Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
By Dr. Mickey Anders
About a month ago, the popular social-networking site Facebook featured “Doppelganger Week.” I really had no idea what that was because I don’t think I had ever heard the word “doppelganger.” When I looked up the word, I found that a doppelgänger is the ghostly double of a living person. But it has come to refer to any double or look-alike of a person. So the ‘Doppelganger Week’ premise was simple: Facebook users took part by switching their Facebook profile picture to whatever celebrity they think they resemble most.
It turned out to be pretty amazing. Our teenagers participated as well, and I learned some things. Sarah Goad really does look like Reese Witherspoon; and Patrick Mooney bears a striking resemblance to Olympic snowboarder Shaun White. Our music minister Chris Weiss struggled all week trying to find a look-alike, and finally put up a picture of Susan Boyle!
My curiosity led me to wonder who would be the celebrity look-alikes of our church staff. I found a web site where you could upload a photo and it would run a face-recognition program to generate eight or ten celebrities who looked like the photo. When I did that, I discovered that our preschool director Carol Neal looks like Laura Bush and Halle Berry. Our pianist Kay McAllister looks like Shelley Winters and Jane Russell, Music minister Chris Weiss looks like Alec Baldwin and Orlando Bloom. Associate minister Holly Fuqua looks like Sally Fields and Elizabeth Hurley. Church secretary Tammy Starbuck looks like Marie Osmond and Shirley Temple. But I was a bit put off when I that I looked like CBS newsman Harry Smith and Dick Cheney!
This may be a stretch, but perhaps our interest in such things reveals something inherent to our humanity; perhaps it gives us a clue as to how we’re wired to live. We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists who are as unique as snowflakes. But the truth is that we are all grand imitators of other people.
In our text, Philippians 3:17 says, “Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example.”
The Bible would suggest that individuality is a myth. Rather, you and I are creatures of conformity; we are inherently imitators of the world around us. Imitation is how we learn to be human at every level. We learn to speak by imitating our parents. We learn to walk by watching our older siblings. Later in life we create our own identity by imitating our teenage friends in high school and following our particular clique in college. Finally, we set certain people in our profession on a pedestal and mimic their movements.
Many of the things we conform to are innocent, such as the way we talk. I have never been able to overcome the Southern drawl that I learned growing up in Arkansas. But some things have important ramifications. Our work ethic, our attitude toward spouse and kids, and even our church attendance are things we pick up from others. Even our bad habits and negative personality traits can be the byproduct of bad conformity to someone around us. Our parents were right when they said, “Be careful who you associate with.”
In many ways, we are what we imitate. Each of us is a mosaic of influences resembling many people in our past and present. We conform to the image of others, and others, right now, are conforming to us.
This is a common message from Paul. Listen to these other statements of Paul:
1 Corinthians 4:16 – “I beg you, therefore, be imitators of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
Philippians 4:9 – “The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6 – “You became imitators of us, and of the Lord….”
2 Thessalonians 3:9 – This was “not because we don’t have the right, but to make ourselves an example to you, that you should imitate us.”
Paul acknowledges that we are creatures of conformity. What Paul is telling the Philippians — what he’s telling us — is simply this: “You’re going to copy. You’re going to mimic someone’s steps and mirror someone’s movements when it comes to learning this Christian life. That’s how we are as human beings. So if you’re going to imitate somebody, go ahead and imitate me. Follow me as I follow Jesus.”
My granddaughter, Lizzy, is obsessed with the movie, Shark Tales. Like many children do, she watches that movie over and over and over. I think she has started identifying with the fish. When she went for a walk with her dad this week, she held up her hand and said, “Daddy, hold my fin!”
We have been remodeling the church offices this week, and one of our helpers was three-year-old Reece Burden. She came with her grandparents, Larry and Jamie Crouch. There were several people in the office area when Reece asked me, “Where is Obie?” It took me a while to figure out that Obie was her grandmother, Jamie Crouch.
I pointed her to a room where Jamie was, and overheard her ask, “Obie, Obie, can I go help Yah-Yah?” Her grandfather, Larry, is Yah-Yah. I love that line, “Obie, can I go help Yah-Yah?”
Reece frequently helps Yah-Yah in some projects around the house. So Larry patiently allowed her to sand a certain spot on the wall, which she did for about two minutes.
The point is that she wanted to imitate her grandfather. All children do that, don’t they? It should make us pause and think about what we are modeling for the children.
All of this begs a few questions. First, who are you imitating? From whom are you learning what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in this messed-up world? Do you have a Christian friend whose faith feels more mature? Are you soaking up the wisdom of fellow small-group members? Are you following the pattern of a faith-filled parent? Or are you simply asking yourself at every turn, “What would my pastor do?”
Here’s the second question. Who is imitating you? If you have children, this one is easy to answer. But your sphere of influence extends beyond the home. Who in your life knows that you’re a Christian and, thereby, whose understanding of Christianity is influenced by your words, your actions and your attitude? Who is learning from you? That’s a scary one to wrestle with, isn’t it?
The Scriptures tell us that as we imitate the likes of Paul, as we learn from the faith and life of our baptized brothers and sisters around us, the end result isn’t a bunch of little Christian clones of one another but a community of people who resemble Christ. In his Incarnation and earthly ministry, Jesus became our example. The God-man Jesus Christ demonstrated for the world what it means to be fully human: to be right with God, filled with the Holy Spirit and completely in step with Jesus.
Romans 8:29 tells us that we should be “conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” That means that we will slowly but surely start acting like him, loving like him and resembling him.
One of the primary ways this happens is through our imitating of one another. By imitating one another in the faith, we begin to resemble and reflect the object of our faith, Jesus Christ.
As of now, there’s no web site to see if we physically resemble Jesus. Nobody knows what he looked like. But we can know if we are doing what he did. We can know if we are walking like Jesus walked, loving like Jesus loved.
There’s a wonderful scene in the 1933 movie Duck Soup with Groucho and Harpo Marx imitating each other as if they were in a mirror. They match moves for about three minutes in a wonderfully hilarious scene. It’s one of the hardest acts for any mime to perform. The two of them pranced back and forth on either side of a doorway, making it appear to be a mirror. That should be our goal. When we look in the mirror, we want to see a reflection that lives and moves and looks like Jesus Christ.
Paul said, “Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2010 Mickey Anders. Used by permission.