“Follow me as I follow Christ.”

The apostle Paul wrote this statement (or something like it) seven times. For comparison, “love one another” is the only “one another” that got more mentions. This one isn’t technically a “one another,” but it does seem to fall into the same general theological bucket. As an apostle in Jesus’s church, he is setting an example for generations of spiritual leaders to come.

“Follow me as I follow Christ.”

To be totally honest, this is a tough one for me. As a pastor, I have sat with those words and asked myself, “Could I say that to my church with a clear conscience?”

That’s where I start to get wrapped around the axle. I know leaders in Jesus’s church are supposed to live “above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2 esv) and those who teach are subject to “heavier judgment” (James 3:1 esv), but this “follow me as I follow Christ” concept seems to ratchet up the pressure.

Maybe that’s why so many spiritual leaders, following after their patron saint King David, go to great lengths to hide their sin. The fear of being exposed as a fraud is greater than the risk of being found out as a hypocrite, so they hide.

But what if “follow me as I follow Christ” is meant to have the opposite effect? What if, instead of a crusty old finger pointing at our pathetic attempts at obedience, this statement allowed us to live out our faith in glorious and terrifying transparency?

Let’s take a look at one of the times Paul used these words.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

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

(Phil. 3:12–17 esv)

Maybe we can learn from the way Paul ramped up to this statement.

Lead from Weakness

There are times when “follow me as I follow Christ” comes from a place of strength and a hard-fought victory over sin. But in my experience, that’s the exception rather than the rule. When we lead from strength too often, it inadvertently elevates us as the hero or the person others ought to focus on. Again, that can be a great thing, and Paul did it on occasion, so I’m not saying we should never do that. But don’t forget that Paul also declared himself to be the chief of all sinners (see 1 Tim. 1:15) who was hounded by patterns of sin (see Rom. 7:15–20).

When we declare, along with Paul, “not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (Phil. 3:12 esv), those we are leading can exhale, chill out, and refocus their hearts and minds on Jesus.

A number of years ago, one of my copastors declared from stage (while preaching) that he had an ongoing temptation to look at porn and masturbate. While I went into damage control mode, trying to figure out how to handle the avalanche of email that was going to rush into my inbox on Monday, he held everyone else’s attention captive. His courage in that moment declared, “I’m not perfect … but someone else is, and I belong to Him.”

Let Your Weakness Point to Jesus

It’s not enough to be weak—we are all weak. The job of a pastor is to point his flock to the One who is strong. “But I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12 esv).

Notice how Jesus became the hero of Paul’s story! The apostle was able to press on not because he had his life together or because he had gained some level of maturity but because he belonged to Jesus. That’s the place from which Paul could tell us, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13–14 esv). It may sound as if Paul gave us three things he was doing (forgetting, straining, and pressing), but they are truly all just one marvelous thing: he grabbed onto Jesus’s calling.

Then and only then is there a tiny little reference to Paul’s spiritual growth! But even then he is not the hero. “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (3:15 esv). Did you catch it? Christian maturity is focusing on Jesus, and God is the one who makes it happen. Yes, Paul was saying he was mature (this is an honest, self-aware assessment), but he was convinced that he wasn’t the one who made it happen.

Call Your Church to Grab Ahold of Jesus in Their Weakness Because That’s What You Do

“Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (3:16–17 esv).

“Follow me as I follow Christ.”

If the “me” or the “I” becomes the focus of this declaration, we have missed Paul’s point! Perhaps we could sum up Paul’s thoughts this way: “Follow me as I stumble toward Jesus in weakness.”

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