Each morning I walk into our kitchen and do three things. I feed the dog; I start the coffee maker and I take my vitamins while drinking a large glass of water. This morning, I noticed that I first splashed a bit of water into my glass and then poured it out before finally filling it to the brim. I realized I have been doing this little splashing and emptying ritual each morning for the last 50 years.
In the 1930’s my father was like so many other men who traveled across America looking for work. One crew he worked on was in the desert region of the American Southwest. It was hot and exhausting work. The camp had water stored in large wooden barrels. The men would pick up metal cups and dip them into the water barrel to get a drink.
One of the old timers told my father about the scorpions that liked to hide inside the metal drinking cups. To this day, I am not sure if the story was true or not, but my dad believed the old man. My father watched as the old man dipped his cup into the water barrel then poured the contents out on the ground with a flip of his wrist to clear out any scorpions from the cups interior. He would then thrust his metal cup deep into the cool water to retrieve a drink. Most likely the old man was simply clearing the sand that covered everything in the desert, but the scorpion story sounded better.
As a young boy, I worked with my father on his construction sites. I would watch him pour a bit of water in his water glass and then spill it out, like he was still making sure no scorpion was in his glass. As a little boy wanting to be like my father, I did the same. Sons want to be like their fathers. Most of what a son learns he first learns by copying his father. As life progresses we either retain or discard what we learned in this copying form of mentoring.
Watching and copying a life can lead to problems if the one you are copying is not someone you want to become. My father loved me and desired to have my best interest in mind. Copying him was usually a fun and safe thing to do.
The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 11:1 “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” That is a bold statement. As I read Paul’s words, I know he was talking to group of people who felt they were mature but were not. They had some issues that Paul would address. When we need to mature in a particular area it is important to find mature people to copy until our behavior becomes habitual – like a little boy watching his father drink a glass of water and finding himself going through the same action 50 years later.
What makes Paul’s appeal so powerful was the fact that he was asking them to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Paul was not asking them to imitate him apart from Christ. It wasn’t about Paul setting the agenda – it was about Paul living a life yielded to God that was worthy of being imitated. This yielded life to Christ is what made Paul’s invitation to the Corinthians so compelling. If fathers are following Jesus Christ their sons and daughters have a life to follow that will lead them to a secure and joyful life because they are ultimately following Jesus incarnated in a parent.
Over the years I have read Paul’s invitation for the Corinthians to imitate him, but never looked at the previous verses to understand the context. The verse about imitating Paul begins with the word, “and” linking his word to the previous verses that came before in chapter 10.
I Corinthians 10: 31 “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.”
I could make a long list of mature believers, both male and female, that I would like to imitate. Their lives have proved to me over the years their faithfulness and proven trustworthiness. If we are going to imitate someone, what are the qualities we want imitate? The verses in I Corinthians 10 give us some insight.
“Do it all for the glory of God.”
This is the source of all Paul did – all he did was for the glory of God. When you find someone living for the glory of God, it will be someone willing to deal with personal pride. God’s glory becomes the most visible aspect of their life. You will know you have discovered this kind of person when they respond humbly to their sin, acknowledging their error and the hurt they have caused others. This kind of person is approachable and teachable and will come to you asking for forgiveness because of a wrong attitude or action
“Try to please everyone in everything”
Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12: 17-18
Other translations of this verse say to be at peace as far as you are allowed. Take your efforts of peace as far as possible and even if your best attempts at reconciliation are rejected – don’t retreat from this heart-posture.
This posture is not about people pleasing where the root issue is the fear of man. We choose to live to please others because of God’s love and compassion that was first given to us.
I tell people to surround themselves with friends who will speak the truth to them in love, but to do it in such a way that honors both God and them. It is far too easy to speak “truth” in the name of God, but have it packaged with a wrong attitude. When we are around these kinds of people we are constantly trying to find ways to make them happy. It never works in the long run because it lacks peace as the fruit of our effort. These are not lives we want to imitate because they are not trying to please other people – they are demanding that everyone please them and this brings discord, not peace.
“I do what is best for others”
A wonderful mentor to many people, Jerry Cook, once said, “Love is seeking the highest good of another person.” Love does not seek the best for itself as its first goal. Love seeks to discover the highest good for an individual or a culture and then finds creative ways to deliver that higher good as an act of love.
These kinds of people are rare. I want to become someone who seeks the best for others. I have found too many times that I set up a filtering system that attempts to trap the good for me first before I even think about other people. When God gives me insight into this kind of personal brokenness it is a painful revelation. Healing my selfish heart is the first step in the process of becoming a person that other people would want to imitate.
Fathers teach so much to their sons and daughters. The vast majority of this instruction is done when our children are simply watching our lives. As a father who wants his children following a healthy parenting image, my prayer today would sound something like this:
“Lord, help me live today in a way that brings glory to your name. Let the example of my life be one that is known for seeking peace no matter what it costs me. Help me do what is best for others so that my life is marked by your loving presence.”
This morning when I walked into our kitchen, I was reminded of the time when I first noticed how my father filled his water glass. His reason for how he filled his glass was more interesting than the mechanics of actually taking a drink. Thinking about scorpions in a cup was fascinating to my young mind and watching my father imprinted something in my life that I still live with 50 years later.
Today, as I father my natural and spiritual children, I want their reason for imitating my life to be anchored in something beyond me - something eternal. As I follow God and release my selfish agenda to embrace His, I want my children to follow that aspect of my life. I want that to be the reason why they would consider imitating me.