On the first day of two young American visitors to my home in England, I didn't want them to do anything strenuous after their long journey, so we strolled up the road to the parish church. Parts of the church are 800 years old and I thought it might interest them. To get there we needed to cross the road at a dangerous T junction. Just as we were about to cross, a lorry suddenly turned into our road. There was absolutely no danger, but the young man whose traffic sense was still USA orientated, jumped away, frightened he was going to be run over.
When we came to cross the road to the church, I wanted them to take no notice of their usual orientation and just to follow me. I said, "Live dangerously, follow me!" In other words, just do what I do, and you will be safe.
In effect that is what Christ told His disciples. Live dangerously, follow Me. In the whole of the Sacred Scriptures, though, there are only two men who said, "Follow me." The other one is the Apostle Paul. Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist and none of the prophets ever told the people, "Follow Me."
The question arises, however, "Should we follow any man?" In case you are wondering, No, do not follow me, except if you cross the road in England!
Christ is the first man in Scripture to say, "Follow Me." Matthew 4:19 records, "And He is saying to them, 'Hither! After Me, and I will be making you fishers of men!' Now, immediately leaving the nets, they follow Him."
But this is where the 'Live Dangerously' comes in. Luke 9:23-25: "Now He said to all, 'If anyone is wanting to come after Me, let him disown himself and pick up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever may be wanting to save his soul, shall be destroying it, yet whoever should be destroying his soul on My account, he shall be saving it. For what does a man benefit, gaining the whole world, yet destroying or forfeiting himself?'"
That was at the beginning of His ministry, but at the end of His earthly ministry the injunction hadn't changed. He told Peter, as recorded in John 21:19b: "And saying this He is saying to him, "Follow Me!" The verse before reads, "Verily, verily, I am saying to you, When you were younger you girded yourself and walked where you would; yet whenever you may be growing decrepit, you will stretch out your hands, and another shall be girding you and carrying you where you would not."
Why did Paul exhort the believers in Corinth to follow him?
Paul answers that question in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17: "Not to be abashing you am I writing these things, but as my children beloved am I admonishing you. For if you should be having ten thousand escorts in Christ, nevertheless not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus, through the evangel, I beget you. I am entreating you, then, become imitators of me. Therefore I send to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will be reminding you of my ways which are in Christ Jesus, according as I am teaching everywhere in every ecclesia."
Let's break down those verses. If the Corinthians had 10,000 teachers who taught them accurately they may not be good examples by the way they live. One spiritual father may be better than 10,000 teachers. How did Paul become a spiritual father? He has told us already. "Through the evangel."
Nevertheless, Paul knew that not all teachers led unrighteous lives. This is what he wrote in Philippians 3:17-21: "Become imitators together of me, brethren, and be noting those who are walking thus, according as you have us for a model, for many are walking, of whom I often told you, yet now am lamenting also as I tell it, who are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose consummation is destruction, whose god is their bowels, and whose glory is in their shame, who to the terrestrial are disposed. For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself."
I repeat Paul's warning in Philippians 3:18-19: " ..many are walking, of whom I often told you, yet now am lamenting also as I tell it, who are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose consummation is destruction, ..."
The Letter to the Hebrews has similar advice. Chapter 13 verses 7-8 and 17-18: "Be remembering those of your leaders who speak to you the word of God, contemplating the sequel of their behaviour, whose faith be imitating Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, is the Same One for the eons also." and "Be persuaded by your leaders, and be deferring to them, for they are vigilant for the sake of your souls, as having to render an account, that they may be doing this with joy, and not with groaning, for this is disadvantageous for you. Pray concerning us, for we are persuaded that we have an ideal conscience, in all wanting to behave ideally."
I mentioned earlier Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 4:15: "For if you should be having ten thousand escorts in Christ, nevertheless not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus, through the evangel, I beget you."
Is this contrary to Christ's statement in Matthew 23:8-9: "Now you may not be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, yet you all are brethren. And father you should not be calling one of you on the earth, for One is your Father, the heavenly."
Quite clearly it does not mean that we cannot call our biological father, 'father'. In fact, to forbid it would rob the address "Father" of its meaning when applied to God, for there would no longer be any earthly counterpart for the analogy of divine Fatherhood. The concept of God's role as Father would be meaningless if we obliterated the concept of earthly fatherhood.
Apart from our biological father and God, the word is used in Scripture as a sign of respect. For example, Joseph tells his brothers of a special fatherly relationship God had given him with the king of Egypt: "But Elohim sent me on before you to set up for you a remnant on earth and to preserve lives for you in a great deliverance. So know, not you sent me here, but the One, Elohim; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord over all his household and ruler over the whole land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:7-8)
Another example is in Job 29:16: "I was father to the needy ones, And the cause of him I knew not, I would investigate it." Yet another example, this time with Elisha when Elijah ascended in a tempest to the heavens. "Elisha was seeing it, and he was crying, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen! Then he saw him no more." (2 Kings 2:12).
Those examples are in the Hebrew Scriptures but what about the Greek Scriptures? Acts 7:2 records that Stephen refers to 'our father Abraham,' Romans 9:10 records that Paul refers to 'our father Isaac.'
So what did Christ mean when He said, "Call no man father."? As always, let us study Matthew 23:9 in context. I repeat: "And father you should not be calling one of you on the earth, for One is your Father, the heavenly."
Matthew chapter 23 begins with Christ speaking to the throngs and to His disciples. He tells them not to do what the Pharisees are doing, for they are saying and not doing. Jesus criticised Jewish leaders who love "the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called 'rabbi' by men." His admonition here is a response to the Pharisees' proud hearts and their grasping after marks of status and prestige. He was using hyperbole to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers.
