My wife Susan has an eye for selecting the absolute best thing off the menu. It seems that every time we eat out she finds the thing that is not only healthier than what I order, but tastier and more visually appealing. When our meals arrive at the table, I inevitably glance at my plate before looking over at hers and saying, “that looks really good”. She smiles: “I know, you should have ordered this”. You would think that by now I should have already learned to say, “I’ll have what she’s having”. One of the defining values of our present culture is the idea of personal choice, but we need to step back for a moment and ask this very important question: does our freedom to choose automatically produce the life we hope for? And the answer is: not always, not often. Choice almost always needs to be guided; choice almost always needs the support of wise living models. We make our best choices when we watch – and take seriously – someone who knows what is best.
So we learn by copying. I heard of one young writer who learned their craft by simply copying out, in written long-hand, the prose of a famous author they admired. They wanted to form their own abilities after the pattern of a master word-smith. They were learning by copying.
Can we do this in the Jesus-life? Yes we can. In fact, this is the basic way we learn his life. In 1 Peter 2:21, Peter says that Jesus has left us an “example”, that we should learn to copy. The word example is hupogrammos, which literally means “underwriting”. It was the word used when a school boy might learn his letters through tracing. Take note of the image: the example of Jesus is the writing underneath the page we are writing on. Plainly, we learn this life that Jesus calls us to by tracing our lives over his.
This past Sunday we revisited Philippians 2, and the famous Christ-hymn we find in verses 5-11. This would be a worthy passage to memorize, to get into one’s heart and soul. And the thing to copy is the very attitude of Jesus, the state of mind that informed his humble service: “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ” (Phil 2:5). In order to be the community of Jesus, Paul says, you will have to learn to copy the mindset of Jesus. Copying the actions of Jesus is good but takes us only part of the way. Copying the attitude of Jesus is certainly as important as anything he did.
See you this Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11 am.
For further reflection:
- How are you at making choices (of any kind)? Do you have a friend or mentor that seems to make better choices than you? Have you ever thought about copying them? Or have you been copying the wrong models?
- What aspects of the model of Jesus are you drawn to copy? What story in the life of Jesus defines this for you?
- Take a look into the story of Jesus’ testing in the desert (Matthew 4 and parallels). Note how Jesus answers all of the Devil’s temptations with a quote from Deuteronomy, the message to Israel in their desert moment. Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds. In other words, he used the same resource we are given to fulfill his life and calling (obedience and trust in the word of God). How can we copy him in this?
- If you have read down this far, I am interested in how we might serve you in becoming a better Bible reader. If you want to email any thoughts you have on this I am interested in hearing your perspective. You can contact me at email@example.com. How can we learn to copy this life unless we see it for what it is? The Scriptures are our clearest and most faithful guide.