Last month in Romania a 2000 year old, fully intact, Roman road was discovered. It was well-built and intact. Many Roman era roads are still used today. This road was built in 106AD. For generations, Roman road engineering was passed down from one builder to another. Imitation provided longevity in the passing down of this skill.

“Therefore I urge you, imitate me,” the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 4. It sounds arrogant, but it is an earnest urging—a call to discipleship.  This urge is to “call alongside of” or a “beseeching” or an “instruction” from the Word of God.  And his exhortation to the Church in Corinth is that they would imitate him. We hear that urging of Paul and we think: “Well Paul thinks he has it all together! Paul sees himself as better than or superior to us!” But that’s not the case at all. This call to imitate is instructive. It is the word of passing a skill down from one generation to another.

Great skills being passed down from one generation to another are lost when not imitated—you can think of the above mentioned ancient technology of road design or even Roman concrete used as a construction material. Through war, plague, and a lack of imitation, concrete and Roman roads—and other technologies and skills—were lost to the human experience.

Have you considered medieval cathedrals and all of the skill necessary to build great structures, roads, and aqueducts?  Skills not passed down are lost. Paul says—imitate me.

Road makers beget road makers.
Toy makers beget toy makers.
Jewelers beget jewelers.
Cobblers beget cobblers.

The Apostle Paul sees  his role as a minister of the gospel as connected to helping to raise up godly and productive citizens in the kingdom of God. This is his trade—and he wants to see it duplicated in the life of each and every Christian.

Productive Christians beget productive Christians.

What are some of the areas of productive Christianity in which the Apostle sought imitation? Imitate Paul in promoting unity: avoid schismatic teachers and man-centered ideas and instead cling to the pure Word of God. Imitate me in humility—not being puffed up, but humbling oneself before the cross. Imitate him in the foolishness of the cross—resting in Jesus and elevating a cruciform life. Imitate Paul in correct doctrine and correct living—orthodoxy and orthopraxy. For Paul, these are all part of a robust Christian life worth producing in others.

Charles Hodge said, “He does not exhort them to become his followers or partisans… But as he had spoken of himself as being humble, self-denying and self-sacrificing in the cause of Christ, he beseeches them to follow his example.”

Avoiding schism.
Promoting unity.
Humbling oneself.
Taking up the cross.
Clinging to Jesus.
Conforming to right doctrine and life.  

This is genuine discipleship—Paul’s plea is nothing more than the plea of Jesus: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

Road makers beget road makers.
Toy makers beget toy makers.
Jewelers beget jewelers.
Productive Christians beget productive Christians.

That’s worth imitation.

This article was written by Nathan Eshelman, and originally shared on the Gentle Reformation Blog.

Nathan describes himself as: Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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