Becoming More Like Christ
The apostle Paul instructed the believers in Corinth to be imitators of him. He witnessed and heard about the many challenges and struggles that the early church in Corinth was going through. They were new in their faith and Paul had a simple solution for them. What authority did Paul have on speaking about difficulties and struggles? He shared his struggles and difficulties as a servant of Jesus Christ in chapter 11. We read in verses 23-27, “far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, many times near death. Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing.
Paul’s intent was not to boast about his sufferings for Christ. In fact, when he instructed them to be imitators of him, he didn’t end there. He completed that statement with, “as I am of Christ.”
We have many passages in the New Testament that instruct us to be like Christ. We all desire to be Christ-like. We often think of Christ’s love, His kindness, and His teachings. These are all things we want to exemplify. But are we willing to be Christ-like in the difficulties he endured? Some of these are hard to accept: His humility, His sacrifice, His forgiveness, and his suffering. These are things we typically try to avoid. When we find ourselves in the middle of difficulty, do we pray for God to remove our problems, to cure our illnesses, to fix our relationships, to provide for our needs or do we ask Him to carry out his plan and will for our lives; to help us grow through them, to draw us closer to Him, to strengthen our faith.
This is the point that Paul was making. He wanted to share his desire to be Christ-like, even though, and especially through his suffering. Jesus instructed his followers in Luke 14:33 to deny themselves, take up their cross (daily) and follow Him. If they weren’t willing to give up everything they had, they were not worthy to be His disciple.
This is not an automatic human desire and response. We need to depend on Christ and the Holy Spirit. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 how he is even capable of doing this. Jesus explained to him right after his conversion, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
While pursuing Christ-likeness, we can endure the difficulties, not because of our abilities and strengths, but because of our weaknesses and inabilities in order to depend on God to get us through them. This is when God empowers us. This is how Paul was able to withstand his persecutions, depending on the strength and courage from God.
This is the only way that we can and should pursue a life like Christ, something that Paul said he could even boast about. We, too, can be imitators of Paul as we follow his lead in being imitators of Christ.
For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21