By Pastor Glenn Pease
Many years ago a man invited a friend to come with him to hear Jimmy Durante, but the man refused. He said he could not stand Durante. "But why," asked his friend. "When did you ever see him?" "I've never seen him," he responded, "But I saw a fellow do an imitation of him and it was awful."
Rejection of an original on the basis of a poor imitation is not very good logic, but unfortunately men do not insist on being logical when they make value judgments. The result is that they even reject a perfect original on the basis of imperfect copies. Paul tells us that the Gentiles blasphemed God because His people were so ungodly. God is held responsible for the actions of His children, just as parents are for their children. It is assumed that children are imitations of their parents, and so a poor imitation casts reflection upon the parents. This is true in the spiritual realm also, and believers carry with them the very reputation of God.
Paul says in Eph. 5:1 that we are to be imitators of God. The Philips translation has it, "As children copy their father you, as God's children, copy Him." This idea of God and Christ being our pattern and example runs all through the New Testament. Animals learn by instinct, but man learns by imitation. He learns to walk and talk, and he develops most all of his actions and attitudes by the process of imitation. Lord Chesterfield said, "We are, in truth, more than half what we are by imitation. The great point is, to choose good models and to study them with care."
What any person become depends upon that which they imitate. If a person imitates a bad example, he will tend to become even worse than that which he copies. A boy was to copy a printed sentence at the top of a paper. He was to make copies down the entire length of it. As he descended he stopped going back to the original and began to copy his own previous line. The result was that he copied all of his mistakes, and the last were worse than the first. To be effective as an imitator you must have an excellent original, and keep your eyes on it and it alone. If your original is poor, then you cannot gain anything from imitation.
Imitation can even be folly. Wendell Philips told of sending a plate to China to have an entire set made after its pattern. The plate he sent was cracked, and when his set returned he discovered that every piece had been made with an identical crack in it. As imitators of God we have an original with no imperfections. We can never improve on our pattern as given to us in Christ. There is no such thing as originality in the realm of the moral, ethical, and spiritual life. You cannot be original in love, forgiveness, justice, kindness, and holiness. The very best you can do is to imitate Christ.
Every person alive is imitating either the first or the second Adam. The first Adam chose to deviate from the perfect pattern and be original. The result was sin and the fall of man. Ever since people have imitated one another, and as copies of fallen copies they have gone further and further from the original. God in His love and mercy, however, broke into history with a second Adam, which was His Son Jesus Christ. In Christ God gave man His expressed image, and calls them again to come back to the original and to imitate Him. We can only legitimately imitate copies when those copies are themselves excellent imitations of the original. Paul uses this same word in I Cor. 11:1 where we read, be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ." In I Thess. 1:6 he uses it again. "You become imitators of us and of the Lord." Conformity to Christ the original is the standard by which all imitations are tested.
In 1868 Sir Norman Lockyer detected a light coming from the sun which was not given by any known substance on earth. He called the unknown gas helium. In 1895, 27 years later, Sir William Ramsey discovered the same gas in minerals on earth. It was a gas discovered in the sun nearly 30 years before it was found on earth. This example from science is to be the regular pattern for Christian discovery. We are to discover that which is in the Son of God first, and then look for it on earth in the lives of believers. Our discoveries are to begin in heaven, and then when we find them in believers on earth we are to be imitators. It sounds incredible, but we are actually expected to be examples of eternal excellence, and be replicas of the Redeemer. We are to be copies of the Christ; duplications of the Divine; patterns of the Perfect, and imitators of the infinite.
No one has a higher calling then the Christian. His goal is to be no less than an imitation of God. A poor imitation can hinder many from ever approaching or appreciating the original, but a good imitation can point many to an acceptance of the original. The question is, how can even saints who are still sinful creatures ever be more than pathetically poor imitations of God? Paul in verse 2 tells us of the only way by which we can come to a place where matching our Maker is possible above a superficial level. It is by walking in love, which means living according to the principle of sacrifice.
