“Be my imitators, even as I also [am] of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
First of all when Paul (see above) is writing of imitation he is not thinking of imitation in the sense of the word meaning something unreal, as we do when we think of something like a bogus money note or persons pretending to be something which they are not. What Paul is thinking of is someone acting as Christ would have acted. In other words we should act like Christ.
Christ is to be our model so that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21) and He Himself said: “Learn from me” (Matthew 11:29). Christ was not on earth when Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians so that he was pointing out that he knew the Lord and was concerned that our practice should be in accord with what Christ would have done (see text above). There is also the side that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to enable us to follow in Christ’s steps. However, we need to learn what is the right way in which we should walk while here on earth. It is not only Peter that speaks of walk for John writes; “He that says he abides in him (Christ) ought, even as he walked, himself also [so] to walk” (1 John 2:6). In other words our practice should be in accord with our profession to be followers of Christ. Christ’s walk on earth was pleasing to his Father and if we are to be pleasing to God we should walk as He walked.
There are other passages speaking of imitation. Paul says that he is sending Timothy to the Corinthians so that they can be reminded of Paul’s ways in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16/17). Ultimately our ways in both the Corinthian quotes refer to Christ as the standard by which we are to judge what is acceptable, though we may be learning things through intermediaries such as Paul or Timothy. Paul exhorts Timothy to be a model (1 Timothy 4:12) and Peter exhorts elders to be models for the flock (1 Peter 5:3). In Philippians 3:17 Paul also exhorts the Brethren to be imitators of himself, but also widens out to include others also who were walking similarly. Paul commends the Thessalonians for being models to all those in Macedonia and Achaia (1Thessalonians 1:6/7.
Paul not only speaks of imitators of himself and other individuals, but he also writes that the Thessalonians had become imitators of the assemblies in Judea. It is something he commends them for (1 Thessalonians 2:14). It is not wrong to take account of assemblies that are going on well and imitate them. Note that Paul does not say the assembly which is in Jerusalem, as if that was the centre of the assembly on earth to which we should look for guidance. We should not look to a metropolis such as Jerusalem or Rome.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 Paul gives us a practical example of the sort of thing that should be imitated, which involves working for our daily bread. Maybe some of the Thessalonians had so taken what Paul had said in the first epistle as to the Lord’s coming that they thought it would be imminent and had given up working. A somewhat similar thing is said in Hebrews 6:11/12 as to being diligent and not sluggish and this passage appears to refer to persons that we should imitate who may well have passed off the scene; and in chapter 13:7 the writer points to leaders who we can remember. This would have a voice to us now as some of us can remember leaders who we can recall who were intelligent and godly men (not forgetting godly women). If we did not know such personally we have their hymns and writings from which we can judge the quality of their ministry and manner of life (the latter being what Scripture calls conversation). Finally, we should note John’s word that we should “not imitate what is evil, but what is good” (3 John 11) and Paul speaks of being imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1). We cannot see God physically as we can a man or woman, but we can see God in Christ and to some extent in those who are marked by his features.
One would remark here that we should not be silly. We are liable to do some strange things sometimes. It was not unknown for some Brethren in days gone by to imitate the mannerisms of some older and respected Brethren or indeed to imitate their infirmities such as a cough due to a speech impediment or copy their dress such as wear a bow tie instead of the one many of us wear. Such imitation is not the sort of thing the apostles had in mind.