Yes, the Pharisees studied the Scriptures but it did them no good. The reason is found in John 5:39-40: "Search the Scriptures, for in them you are supposing you have life eonian, and those are they which are testifying concerning Me, and not willing are you to come to Me that you may have life."
Why wouldn't they come to Christ? The verses continue: "Glory from men I am not getting. But I know you, that you have not the love of God in yourselves. I have come in the name of My Father, and you are not getting Me. If another should be coming in his own name him you will get. How can you believe, getting glory from one another, and are not seeking the glory which is from God alone?
The Greek Scriptures are filled with references to spiritual father-son and father-child relationships. It is worth quoting some of them here.
Paul regularly referred to Timothy as his child: "Therefore I sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will be reminding you of my ways which are in Christ." (1 Corinthians 4:17)
Another example is in 1 Timothy 1:2: "To Timothy, a genuine child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord". In verse 18 of that chapter Paul also referred to Timothy as his child: "This charge I am committing to you, child Timothy, according to the preceding prophecies over you, that in them you may be warring the ideal warfare ...." It wasn't a 'one off statement'. 2 Timothy 2:1: "You then, child of mine, be invigorated by the grace which is in Christ Jesus." One last reference concerning Timothy, this time from Philippians 2:22: "Now you know his testedness, that, as a child with a father, he slaves, with me for the evangel."
Paul also referred to others of his converts in the same way. Titus 1:4: " ... To Titus, a genuine child according to the common faith: Grace and peace from God, the Father, and Christ Jesus, our Saviour." He appealed to Philemon in verse 10 of his letter: "I am entreating you concerning my child, whom, I beget in my bonds, Onesimus, who once was useless to you ..."
None of these men were Paul's literal, biological sons. Rather, Paul is emphasising his spiritual fatherhood with them. I have mentioned the use of the word 'father', but what about Christ's words about 'teachers'?
Christ Himself, as recorded in Matthew 28:19–20, appointed certain men to be teachers: "Going, then, disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to be keeping all, whatever I direct you."
Paul speaks of his commission as a teacher in 1 Timothy " ... I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth." He repeats this in 2 Timothy 1:11 that he was appointed a herald and and an apostle and teacher of the nations.
Our Lord called people to follow the example of His life, in other words, by the principles by which He lived. Paul is the same. Paul called believers to imitate him as he followed Christ, in other words, by the principles by which Christ lived.
Christ spoke about teachers, or rabbis, for the same reason as He spoke about fathers. "Getting glory from one another," - does this also apply to any other man, including Paul? Many sincere believers would oppose following any man regardless of how 'spiritual' they may appear. That seems a very good teaching. Partly because however righteous a man appears to others we know that everyone has sins and weaknesses.
Does Scripture give us advice on this important matter? Of course. Here are some tests to help us.
1. Is he a humble man? Or is he a tyrant? Christ's example is in Matthew 11:29: "Lift My yoke upon you and be learning from Me, for meek am I and humble in heart, and you shall be finding rest in your souls, for My yoke is kindly and My load is light."
2. Is he free from the love of money? Christ tells us in Luke 16:13: "You cannot slave for God and mammon." Paul repeats the admonition in 1 Timothy 6:10: "For a root of all of the evils is the fondness for money, which some, craving, were led astray from the faith and try themselves on all sides with much pain."
3. Is he pure in his life? Let us read 2 Timothy 2:22-23 together. "Now youthful desires flee: yet pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with all who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart. Now stupid and crude questionings refuse, being aware that they are generating fightings." A godly man will not just avoid the temptation of sexual lust, but flee from it. Cleansed people flee from sin and pursue godliness. There are two commands, flee and pursue. We are to flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart, that is, peace with other believers.
4. Is his home life godly? If he is married with children, does 1Timothy 3:4-5 describe him?
"The supervisor, then, must be irreprehensible, the husband of one wife, sober, sane, decorous, hospitable, apt to teach, no toper, not quarrelsome, but lenient, pacific, not fond of money, controlling his own household ideally, having his children in subjection with all gravity - now if anyone is not aware how to control his own household, how will he care for the ecclesia of God?" Paul adds this in verse 7: "Yet he must have an ideal testimony also from those outside, that he should not be falling into the reproach and trap of the Adversary." The instructions are similar in Titus 1:6.
5. Does he point people to God and not himself? 2 Corinthians 4:5 is clear: "For we are not heralding ourselves, but Christ, Jesus the Lord."
Finally, let us examine the word translated 'follow'. Christ used a word which means 'follow one who proceeds and accompany him'. Paul uses a word meaning 'imitate'. 'Follow my example or imitate me as I follow Christ's example and imitate Him.' We are not to pursue after a man, but rather we are to pursue after godly traits. This is clearly seen in Romans 14:19: "Consequently, then, we are pursuing that which makes for peace and that which is for the edification of one another." 1 Corinthians 14:1 is simple and straight to the point: "Be pursuing love."
There are other words similar to imitate and pursue. 2 Peter 2:10: " ... yet specially those going after the flesh in defiling lust and despising lordship." Jude 7 and 1 Timothy 5:15, Acts 5:37 have similar warnings.
Acts 20:30 is Paul's warning to the ekklesia: "And from among themselves will arise men, speaking perverse things to pull away disciples after themselves."
Christ also warned His disciples: "Now He said, 'Beware that you may not be deceived, for many shall be coming in My name, saying that, 'I am!' and 'The season is near!' You may not, then, be going after them." This was in the context of the future demolition of the Temple. Deception is often involved with so called fulfillment of prophecy.
The subject of "Follow Me!" is vitally important to understand. It is not just some theological theory of interest only to ivory tower philosophers, it may save your life. It could have saved the life of the 918 followers of James Warren Jones who committed suicide on the 18th November 1978, in Guyana. Let us take Christ's warning seriously. Live dangerously, Follow Christ!