I was reading Paul’s words that he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11, verse 1 – Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I paused for a long time, reflecting on what he wrote. My strongest initial reaction was that I would or could never write that. I don’t think that I’m following Jesus to the level that I could invite others to imitate me. I’m too broken to ask anyone to do that. My motives are still far from pure, even if my actions on the surface look okay. 

And then I wondered how Paul could write that, even if he were an apostle. The apostles were just mere men who were sinful and broken like all of us. We see how they had to confront one another on their errors (see Galatians 2:11-13). And Paul admits to having lots of weaknesses throughout his two letters to the Corinthians. 

There are a couple of things I discovered as I dug deeper into what Paul wrote. I’m fully convinced that he wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so I don’t question its trustworthiness or value. However, we need to remember a few things. First, Paul and the writers of the books of the Bible did not insert the chapters and verses we have. The Holy Spirit does not inspire the chapters and verses; it’s a work of people long ago. I think whoever put verse 1 at the beginning of chapter 11 made a mistake. It really should be the last verse of chapter 10. Many scholars agree. 

Second, any challenging verse in the Bible has to be looked at in its fuller context. That’s when I realized his invitation to imitate him was about what he talked about in Chapter 10:23-33 (not primarily about what he says in chapter 11). 

Paul wanted the Corinthian church (and us) to understand that in Christ we are free from all the religious rules and rituals, as they don’t build a relationship with Jesus. However, we are not to use our freedom from religion to hurt or damage others. He said everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial or constructive, and we should seek the good of others, not ourselves (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). Well said! 

He concludes this section and theme by encouraging us in whatever we do, do it to give honor to God while making sure we don’t cause another person who follows Jesus to stumble (verses 31, 32). Then he repeats his main idea in verse 33 – For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Now, that’s how I want to live my life! That’s the example that Paul wants us to follow. 

Third, notice carefully what Paul invites us to do or what he doesn’t ask us to do. He invites us to imitate him only as he follows Jesus. He’s not boasting and saying we all need to be just like him. He’s asking us to not seek our own good but the good of others so that they might find Jesus and the love of God. That’s the example of Jesus that he’s following. We only imitate someone to the extent that they are following Jesus. I want to love well and seek the good of others above myself. That’s a life worth imitating! We should ask ourselves: Am I living the kind of life that I would invite others to model?

Glen Elliott

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