The Bible does more than just tell us how to get to heaven. The Bible is the source book for a complete way of life–the Christian way of life. When the Bible enters into a culture it changes the way life is viewed and the way it is lived. The Bible is radical and transformative. As a consequence, there is a need for examples of what it means to be a Christian within each cultural context.
In our verses for today the Apostle Paul offers himself as an example that the Philippian church can imitate. At first glance, this may seem somewhat arrogant on Paul’s part. However, when one considers the pagan way of life into which Paul was introducing the Christian way of life, one can see the necessity for Paul’s offer. People need examples of what to believe and what to do.
It’s not as if Paul was conveniently overlooking his own imperfections. He said, “All the other apostles are greater than I am. I say this because I persecuted the church of God. That is why I am not even good enough to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). However, Paul had left his old way of life behind him and he was trying hard to live the new way of life (Philippians 3:13). He knew that the church at Philippi could use his example of what the new life in Christ looks like.
Paul himself had an example. He said, “Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus Christ, of course, is every believer’s ultimate example. Given this, some might wonder why Paul didn’t just refer his new converts to the example of Christ. The reason is that Jesus was not available to them in their situation as was Paul. Despite his imperfections, Paul was the best thing immediately available for imitation.
When leaders of the church model the Christian way of life in a specific cultural context, it is beneficial to lay down the old way of life and imitate them. If we follow their lead, God will be with us.