Imitators of Christ

Does God require more of Christians than they are able to achieve? Does He set forth the ideal of the character of Christ knowing that is an unachievable goal for Christís disciples? Is He operating under the philosophy that it is better to aim at the moon and hit an eagle than to aim at an eagle and hit a rock? When the apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, saying, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ," is he truly an imitator of Christ? And is it possible for the brethren to imitate him also? The mindset of Catholicism, Protestantism, and "Churches of Christ" is that it is impossible to be a true imitator of Christ. Whether it is the doctrine of "original sin," or "total depravity," or "that as a human, you are always going to sin," the subtle underlying idea is that the power of sin is somehow greater than the power of God. Some try to limit the scope of Paulís statement in I Corinthians 11:1 about being imitators of Christ to the narrow issue of eating of meats offered in the market place. The key line, however, is this one: "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31). Christ did; Paul did; all saints can!

It was not easy for Jesus to have and maintain the character of Jesus; it is not easy for saints either. But simply because it is difficult does not make it impossible! While the Christian engages the outer man in renewing the mind and making the countless decisions involved in walking as Christ walked, God strengthens him with power through His Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). In this divinely arranged partnership, the child of God is thus transformed from the inside out; he "has laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and has put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Colossians 3:9,10). Ultimately, this is a matter of faith. Saints are to be of the faith of Abraham, who believed that what God had promised, God was able to perform (Romans 4:21)! God, in the case of the new covenant has promised; do we modern brethren believe that promise?

Headship and Head Covering

In the time before time on earth, there was rebellion in heaven. Those whom Jesus called "the devil and his angels" did not keep within their prescribed boundaries, and eventually were thrown out of heaven, awaiting their time to be thrown into the lake of fire which was prepared specifically for them. But while earth spins onward, progressing toward the culmination of Judgment Day, mankind labors in the midst of an all-encompassing spiritual war, wherein the prince of darkness tries with all his might and deception to pull mankind into his side of the conflagration. As the god of confusion and agent of destruction, Satan works to overthrow every aspect of the order of God. Hence it is that the natural order between male and female, between a man and his wife is attacked by the deceiver, and this the apostle Paul has to address in regard to the congregation at Corinth.

The rebellious prince of darkness counsels rebellion at every turn. Hence if he can get men to be rebellious by praying or preaching with hats on their heads, he is sardonically smiling. Likewise, if he can get women to have close-cropped, male hair styles, and have them pray or do their preaching with their heads uncovered, he chortles as he continues to foment the rebellion against Godís order. A man, when he is publicly before the Lord, should uncover his head in honor of His Head, Christ Jesus. And a woman, publicly before the Lord, should have her head covered, so that she not disgrace the men who fill the leadership role in a more general setting. "Because of the angels," says Paul!

More Headship and Head Covering

For God to have the gospel move forward, and for Him to prosecute His warfare against the forces of darkness, He must have order and submission to that order. Satan, on the defensive end of the struggle, must do all that he can to disrupt Godís order and Godís agenda. A practical point in that warfare, then, is the headship of man over woman, the headship of Christ over man, and the headship of the Father over Christ. One set of details in this final phase of God vs. Satan ó for those in the Christian era are those "upon whom the ends of the ages have come" ó relates to head covering as a participation in submission to Godís order. A man, while praying or prophesying in a public setting, needs to have his head uncovered; a woman, praying or prophesying in a public setting, needs to have her head covered.

Satan and his fallen angels are continually trying to disrupt Godís order and Godís offensive thrust. A key part of Godís method of operation is through the praying and prophesying that goes on in the church in public settings; and He has therefore communicated through His apostolic servant Paul how He wants that carried out. When the Christian woman is clearly the glory of the Christian man, the Christian man is for the glory of Christ, and Christ is for the glory of God, then one of Godís most important messages is proclaimed, even ó and maybe, especially ó to the angelic realms!