There is no alternative for the believer. He is either superficial or sacrificial. All Christians are divided into these two categories. The superficial Christian is one who imitates Christ only to the point of convenience. When it only cost them what they can spare in time and energy they will serve Christ, but when the service of Christ calls for interference in their plans they are prepared to let His plan fail. They cannot see the sense of going so far as to let being a Christian to actually lead them to inconvenience and hardship. Such superficial saints are not exactly scarce, and that is why God's reputation is not on a very high level.
On the other hand, there are those who are willing to pay the supreme price for the cause of Christ. Dr. Robert McClure tells of the Japanese missionary who went to serve the head hunters of Formosa. He became one with them and set himself against the head hunting custom. He faced the bitter opposition of the priests who looked on head hunting as a service to their god. One year when famine struck the priests took advantage of it. They said it was the vengeance of their god on them for not bringing to him the offering of their fathers. The judgment would not be removed until a head was brought to their god.
The missionary did his utmost to turn them from it, but it was in vain. He then persuaded them to take just one head, and if they would promise to do so he would tell them where a stranger could be found that very night. They promised, and so he gave them the information, and the head was taken that night. When they brought it home they discovered it was the head of their missionary. The custom died under that stroke, and it was never revived. The story of this sacrifice, according to George Pidgeon, "Is the one record of Christian devotion that the Japanese government has put in its official reports." The man's son is now serving those same people for whom his father died. Here was a sacrificial life that exalted the name of God. He was an imitator of God, and he did it well.
Most Christians in our society never have any reason to be this sacrificial, but there are many reasons for being superficial. Jesus certainly knew that millions of His followers would live in historical situations where the whole idea of sacrifice would be nearly obsolete. That is why He instituted the Lord's Supper, and why He commanded it be observed all through history until He comes again. Doing this in remembrance of Him keeps the concept of sacrifice at the center of Christian faith. Communion is that experience of Christian worship i which we look again upon the original which we are to imitate.
In the observance of the Lord's Supper we are constantly being challenged to come away from our superficial imitation of Christ to a sacrificial imitation. This is a paradox, for the fact is communion is a superficial service for most Christians. If the Lord had not instituted it and commanded it to be observed, it probably would not have been maintained. The reason for its being superficial, however, is not in the observance, but in our lack of understanding. As simple as a communion service is, it has profound implications which can give it a deep rather than surface meaning when we understand them.
For example: Jesus made a meal like service the symbolic center of His church because of the meaning of the meal in the Old Testament. To sit at the table with a man committed you to Him and Him to you. The laws of hospitality demanded that you protect one who has eaten with you at any cost. In the Old Testament it was a virtue to sacrifice your daughter to a crowd of men rather than let them molest the stranger who has come into your home. In Psa. 23:5 we read, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." You can visualize yourself fleeing across the desert sands with enemies in hot pursuit. You come to an encampment and rush up to one of the tents. If the man in the tent stretches out his hand and welcomes you, and offers you food, you can breath a sigh of relief, for the man has thereby committed himself to your defense. You enemies can do no more than watch unless they are prepared to fight the whole encampment.
If the man refused to welcome you to his table, however, you would be at the mercy of your enemies. A meal was no small matter, but a life and death issue. Eating together meant a commitment to each other, even unto sacrifice. From a biblical perspective every time we take of communion we are saying, "Thank you Lord for your sacrifice and for the security in which I have in your atonement. I know you will protect me from the power of sin, and plead your blood before the throne of God for my offenses." Where we are also saying, "I will in turn sacrifice for you. I will take up the cross and stand for the defense of your name. I will die if need be for the protection of your honor." All through the Old Testament a treaty, agreement, or covenant was ratified with a common meal. In communion we commit ourselves anew to obey the commands of God, to walk in love, and to give our bodies as living sacrifices to His service.
