Lesson 3: Imitate good, not evil
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. 3 John 11
Occasionally in our lives we are asked to state who we consider to be our “hero or who we most admire.” According to the annual United States Gallup poll the incumbent president is usually top of mind when Americans name, without prompting, which man living anywhere in the world they admire most. In the 74 times Gallup has asked the open-ended most admired man question since 1946, the incumbent president has topped the list 60 times.
When you look at the list from 2020, four of the “most admired men alive today” are politicians, one is a government employee, two are businessmen, one is an athlete and two are religious leaders. Billy Graham is the all-time vote getter while he was still living with 61 appearances in the top 10 of this list. That fact made me feel slightly better.
Although as a society we seem to easily agree that most politicians are not typically ones to be trusted we, for some reason, continue to view them as someone to admire.
Growing up I would have done a “hard pass” on who to write down when asked this question. I lived a fairly sheltered life – not much TV, only one friend, my parents didn’t have many friends. And I wouldn’t have written my mom or dad on that list. At various times in my life I’ve thanked God for somehow keeping me on a halfway straight path due to limited guidance.
According to Forbes magazine these are the ten qualities people admire most in others:
- The ability to learn
- Compassion for others
- Respect for others
- Big visions
- Inspire others
- The ability to “reinvent themselves”
After reading this list, did anyone come to mind? I doubt that it was a politician. When I got married I finally met someone that does a pretty good job meeting the high standards of this list – my mother in law. I set upon a path of being more like her. Someone who is kind to everyone, offers a friendly “hello” at all times, thinks of and serves others, and is always looking on the bright side. While attempting to mirror her I realized I had, in fact, been imitating someone else all along. Someone who was inwardly focused, pessimistic, frequently angry, and had difficulty showing love.
At the end of John’s letter to the church elder Gaius, he warns us to be careful who we choose to imitate. He has made the case that another church leader, Diotrephes, while powerful and surely had a large following, was not up to the standards set by Jesus. He instead turns Gaius to another Christian brother, Demetrius.
Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. 3 John 12
You notice it isn’t enough to have others speak well of someone. John reminds us that the “truth” must also be used as a measuring stick. There are many famous people on Gallup’s “most admired men alive” list. And many have well known, serious transgressions. Carelessness with the truth has been one of those. But because they are famous we humans tend to set many bad behaviors aside.
When I was coaching girls softball, I watched the habits and techniques of many of the successful coaches. I gleaned a lot of good coaching skills from them. But there wasn’t one, at the time, that I could name as most admirable. Many parents, on the other hand, admired those coaches because they won trophies. What they didn’t mind was the abusive behavior toward their young daughters. Unfortunately, throughout my years in youth, high school and collegiate sports I found this to be frequently the case. And parents expected other coaches to imitate this same behavior, thinking that was a winning formula.
Last year, my BSGs (Bible Study girls) embarked on a new study called “The Proverbs 31 Woman.” Now there’s a woman to admire! Here’s an excerpt from this long list of character traits to imitate:
She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. Proverb 31: 15-18
Each week we would take a verse and apply it to our lives. From our relationship with our husbands to our finances, our work ethic to our own health we were presented with a truly admirable touchstone for our lives. We cleaned out our closets and our minds. We took a hard look at our finances and our eating habits. We used God’s Word rather than the world of the flesh to imitate.
In our world today so many people are trying to imitate the latest Instagram influencer or sports figure. We see “success” or fame as proof they are worthy of imitation. We put people like Joanna Gaines or Elon Musk up high on our list. Meanwhile there are Jesus followers, who just do the good work day in and day out that truly deserve our imitation.
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. Philippians 3:17
It might seem like it takes a real discerning, wise mind to know who to imitate. But we all truly know when we’ve met that “someone.” We just then need to measure that person against God’s truth. And yes, we all sin. We all have something to which we must repent to God. But I’d rather imitate a loving, self sacrificing person who doesn’t always use her time wisely than a person who causes chaos and destruction in her wake.
Take a moment today and evaluate the answer to the question, “Who do you most admire?” Be honest. It’s easy to throw off platitudes. No one else but God is listening. Until we can face the evil we are imitating we cannot fully become the mirrors for Jesus.