Liturgy: “Just an Imitation of What Life’s All About”
We do not imitate Paul because he has finished his work, or because he has been perfected, but because he is walking to the destination that we too should desire.
What is the King’s Liturgy? King’s Liturgy defines our experience together as a Christian community. It outlines the rhythms we celebrate with the Church at large: Scripture readings, Sabbath habits, and celebration of Holy Days and historical events.
This week’s liturgy is contributed by Dr. Joshua Blander, Assistant Professor of Philosophy:
Sometimes when I am walking with my son, Nick, he will regularly look over at my feet, and periodically make a little hop-step. The first time this happened, I was puzzled. Then I realized what was happening: he was imitating my gait. He wanted his feet to move at the same pace as mine. I was focused on the destination; he was focused on imitating me. At first I thought it was super cute (and still do). Then I thought, “Oh ****, my son imitates me! That’s a frightening thought, for so many reasons, but especially because I am deeply flawed (not just in how I walk), and cannot possibly be a perfect role model. Fortunately, perfection is not the standard by which we are evaluated.
In chapter 3 of his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul encourages his readers to follow his example, and “observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (v. 17) To understand this challenge, we must notice what Paul says in the verses just prior, where he says that his goal is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. (v. 14) But he emphatically points out that “I have not already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on” to that goal, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead”. (vv. 12-13) According to Paul, then, our aim in being imitators, or being imitated, is simply faithfulness to the aim of pursuing Jesus Christ. We do not imitate Paul because he has finished his work, or because he has been perfected, but because he is walking to the destination that we too should desire.
Whether we are the imitators or the imitated (or both simultaneously), these are important lessons. When looking for role models to imitate, we should not demand perfection, great success, or earthly power. Paul exhorts us to be extremely careful about who we imitate: do not follow those “whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things”. (v. 19) Instead, look for people who single-mindedly and wholeheartedly pursue that prize in Jesus Christ, directing attention away from themselves (and ourselves). This activity should point us away from the goal of imitation and onward to our true destination. Similarly, if others imitate us, do not succumb to the stress of perfectionism, but humbly recognize that your purpose is to direct the other person to Christ, not to yourself. My focus with my son is not to produce a “little Josh” (God forbid!) but use his imitation of me to urge him toward his true destination. I want him to be able to look past my imperfection to the perfection he can only find in Jesus. Instead of focusing on imitating me, he will learn to walk on his own, and focus his attention on his true, perfect, and final destination.