Friday, July 12, 2013

Follow Who?

Leadership is a hot button topic these days. Not only for thousands of Christian gurus and wannabe “leaders” out there, but also for pastors and teachers who hope to become the next mega church founder or bestselling author. It’s nearly epidemic.

The other day I read a Tweet that said something like, “Real Christian leaders can honestly say, ‘Follow me as I follow Christ’".  That set me off. I replied: “The mark of a true Christ follower is that they follow Christ, not human leaders”. In response to that someone Tweeted back: “So Paul is encouraging people NOT to follow Jesus when he says, ‘Follow me as I follow Christ’?”

And that’s what led to this blog post.

If you’re following anyone other than Christ, you are not a Christ follower. That should be plain enough. But to elaborate, let’s take a closer look at Paul’s oft-quoted statement: “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

As usual, the real problem comes when we take a single verse like this one out of its actual context and begin to apply it to situations and practices that were not intended by the author.
In this case, we have to go back to 1 Corinthians chapter 10, starting around verse 23. Even though the verse in question actually starts chapter 11, it’s necessary to go back to the end of chapter 10 because the verse is finishing up the end of a thought that begins there.

Here’s what Paul is saying at the end of Chapter 10. He’s wrapping up a discussion about how the Corinthians should behave when it comes to exercising their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols. This was an issue in their community. Some of them thought it was a sin, others thought it was no big deal. Paul assures them that it really isn’t an issue, but stresses that they should not practice the eating of meat sacrificed to idols if it causes one of their brothers or sisters to stumble in their faith.  So, Paul wraps up this thought in verse 31 by saying:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor.10:31-11:1)

Did you catch that?

He’s using himself as an example in regards to eating this meat. He says, “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage…” and then he ends by saying, essentially, “Do what I’m doing when it comes to eating this meat because this is what Jesus would do too.”

What Paul is not saying is, “I’m such a perfect example of Jesus that you should just start following me instead of trying to follow Jesus.”

Paul would never suggest that anyone should follow after him (as if they were Paul’s disciples). How do I know this? Because at the beginning of this very same letter, Paul rebuked them for exactly that:

“What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:12-13)

Later on he says:
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:4-7)

Also, in the book of Acts, Paul warned the church with very strong words to avoid leaders who tried to gain their own followers, saying:

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:25-31)

What troubled Paul most of all was the knowledge that, after he was gone, men would rise up “to draw away disciples after themselves”. Paul was broken-hearted to think of the Body submitting to the authority of men rather than to the authority of Christ.

Why would this concern Paul so much? Why would it cause him such anxiety and emotional turmoil? Perhaps because Jesus made the issue of leadership within His Body very clear: It was designed to be a family, an organism and a community, not a hierarchy.

In the Church, our only Head and Leader is Jesus.

"Christ is the head of the body, the church; Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,that in everything Christ might be preeminent." (Colossians 1:18)

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:22-23)

So, once again, let me say, “Christ followers need to follow Jesus, not human leaders who misquote the Apostle Paul.”




1 comment:

Marshall said...

As from I Corinthians 1 & 3, Paul takes exception to any among them saying "I follow Apollos" or "I follow Cephas" or... We always openly identify with the Head/Source, which is Christ. Even so, the Head and the Body of Christ are, uhhh, attached for Life (may it be so!). So then, follow the Body as she follows the Head. Or, Christ in you, the hope of glory --- the same Christ we follow together.
"followers/imitators of me according as I [am] of Christ"
[ref: I Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Ephesians 5:1; Philippians 3:17; I Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14; Hebrews 6:12...]