Back in the early 1990’s, Gatorade ran a series of television commercials featuring their new spokesperson and mega-star Michael Jordan, with the catch-phrase “Be like Mike.” The idea they were trying to communicate (and indoctrinate) to the minds of those who watched was that if you want to be a superstar like Jordan, you should drink Gatorade like he does.
The ad executive who first came up with the idea for the campaign originally wanted to use the song “I Wanna Be Like You,” from the 1967 film The Jungle Book, though Disney asked for more money in licensing to use it than Gatorade was willing to pay. So they wrote their own song, “Be Like Mike,” which played in the background while we watched a series of videos of Jordan dunks.
Whatever catchy tune they used–and I think I would have favored the Jungle Book song if they had been able to pull it off–the idea was still the same. All who would aspire to be like Michael Jordan should do the things to “be like” him. Even drinking Gatorade.
I have been studying through 1 Corinthians of late in my devotional time and a couple of verses have stood out to me. The first was from 1 Cor. 4:16, where Paul wrote. “Therefore, I urge you to imitate me.” I have read that verse before and it always got my attention, first for the audacity of someone saying that to anyone, and then the courage it would take to live such a life that you could confidently tell others to follow your example.
But that was not out of the ordinary at all from the apostle Paul. In those early days in the life of the first-century church, Paul the church planter found himself needing to instruct those followers who had either come from a background steeped in religious legalism, or from pantheistic paganism that had no moral restraints. Rather than just offer them unfamiliar instruction to tell them how to live, he showed them.
On a number of occasions Paul wrote to those early Christians–in Corinth, in Thessalonica, and in Philippi–to follow His lead. Ultimately, he summed up his point in the second verse I read this week, from 1 Cor. 11:1 when he wrote: “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” (ESV)
I have to admit, I’m pretty uncomfortable ever asking anyone to “be like me.” I can hardly imagine instructing another Christian to “do what I do” or “say what I say.” It’s more than just some over-spiritualized sense of humility. I’ve lived with myself long enough that I know my example is rarely worthy of following.
But there is a great truth for us about setting an example and having an influence on our world, by modeling the behavior and character and values that reflect our faith in Christ. Whether it be in parenting, where we’re always being watched and regularly being imitated, or in interpersonal discipleship, where we are called to reproduce more disciples (who reproduce more disciples), it’s so very important that the model we set comes from the model we follow, which is Jesus.
Remember the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It’s also the sincerest form of genuine discipleship. That was Paul’s method–“Follow me, as I follow Christ”–and that’s what we say to our children and youth, and to those young in the faith who are looking for worthy Christian models to pattern their lives after.
May our lives truly reflect Jesus in all that we do, and may we live in such a way that we can boldly, and yet humbly, say “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”
I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.