Today’s post is from chapter 1 of my new book Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus). (In case you’re interested, last Saturday morning, we posted the introduction: “Things You Should Know About The Author Of This Book“) Love Like Jesus is due to be published in January of 2020. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.
“I am the way,” Jesus said.
“Study Jesus,” he said.
Only a few days after I retired from my job as a firefighter to start a career as a writer, I went to my pastor of thirty years seeking guidance for this new phase of my life.
“Study Jesus,” he said.
I was polite in my response — on the outside. But on the inside, I was doing an eye-roll. I thought to myself, “Study Jesus? I’ve been listening to you teach the bible from cover to cover for 30 years. Sunday mornings and Wednesday night bible studies, for 30 years. And after 30 years, your advice for me is to study Jesus?”
But a few days later I reconsidered. “What do I have to lose?” I thought. I decided to give it a try.
And my life hasn’t been the same since.
Before I made that intentional effort to study Jesus, my life was, I think, typical of most other Christians in America. Maybe it’s typical of you. I went to church on Sunday. I worked. I tried to pray every morning (often squeezing it in during my drive to work). I ate. I slept. I went to youth soccer practices, school band concerts, and parent-teacher conferences. I tried to do the right thing. I tried to avoid doing the wrong thing.
That was life. I did my best. Sometimes I wondered if it would be enough for God. Usually, I rested in the redemptive work of Jesus on my behalf.
Then I began to study him.
In the course of doing so, I had that experience every Christian has had. Bible verses I had read many times suddenly had new and powerful meaning. But beyond that, I realized that much of the church in America has somehow glossed over certain passages in the bible. Passages that instruct the follower of Christ to not merely confess Jesus as his or her Savior, but to imitate him.
John says of the Christ follower, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” When I read that I had to ask, “Am I really walking the way Jesus walked? I mean really?” (1 John 2:6)
Paul tells us directly, “Be imitators of me, as I am in Christ.” This verse made me ask, “Am I imitating Paul and the people in my life who reflect Jesus’ character?” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Jesus himself said, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” This caused me to ask myself, “Who is my teacher? Who is my master? If it’s Jesus, am I trying to be like my teacher?” (Matthew 10:25)
Jesus says in John 13:15, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Speaking of this verse, Craig Keener in his classic IVP Bible Background Commentary says:
“Disciples were to learn especially by imitating their teachers.”
Why isn’t this idea of imitation emphasized more? It’s profoundly important, yet it’s not given the consideration it’s due by the Western church. Curiously though, we see it in secular society. The great writers of today imitate the great writers before them. Great quarterbacks and point guards study the historical greats at their position. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg studied Steve Jobs. Oprah Winfrey studied Maya Angelou.
When I was in high school, I read a book about the great basketball player Pete Maravich. He averaged 44.2 points per game in college one year. He was great in the NBA too. He’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Some of the moves we see in the NBA today were pioneered by Maravich. He became one of my heroes, and I was inspired by his life. I was never much of a basketball player, but after I read about Maravich, I improved dramatically.
I read about how he was a gym rat, so I became a gym rat. I read about how he practiced, so I began to practice that way. I learned to shoot the way he shot. I learned some great basketball moves by imitating Pete Maravich’s basketball moves. The result was that I played some of the best basketball of my life after imitating Maravich. Not that I ever approached his level. He was 6’5″, I’m 5’11”. He was fast, I’m slow. He could jump, I can’t. His Dad was a D1 basketball coach, my Dad wasn’t. The list goes on. But even so, I improved dramatically after studying and imitating Pete Maravich to the best of my ability. (For another illustration of the power of imitation, check out Kobe Bryant vs Michael Jordan – Identical Plays: The Last Dance (Part III) on YouTube.)
So Much More
The book I read about Maravich was a thin, poorly written, cheaply made, paperback of less than 100 pages. At the time, I didn’t have YouTube videos of Maravich to watch. None of my friends were big Maravich fans. I didn’t have the help of Pete Maravich experts who could dissect how he played basketball. I didn’t have much of anything. Just that crummy little book.
We have so much more in Jesus Christ. He left us his Gospels, the writings of his disciples, and the inspired bible in its entirety. He left us with access to him through prayer. He left us with a community of people who also seek to conform to his likeness for us to connect with. He sent us His Holy Spirit. He’s given us so much to help us imitate him.
Like my imitation of Maravich, we’ll never achieve the level of Jesus. Jesus is so much more than we are. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, when we’re intentional about imitating Jesus, we can become so much more like him.
To you and to me, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Just take my yoke, Jesus says. He says, “I’ll take one side, you take the other and walk in step with me. Imitate me.” (Matthew 11:29)
We’re given somewhere around 613 commandments in the Old Testament and 1,050 commandments in the New Testament. When I try to figure out how to follow them, it can be overwhelming and stressful. But when I imitate, it can just flow. I can find rest for my soul.
In the Western church today we tend to sit in pews and listen to lectures at the expense of imitation. That’s where the emphasis lies for most Christians in most churches. I recognize there’s value in listening to teachings. I’m a regular churchgoer, and I love listening to a great bible teacher. My only point is that in the Western church today, lecture dominates.
In the Western church today, imitation of Jesus lives in the shadow of lecture, if it lives at all.
Yet Jesus commands us to imitate him. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
“. . . just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Jesus is telling us: “Love just the way I loved.”
Jesus is telling us to love like Jesus.
And that pastor told me: “Study Jesus.” So I did. I went through the gospels from beginning to end, studying every interpersonal interaction of Jesus, studying everything he said and did, searching for any clue I could find concerning how Jesus loved people. My life hasn’t been the same since.
What I learned about loving like Jesus is found in the pages of this book.
But before you continue, I should warn you. After studying these interactions of Jesus, I experienced profound changes in my life. The same could happen to you.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,
InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 297
Jason B. Hood, Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing A Biblical Pattern, IVP Academic, 2013