Have you ever noticed how easily and quickly we imitate the world around us? The way we say things are affected by what we hear. For instance, whether we say “you,” “you’all,” or “you’ns”; “pop,” “soda,” or “coke”; “wash” or “warsh” will depend on where we live or grew up. In the same way, the way we look at things are impacted by those we hang with. We all have patterns that have become inherent to who we are. Patterns impressed on us by our parents and our peers. Whenever we enter a new place, we observe and imitate the behavior of others to gain an understanding of what is expected and acceptable. Like the first time at a restaurant and we’re trying to figure out how to pay and whether we’re supposed to clear the table. You could say that we are wired for imitation.
In John’s third letter he is writing to encourage a local elder in the midst of a church fight. The underlying issues seem to revolve around control. Gaius, the elder to whom John is writing, desires to continue the church’s connection with John and welcome the missionaries he is sending. Diotrophes is reported in the letter to be blocking John’s ministry. John’s advice to Gaius is to keep doing the right thing which he underlines with an important observation. “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 11, NASB95)
The art of imitation is breaking out of the world pattern and choosing to imitate God because no one is good except God (Luke 18:19). To do this means taking a hard look at ourselves and examining why we do things, why we think a certain way, why we react the way we do, and where we desire acceptance. This doesn’t mean that we hide in a cave or only hang around with pious folks. Jesus didn’t do that. He walked among sinners, ate with the outcasts, touched the untouchable, and loved the undesirable. Jesus didn’t live in a walled garden where nothing could get in, but he engaged people whoever and wherever they were. Imitating others is the easy part. Choosing whom we should imitate, that’s the hard part, that’s the art of imitation.
Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19, NASB95) The Apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NASB95) You may not see Christ’s model clearly, in that case, follow or imitate someone that does. But even Paul wanted his readers to ultimately imitate Jesus’ example for themselves. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1, NASB95) And Peter told his readers, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” (1 Peter 2:21, NASB95)
Here’s your homework. Take time to consider Jesus’ example to us in the Gospels. We can’t imitate something we don’t see. I suggest making two columns, one with Godly examples and one that describes what would be its evil counterpart. God creates; evil destroys. Jesus made the way; evil bars the way. God forgives; evil extracts payment. Jesus sacrificially loves; evil only looks out for itself. Somewhere in there, the Holy Spirit will show you something to change. Some pattern to alter. Some way to imitate Jesus instead of something or someone else. Remember, the art of imitation is choosing good instead of simply trying to fit in.