I came across 1 Corinthians 11:1 in my Life Journal reading this morning. It is a curious and challenging little sentence. St. Paul has just finished a long dissertation to the Corinthian Christians about the importance of watching out for others and keeping a faithful witness. He has just finished saying that he strives to put aside his preferences, needs and desires so that he might communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone. After all of that comes this phrase "imitate me as I imitate Christ."
My initial reaction is one of astonishment! What an outrageous thing to say! It borders on the arrogant. Paul seems to be suggesting that he is setting such an extraordinary example to the Corinthians of a faithful Christian life that they can copy his example. I find this stunning. However, when I give it some deeper thought I realize that what Paul says is what every Christian ought to be able to say. The bold truth is that people watch what we say and do every single day. They watch our language, our behaviors, our values, our honesty and our ability to follow through on the very principles we espouse. On further review, this is not some bold, wild statement from Paul of Tarsus it is essentially the call for every Christian.
As a pastor I am often uncomfortable about living in a fish bowl. I am aware, like it or not, that my life is measured, my life is evaluated, my behavior is closely monitored by those who are under my spiritual leadership. I could resent this but the truth is the moment I stepped into a pulpit and dared to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ my life became the tablet upon which my speaking would be displayed. Even though I am fully aware of my own brokenness and my own inability to be all that I pray I can be, I must strive to live this life with integrity.
Paul's was a life of integrity. It is in the context of his "walking his talk" or, to put it another way, "practicing what he preached" that he can say "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."
That is not so outrageous, after all. In a world and society that craves and profoundly lacks integrity. This simple statement is the essential minimum standard expected of Christian leaders.