Imitators or Followers of Christ? Study No. 187
n I Corinthians 11:1, Paul admonishes us to be followers of him, as he followed Christ. The Greek word for “followers” is Strong’s # 3402, mimetes, a noun, from #3401, mimeomai, a verb, meaning, “to imitate, or follow.” Before the days of Xerox copiers, we made copies with a mimeograph machine. Back then, it was easy to distinguish between the original and the copy. Modern copy machines, however, make copies almost indistinguishable from the original.
Both words, “imitators,” and “followers” have good and bad connotations. An imitation is not the real thing. We use the phrase, “cheap imitation,” in contrast to something that is genuine. A mimic is an actor that closely imitates the character he or she is portraying. I have seen Elvis impersonators who look like the real thing. We should pattern our lives as closely as possible after Christ. However, “follower” is a better word than “imitator” to describe our Christian life. We do not become a copy (imitation) of Christ; we must remain close followers of Christ. On the other hand, we use the phrase “blind follower,” for someone who does not think, but follows like a robot. This is not the kind of imitators of Christ we should be. He wants us to use our minds in following Him.
The sons of the chief priest Sceva were imitators of Christ in the negative sense. These seven vagabond exorcist Jews saw the miracles that Paul performed through the power of God. They imitated Paul by calling over those possessed with evil spirits, using the name of the Lord Jesus, saying “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” It was dangerous to be an imitator of Paul! The evil spirit knew Jesus and Paul, but did not know these vagabonds. The demonic leapt on them, and overcame all seven of them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded, Acts 19:10-20. The seven sons of Sceva were imitators of Paul; they were not followers of Paul.
Here are other Biblical uses of mimetes: In I Corinthains 4:16, Paul reminds those he personally taught the Gospel, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” Were the Corinthians to be “little Pauls” imitating him in being an Apostle and evangelizing in new lands? That’s not the meaning of “followers of me.” Paul was telling them to closely follow him and be in “remembrance of my ways which be in Christ,” verse 17. In Ephesians 5:1, he says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children,” and goes on to say that the Christian walk is to be in love, as Christ has loved us, abstaining from fornication and all uncleanness and covetousness, verses 2-5. If you are on a hike and follow the leader, you do not mimic his gait or expressions. You stay on the same trail as he does, and do not get far behind so you get lost. That is what it means to follow Christ.
How did the Thessalonians become followers of Paul and the Lord? By “having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,” I Thessalonians 1:6. He commended them, “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God, which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews,” I Thessalonians 2:14. Following Christ is living the kind of life that results in persecution from those who reject Christ. This is the genuine faith, far from a cheap imitation. See also Hebrews 6:12; I Peter 3:13.
Here are the Bible uses of mimeomai: In II Thessalonians 3:7, Paul admonished, “ye ought to follow us,” because he was “an ensample [example] unto you to follow us,” verse 9. Following in the Bible sense of mimeomai is following in the footsteps of a leader, living the same kind of life as the leader. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation [conduct],” Hebrews 13:7. Why? Because our leader, Jesus Christ, does not change, verse 8. Following Christ is not like the mimics on “Saturday Night Live” television who imitate and mock our leaders and famous people. Following Christ is humbly following an unchanging leader, Christ, letting Him lead you and constantly surrendering to His will, following that which is good, not that which is evil, III John 11. That is the kind of follower we must be.
Both the New King James Version, and the New International Version vacillate on translating these Greek words. Sometimes, they are translated “imitate,” and other times “follow.” Although the English word, “imitate” can mean “mock,” or “assume the form of,” the primary definition is “to follow as a pattern, model, or example, as in acts, manners, conduct.” That is the meaning of these passages we have studied. And, the meaning of “follow” as used here, is “to accept as authority,” or “to act in accordance with, obey.”
The old King James Version’s consistent use of “follow” rather than “imitate” is the best rendition. There are many imitators of Christ around today. I want to associate with followers of Christ, and follow Christ myself. Brethren, let us be followers of Christ.
— written by Richard C. Nickels W