Paul’s theology of imitation is a profound theme in his writings. For Paul, Jesus is the way to glory and following that way means we are to become like Jesus. In Philippians, Paul exalts Jesus as the light of the world in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation” (Phil. 2:15). Imitation begins when we are able to see that light as desirable. Paul’s context speaks to the allurement of the Old World. The Old World appealed to the flesh. It was a world of darkness and void. The Old World imitated the dark world of Genesis one before God spoke light into it.
Paul’s theology is offered in the middle of darkness. The Philippians, though consistent in faith (Phil. 2:12), needed to be exhorted to pursue it without fear and trembling, lest their light began to fade. But Paul’s imitation theology was not a theology of perfection it was a theology of inspection; a theology that called us to guard our hearts against the attractions that came our way. These attractions pushed the Philippians to other sources for imitation. Imitation demands seeing the light, cutting off the darkness, and replacing it with life in the Spirit. Imitation is spiritual surgery. To become like Jesus we must do away with selfish ambitions and become like our self-giving Messiah.
Paul’s portrait of the suffering Messiah and the exalted King was meant as an evangelical allurement to the Philippians. “If you want someone to imitate, here’s a suffering Servant who abandoned His heavenly glory, and then gave up His earthly body for our sake.” “Imitate Him!” is Paul’s plea as he writes from prison.
Hold fast to His words of light. He is the light of the world. The Psalmist prayed for guidance when he said: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light into my path,” but that prayer was fulfilled in Jesus who became the lamp to guide our feet to the nations and a light to guide our paths to righteousness.