“We don’t follow men; we follow Jesus!”
It’s a rallying cry to those who push back against the celebrity status the American church culture is (nearly) obsessed with. We write church bylaws and make policies to limit the influence of Lead Pastors and offer accountability to their actions.
We speak these words from our pulpits, lecterns, and music stands. We write them in our social media comments, posts, and blogs.
But have we gone too far with minimizing examples of discipleship and spiritual growth?
You might be surprised to read Philippians 3:17-21.
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:17-21, NIV
Compared to our politically-correct-because-everybody-gets-offended-at-anything-nowadays, Paul can come across as harsh. Granted, it would have been very “on the nose” when he wrote it; it was meant to be. When it comes to defending the truth of the method of our salvation, the Gospel, it bears clear defense.
And Paul’s defense is not just found in theological discourse: it’s found in his life: “join together in following my example” (verse 17a).
You can file this under #ThingsPaulNeverSaid: “don’t look at me; look at Jesus.” Instead, he invited the Philippian Christians to use the example of his life as something worth using as an example.
But wait—he’s not done! He continues in the same verse, “and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” When it came to the fruit of his life, Paul said he belonged to a group worth using as a model of spiritual formation in Jesus. Let’s be clear: it was his life he used as proof of the truth of what he was writing!
So why do we say things like “don’t look at me; look at Jesus”? I’m sure it comes from a good place: don’t put your hope in me because I’m human. Perhaps we might be saying, “I’m not your Savior”. Both of those are true statements.
Paul wouldn’t disagree, but he might scratch his head at our desire to not offer ourselves as an example of following Jesus. If we’re telling people how to live, they’re going to evaluate our lives anyway.
Is there a deeper reason we don’t want to speak this way?
Is it possible we are not living in such a way as to honestly, sincerely tell other Christians, “follow me as I follow Jesus”?
It’s scary to stick a statement out there like “follow me as I follow Jesus”, but every disciple of Jesus should be able to say this. I don’t believe this was something for “super Apostles”. Instead, we all have a story to tell. We all have growth in Jesus to show others.
We’re not bragging; we’re stating the truth: by the grace of God, here’s where I am. Wherever you are in the “following Jesus line”, you’ve got a story to tell. You have an example for someone else to follow.
With the power of the Holy Spirit, embrace your place in telling others to use your life as an example of Jesus’ redemption. Live in such a way where you can tell others, “this stuff is real because you can see it in my life—look at it!”.
I’m praying today you’ll begin purging “don’t look at me; look at Jesus” from your vocabulary and heart, and embrace the Biblical reality: you are an example of God’s redemption and transformation and He wants to use you to show that to others.