Regarding Scripture: I Corinthians 1.10-13
Just about everyone has someone they look up to. For many their heroes are athletes, and these players are heroes because of their character, and skills. As we mature, we may still have a fondness for athletic heroes, but we experience points in our lives where we look up to different people. It could be parents, friends, business professionals, entertainers, Presidents, or religious figures. These people may become our role models for various reasons, whether they helped us learn something, helped us overcome a problem, or simply because they are successful.
We look up to our role models and aspire to be like them. Yet, there are times we may find ourselves not just looking up to them, but unconsciously allowing them to become our idol. Our role models become our idols when we copy their style, their speech patterns and their mannerisms. If this happens, we have allowed our idol to change our own character, our own thoughts, and our own person. While each of us needs a quality role model, we cannot allow our role model to become an idol, an idol that replaces Christ.
When it comes to looking up to role models, we may find ourselves more like those in I Corinthians who followed Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, than we realized. When role models are quality characters, it may even be easier to follow them, especially when they seem to embody what a Christian should be. While we need good Christian role models to look up to, there is a problem when a good role model becomes a substitute for the Perfect Role Model. It is interesting that in this same letter to the Corinthians Paul stated, “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”1 While it appears that Paul raised himself to the level of a good role model, nowhere in Scripture does he seem to consciously allow Christians to blindly follow him.
We know this from I Corinthians 1.10. This tells us that when good Christian role models are substituted for the Perfect Role Model, division and contention are the result. For a moment, let us consider the two-fold responsibility in this situation. First, the one looking for a good role model needs to reorient their focus on the Perfect Role Model found in Christ. And second, if it becomes known and is possible, the one who has become the role model needs to help the influenced to have the proper focus on the Perfect Role Model. Unfortunately, far too many role models become idols, and even Christians run the risk of worshipping the ground on which the model walks. From Paul’s writings in this letter, and considering Paul’s feelings for his sons in the faith, Timothy2 and Onesimus,3 and bearing in mind Peter’s situation with Cornelius,4 we can see that neither Paul nor Peter allowed themselves to replace the Perfect Example of Christ.
As we can see from I Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that Christ cannot allow His glory to be divided. Paul makes it clear that no matter how wonderful an example a Christian may be, they cannot replace the crucified Christ. Consequently, it does not matter how prolific a commentator, how influential a leader, how powerful a preacher, how terrific a teacher a Christian role model may be, the role model simply cannot be a replacement for Christ.5 In order for 21st century believers to be as Paul stated, “perfectly joined together in the same mind and … judgment” we are required to align our actions, beliefs and mannerisms with Christ and Christ alone.
1 I Corinthians 11.1
2 II Timothy 2.1
3 Philemon 1.10
4 Acts 10.25-26
5 John 14.6; I Corinthians 1.13