Head Covering Closure

Godís warfare with Satan is total warfare, with battle engagements on every front. The All Wise Father, then, makes certain that every area is covered, with instructions to His spiritual army telling them how to conduct themselves at every encounter with the devil and his schemes. It is also important for the saints to remember that their knowledge of the spirit realm ó the unseen battleground of the demonic forces against the angels of God ó is very limited. Hence, what seems to be a small thing to the saints in the physical realm may actually be of huge significance in that unseen environ. The only guide the disciples of Christ have in order to do their part is the word of God; thus, the instructions need to be taken seriously. A man ought to have his head uncovered while praying or prophesying, and "a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." This could be a major issue in the warfare in the spirit realm!

The scripture is pretty clear: men need to look like men, and women need to look like women. Men need to have men-length hair; women need to have women-length hair. Men need to remove their head coverings (hats, turbans, whatever) when praying or prophesying; women need to have female length hair while praying or prophesying, or have some additional covering if their hair is too short. "But if one is inclined to be contentious," intones the apostle, "we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God" (I Corinthians 11:16). No options here!

Wrong Motives

Paul had praised the Corinthian brethren for following the traditions and examples he had set forth for them. He particularly praised the congregation for carrying out the instructions regarding head covering for Christian men and women as they were praying or prophesying in a public setting. It was almost like he was looking for something to praise the congregation for, because there were not a lot of praiseworthy conditions in the church at Corinth.

The congregation was divided. It is apparent that some were using their expertise in Greek wisdom to elevate themselves to leadership of certain factions, claiming to be "of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, or of Christ." Paul is righteously indignant over such claimants, pointing out that, "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish, that he may become wise" (I Corinthians 3:17,18). Having praised the church in one area, the apostle now moves on to another area, one that further concerns such division in the congregation.

"The goal of our instruction," Paul had reminded Timothy, "is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (I Timothy 1:5). But when people stray from these things and become petty and personal, ambitious and avaricious, fighting and factious, then bad things happen within a congregation. Under those conditions the Lordís Supper is just an outward show, the Lord Himself is really forgotten, and Satan is having a heyday inside the church of the living God.

Abuse of the Love Feast

The early church, following explicit instructions from Jesus to the apostles, met on the first day of the week for "the breaking of the loaf." This expression contradistinguished the Lordís Supper from "breaking bread," terminology used in regard to common meals that members of the congregation might have with one another, or even the whole congregation together at the church meeting place. History notes that the early church often met together and shared a "love feast" in connection with the Lordís Supper. Jude notes that people who would destroy the church or turn it aside from Jesusí purpose would use those times, stating, "These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves Ö" (Jude 1:12). Thus it was at Corinth.

The brethren in Corinth were selfish, self-serving, and self-absorbed. What a contrast between them and the Lord. His words, "This is My body, which is for you," established a basis for trying to bring those in Corinth back on track. The Lord gave His body over to death, emphasized in the breaking of the loaf, for these same Corinthians, but they can not step aside on behalf of a hungry brother who has nothing! The Lord offered a cup of fruit of the vine and passed it, emblematic of His shed blood, in an orderly fashion among the twelve, but these Corinthians have to make the assembly a disorderly party of drunks! Perhaps these words got them back on track.

Instituting the Lord's Supper

The Lordís earnest desire is for His children to have true fellowship with Him. Fellowship is often directly connected with sharing a meal together, wherein meaningful conversation and developing real relationships can take place. When Peter returned to Jerusalem sometime after preaching the gospel to the first Gentiles to be saved, the church was upset at Peterís interaction with Cornelius and those present, expressing their concern in these terms: "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them" (Acts 11:3). That eating with the Gentiles signaled fellowship, and the church was rightly concerned until the situation was explained to them. Hence Jesus, speaking of the fellowship of the eternal kingdom, used this terminology, "Many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11). And the saintsí ultimate fellowship with the Lord is also described as "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7). It makes good sense, therefore, that the Lord Jesus would institute a fellowship meal ó whose fellowship would be primarily spiritual ó among His disciples to keep them in fellowship with Him, and also with each other.

