"BY YE FOLLOWERS OF ME, EVEN AS I ALSO AM OF CHRIST"
1 Corinthians 11:1
By Ian Potts
In at least three places in his epistles the Apostle Paul exhorts those to whom he is writing to follow him (1 Corinthians , 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians ). Paul’s exhortation is not without ground or authority. He is not encouraging others to blindly follow him as a man, or follow his teaching simply because ‘he say’s so’. No, Paul’s exhortation carries weight because of the One that he himself follows, the One who sent Paul to preach the Gospel: even the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul writes “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”.
Have you ever heard people say “don’t follow a man”? It is a criticism that can often be raised when the ministry of a particular man is commended. The inference is that we should rather follow Christ, than follow men. There is of course truth in this (though the criticism presents a false dichotomy), in that man should never be exalted above his measure, that Christ is pre-eminent in all things, and that ultimately we should be followers of Him who is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Him who gave His life for the sheep that they might have everlasting life in Him, the forgiveness of sins, and peace and reconciliation with the Father. Scripture rightly warns us in one place to “cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils”. Men, being sinners by nature, may often lead us astray. We must be very wise about whom we follow. Many foolish people have been led to destruction by deceivers, by those who promise much and give little, by those who can ‘sound right’ but ultimately speak of themselves, not of God. Except for the grace of God all men all fallen and at enmity with their Maker. Yet, nevertheless Paul exhorts his hearers to be “followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
It is in that final part of
Paul’s sentence that we may find the answer to whether or not we should
follow men, and, if at all, which men. Paul was a follower of
Christ! His exhortation was not simply to follow him, but to
follow him as he followed
Christ. Paul led his followers to Christ, and that is why they should follow him.
By following Paul they followed Christ. It is Christ who appeared to Paul (when he was
named Saul) on the
In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul makes a similar exhortation and adds a further reason why he should be followed. “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have yet not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:14-17.
The believers at the church at
As if these were not good enough reasons - that Paul followed Christ, and that his preaching of Christ’s Gospel had caused his hearers to be born again – Paul sent unto the Corinthians his beloved son Timothy, one faithful in the Lord, to bring them “into remembrance of [his] ways which be in Christ, as [he taught] every where in every church.” Paul’s teaching and conduct confirmed that he was a follower of Christ, one whom God’s children should gladly follow. So Paul sent Timothy to the people to testify of Paul’s character, of his “ways which be in Christ” and of his teaching which he taught“every where in every church” lest Paul's absence should have caused the Corinthians to become forgetful of his true character in Christ.
Yes, Paul taught others to follow him. But not without cause! He gave here three reasons which should dispel all opposition, which should silence every contrary tongue, which should answer every objection regarding the following of men. Firstly he followed Christ, and hence by following Paul others would be led to Christ. Secondly Christ sent him to preach His Gospel and by the preaching of that Gospel God, through Paul, had brought many to life in Christ Jesus. And thirdly, Paul’s conduct, his “ways which be in Christ” and his teaching in all the churches bore witness to the work of God in him and by him. It proved with what authority he said these things. It demonstrated the fruit by which Paul’s followers might know that He was sent of Christ to lead them to Christ (Matthew 7:15-20). Then how could they not follow him?
Paul’s hearers were right to follow him. In doing so they were not following a man, but following Christ by receiving him whom Christ had sent to them, by believing the word preached by Christ through that man, and by owning the evident work of God seen in Paul, whom they had as an example of one who lived and breathed to serve His Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” 1 Corinthians , “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” Philippians (See also 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 and Hebrews 13:7).
What was true of Paul is true for all those whom God sends to His church to preach the Gospel. Whilst Paul was indeed an apostle, and was unique in that respect, nevertheless those who have followed him are still called from above, still sent by Christ from above, to preach the same Gospel as Paul did. They still come with the authority of the One who sends them, they still declare the same Gospel by which men and women have their eyes opened, are turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God. It is by the preaching of the same Gospel that God the Holy Spirit quickens dead sinners unto everlasting life in Christ Jesus. And it is the same wonderful work of grace in the lives and characters of those whom God sends forth with His word that makes them examples for others to follow, as they follow Christ. Paul rightly exhorted others to follow him, and in such an exhortation God rightly exhorts us to follow those men whom He sends unto His church as gifts for its edification, as they too follow Christ.
You see, the question is not so much about whether or not we should follow men (for Paul’s exhortations make it clear that we should), but about which men we should follow. Which men should we follow? Those who follow Christ! For when God purposes to save a people He always sends a man with His Gospel to lead that people unto Christ (Romans 10:14). Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” We should follow those who, like Paul, are sent by Christ to preach His Gospel, those who proclaim the same apostolic doctrine: Those who declare the same truths regarding the person and work of the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who declare His divinity, His humanity, His incarnation, His baptism, His visitation, His death, resurrection and ascension, His present ministry from the glory. Those who declare the fall of man and his total depravity in sin by nature. Those who declare the finished work of Christ upon the cross, a free justification of fallen sinners by the blood of Christ, the imputation of the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all who believe on His Name, the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father for all that election of grace chosen of God in Christ from before the foundation of the world. Those who declare that salvation is of the Lord, entirely of the Lord, entirely by grace from start to finish. Those who declare the threefold work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in salvation. Those who declare the Gospel of Christ, just as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be - just as Paul preached it as the Spirit of God gave him utterance, and as the Spirit continues to do down through the ages through all those whom He sends in Christ’s Name. These are the men who we should follow, those who follow Christ.
…Whereas other men should be
avoided. We should test what all men say in the Name of Christ by the
scriptures, and if found wanting we should turn from them. We should turn
from such who would bring another gospel, and another Jesus, with another
spirit (2 Corinthians
11:4). We should turn from
such who deny the person of Christ or that He has truly come in the flesh.
From such who deny One God in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
From such who question and deny the inspiration and authority of God's
word recorded in all
the scriptures and its continual testimony to the person and work of Christ. From such who proclaim salvation by the works
or by the will of man. From such who deny the free and sovereign
grace of God in salvation. From such who deny God’s eternal purposes and decrees in Christ,
in electing a people for whom Christ should die, to bring them
to everlasting life in Him. From such who deny the true regenerating work
of the Holy Spirit in quickening dead sinners unto life. From such who preach
a mixed gospel, a mixture of works and faith, of law and grace, of Sinai
To turn our backs on those whom God sends forth with His Gospel; to shy from following them in a pious fear of being found to follow men, is, if those men truly follow Christ, to turn our backs on Christ Himself. To not receive those whom Christ sends to us, is to not receive Christ Himself. To treat with caution and reserve those preachers of the Gospel whom Christ has sent, is to treat with caution and reserve Christ Himself. To turn from all men and to trust only our own interpretation of the scriptures, is, ultimately, to follow ourselves and our own understanding. We are right to be wary of man, and the teaching of men, we are absolutely right to weigh up every word spoken by man by that which we find in the scriptures, but we would be wrong to be so wary that we turn away from the teaching of Christ Himself, by the Spirit, in power, through those men whom He has sent forth to preach His everlasting gospel of salvation.
May we be given grace and discernment from God to know and recognise those whom He sends as gifts to His church, and to follow them as they follow Christ! For to truly follow Christ is to receive those whom He sends with His word, those gifts given to His church for its edification, for the building up of the church, for Christ’s glory!
And may we be found to be true followers of Christ as we follow those who follow Him, that Christ might be glorified in His body on earth, for "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing". Revelation 5:12.