A meal together was one of the most sacred experiences of the ancient world, and that is why Jesus made a meal setting the central symbol of the Christian faith. Groups like the Essenes, which the dead sea scrolls brought to life, built their community life around the common meal. The Jews centered their faith around the Passover meal. The Greeks also made the meal an important event. When a man married a girl outside of his clan she became a member of his clan. She was taken into the new clan at a meal. The clan meal signified the passing from one family into another.
The idea of a feast at which God is present is common in the ancient world. Men offered sacrifices in the temple. Part of it was burned, part given to the priests, and the rest was given to the one who offered it, and he used it for a feast among his friends. It was a time of fellowship with one another and with the god to whom the sacrifice was made. You can see then how Jesus took the central symbolic event of the Jews and Gentiles and put them together in His institution of the Lord's Supper. Communion is so simple in its performance, but it takes up into itself all the meaning of customs around the world dealing with sacrifice and fellowship. The author of Hebrews stresses the fact that the sacrifice of Christ is a once for all sacrifice making all other sacrifices for sin obsolete. Charles Wesley put it in song:
All hail, Redeemer of mankind!
Thy life on Calvary resigned
Did fully once for all atone;
Thy blood hath paid the utmost price,
Thine all-sufficient sacrifice
Remains eternally alone.
In spite of the fact that the sacrifice of Christ was once for all Christians are still called upon to be imitators of the sacrifice of Christ. It is not for atoning for sin, but that they might be examples of the love of Christ. We have to know how to swallow pride, endure injury, and be patient in tolerating all kinds of things in order to walk in love and be imitators of God. But that is what communion is all about. It is a focusing our eyes on the sacrifice of Christ for us that we might be convicted of our superficial love for one another, and commit ourselves anew to sacrifice for Christ and His body.
Life exists by sacrifice. Dr. Paul Brand says that our bodies are living sacrifices every day as ten thousand million skin cells lay down their lives for the sake of the body. Several thousand are lost just by shaking hands or turning a door knob. One trembles to think of the cost of a game of hand ball. When you dust your house you never think of the sacrifice that it represents. Dr. Brand says that up to 90% of the dust in a house is dried skin cells. We wipe it up and shake it out never once pausing to utter a prayer of thanks for the millions of cells that have served you well, and then laid down their lives for their benefit. We do not thank the Lord for His marvelous creation of the body which replaces all of the cells mainly between 12 P. M. and 4 A. M. while the body is at rest.
We live a life of perpetual sacrifice and renewal, and communion is to call our attention to the fact that this is to be happening in our spiritual life as well. We are to recognize that love is exhibited by sacrifice. The measure of your love for anyone is what you are willing to sacrifice for them. Jesus loved us as intensely as possible, for He gave His life for us. His sacrifice is to be a perpetual reminder that we too must sacrifice to be imitators of His love.
Dr. Paul Cho, pastor of the largest church of the world, tells of the sacrifice of his people during the Korean War. Five hundred ministers were captured and immediately shot to death, and two thousand churches were destroyed by the Communist. One minister and his family were captured in Inchon and were put into a large hole in the ground. Then minister was told that if he would publicly disclaim what he had been preaching his wife and children would be freed. Otherwise he would have to watch them be buried alive. His children cried out, "Oh, Daddy! Daddy! Think of us!"
If you were in his place, what would you do? He lifted up his hand and said, "Yes, yes, I'll do it. I am going to denounce..." But before he could finish his sentence his wife nudged him and said, "Say no! Hush children, tonight we are going to have supper with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords." She lead them singing while the Communist began to bury them, and they continued to sing until the soil buried their faces. God did not deliver them, but almost all of the people who watched this execution became Christians, and many of them are now members of my church.
I do not pretend to think I could do such a thing apart from the special grace of God. I am so grateful that it is unlikely that I will ever have to be so sacrificial in my love. But I must ask myself as I again come to the communion service, am I merely superficial in my imitation of Christ's love, or am I sacrificial enough so that at sometime, at least, the love of Christ can be seen in me? What about you?