That the Supper is a proclamation "until He comes" means that He is alive, or He would not be coming again. It is significant, then, that the Supper is participated in by the saints on the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the grave. From the beginning, therefore, the Lordís Supper was instituted as a victory celebration to be shared in by those who have life in fellowship with Christ!

Setting the Table

There are two institutions in which the individual disciple of Christ is directly involved with the blood of Christ; immersion, and the Lordís Supper. In immersion into Christ, the believer has his heart initially sprinkled clean from an evil conscience when his body is washed with the pure water. In the Lordís Supper, the disciple of Christ participates in both the body and the blood of the Lord in his koinonia or fellowship about the Lordís Table. In these institutions ó one for establishing fellowship with Christ in the first place, and the other for maintaining fellowship with Christ from that initial point onward ó there are both physical and spiritual elements. In immersion, there is the physical water as the touchstone for communicating all the great spiritual truths connected with the personís salvation and fellowship through the Holy Spirit. In the Lordís Supper, there is the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine to provide the physical basis for the saint to comprehend the great spiritual truths connected with his intimate fellowship with the great God of all. The physical elements of the Lordís Supper, then, are emblematic of the saintsí participation in the spiritual body and spiritual blood of the Lord. So important is the Lordís Supper that God had numerous types and foreshadows set in motion in the Old Testament to communicate the saliency of the Supper in the lives of the saints. These types such as "a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day" constituted "a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16,17).

These Old Testament foreshadows were specifically designed by God to set the stage for what He really desired, fellowship with the saints about His table. As much as Jesus desired to eat the Passover with the twelve disciples, much more has He desired to drink of the fruit of the vine "new with you in My Fatherís kingdom" (Matthew 26:29).

Lord's Table Etiquette

The writer of Proverbs has an interesting comment about eating with the king. "When you sit down to dine with a ruler," he instructs, "consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite" (Proverbs 23:1,2). Rulers apparently notice such things as lack of self-control, and the exordium clearly has to do with guestsí conducting themselves intelligently at the kingís table. So when it comes to dining "the great King" at the Lordís Table, saints would be well advised to ask themselves, "What sort of conduct pleases the King?" While someone may have to guess when dining with an earthly king, the great King over all has told his disciples what pleases Him when the brethren come together weekly to participate in the Lordís Supper.

Jesus left heaven to come and sacrifice Himself on earth for His body, the church. If a brother starts turning into a wolf and creating divisions in this body, he is making the King very unhappy. "For this reason many among you are weak and sick," Paul informs the brethren, " and a number sleep" (I Corinthians 11:30). Some brethren were already facing the wrath of the King and were weak or sick. But some "slept"; they were already physically dead and removed from this earth. When the saints assemble at the table, then, in the presence of the King, it is necessary to keep the King happy by maintaining the proper attitude and focus!

Disciplining Ourselves

The heavenly Father does not like it when His kids start squabbling among themselves and losing sight of their purpose. Satan ó the original liar and murderer, the big slanderer himself ó loves to create confusion and disruption, knowing that even Christís house divided against itself cannot stand. God, being super conscious of the nature of the spiritual warfare that is taking place between Himself and the forces of darkness, will act when the members of the local congregation cannot get along. The apostle Paul states that "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord!" Proper reflection will reveal that there is no other crime that can match the seriousness of that guilt. Hence it is imperative that the brethren lay aside any schismatic drives or tendencies, that they eliminate jealousy and envy from their thoughts, and that they truly exalt Jesus as Lord in their lives and focus on edifying the local congregation.

It is amazing to consider how much selfishness and self-interest can occur within the saints of God. It is clear from letters such as this one to the church at Corinth that Satan can get a toe-hold in the minds of the brethren, and pull them away from the focus and spirituality that would befitting followers of Christ. It also makes it understandable why congregations need spiritual leaders who can reprove and redirect the brethren when necessary. As Paul notes: "And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come."