They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I can really see that. The other day my daughter had the same reaction and facial expression I have when I’m frustrated. The moment made me smile, then cringe, then pray “Lord, help me be a better example to my children!”
The whole of the Christian life is all about imitation. If we can internalize imitating Christ in all things, we become “like” Him and the Final Judgement will make this “family” resemblance obvious!
Look at our Lesson today in 3 John 1:1-15:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul. For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.
Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God’s service. For they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth.
I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority. So if I come I will bring up what he is doing, prating against me with evil words. And not content with that, he refuses himself to welcome the brethren, and also stops those who want to welcome them and puts them out of the church.
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrios has testimony from every one, and from the truth itself; I testify to him too, and you know my testimony is true.
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.
Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.
As usual, St. John, the Apostle of love; the disciple that laid on Christ’s chest at the Last Supper, once again uses the word “beloved” as an icon of the normal Christian life in the community of the Faithful. And he does it so often and so well, that to miss the intention of this habit is to miss the point entirely. We are meant to be “beloved” by imitating his imitation of Jesus Christ!
He gives us three icons; two positive and one negative, to illustrate the path to true Christ-like imitation.
- First, to imitate Christ and truly be Christian, we must “follow” the Truth. We don’t self-design truth. We don’t make it up as we go along. We follow truth. Which means the Truth is a way of life that has been modeled before us and we then model it for the next generation. At it’s heart, this is what we mean when we say “apostolic succession.” It isn’t in magically transferring “power” from one bishop to the next as much as it is witnessing faithful persons imitating the wise lives of those who came before.
- Next, to imitate Christ and truly be Christian we can never put ourselves first! Conflicts always flow from self-centeredness. When I demand my way, I am laying the foundation for conflict that destroys my ability to imitate Christ. The gift of humility means I am free to prefer my brother over myself, but ignoring authority based not on demand but on a clear picture of one following Jesus, always sets me up for the damaging destruction of selfishness.
- Finally, to imitate Christ and to truly be Christian means I accept there is actually an unchanging standard to what that means. Christ isn’t an idea or a philosophy. He is a real Person. Truth be told, He is the only Real Person, and all persons who imitate Him become real persons themselves.
Today, are you becoming a real person? If you are, it’s because you are imitating Jesus Christ. But how do I learn how to imitate Christ? By embracing those who have imitated Him in their lives through the centuries. Let’s face it, folks, we need the Church if we are ever going to be Orthodox on Purpose!