they party and play.
An imitator of Christ follows a completely different pattern:
- They live as citizens of heaven – recognising that from the moment they accept Christ as Lord and Saviour, life MUST be different. They are no longer part of this world but strangers, foreigners, exiles; uncomfortable with the status quo and with how things used to be done. Self-gratification and self-indulgence are replaced with kingdom-building, sacrifice and self-offering. This can be seen in the way that they give generously of their time and money to helping out others and making the world a little better.
- They hope for Christ’s coming – recognising that they will never be perfect but that it is Christ himself who takes their weakness and their sinfulness and transforms them from glory into glory. They spend more time confessing their need for God’s grace and mercy than praying for the things they want. They genuinely desire to be true and holy and strive to be more like Christ day after day.
- They become a pattern to follow – imitating Christ so that others may also find a precious, significant, life-giving pattern to follow. They have a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of others so they watch their conduct carefully – knowing that what they put out there can turn people to or away from the One that they love. They seek to be Jesus’s hands, feet and mouth visible and tangible in the world until he comes again.
An enemy of the cross or an imitator of Christ? What does your actual, real, visible conduct suggest you are patterning your life after?
Maybe it’s not so neatly one or the other. Perhaps there is an area in both that may be a strength or a particular struggle. Maybe you find it easy to be an imitator of Christ on a Sunday but slip into an enemy of the cross on a Monday?
It is not easy to follow Christ’s pattern.
But as Paul urges the church at Philippi to stay true to the Lord, I encourage you to stick to the pattern so that as others follow in our footsteps, they may find themselves in fact following in the footsteps of Christ.
Yours in Christ