Glad that the Synod 2022 is over. This will be my last Synod. I won’t be going to the next one in 18-months’ time.
I wonder how many of you can tell me our vision. As you know the Church Council
has been reviewing our governance, polity, and structure. Recently I decided to take
a closer look at our vision: “Inspired by God and seeking to emulate the life of
Jesus we will identify and reflect God’s love by creating, participating in and walking
with communities locally, nationally and globally.”
I have asked a few people why we chose the words “to emulate the life of Jesus”
rather than “to follow Jesus”? And why not “imitate”? To date I am yet to find
someone who can tell me why we chose the word “emulate”. If you know ‘why’
please let me know.
By the way there is a difference between emulate and imitate. From my enquiry,
emulate means “to try to be as good or successful as.” Imitate means “to copy or
fashion oneself after.”
Some of you might think I am pedantic. Maybe I am but words do matter. I would
have chosen “to follow Jesus” rather than “to emulate the life of Jesus”. There are
approximately 58 bible verses on “following Jesus”. And I can’t find Jesus calling
anyone “to emulate his life”. I may try to emulate the lives of Mahatma Gandhi or
Linda Burney or Nelson Mandala, or Adam Goodes for all their wonderful character
traits, but I won’t say that I would follow them like I follow Jesus.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? The Gospels contain many references where
Jesus personally invited people to follow him. The Greek word translated as “follow”
in most of these references is akoloutheō. This is a common word and is used
throughout the Greek New Testament, but especially in the Gospels.
While akoloutheō is almost always translated as “follow” in English translations, it
has a broader range of meanings. It can also mean “accompany” and “assist.” Jesus
was calling people to follow him. He wasn’t just saying “tag along” or “emulate me”.
Jesus didn’t want people to just listen and believe in him from a distance. He was
inviting people to come close, to join him, and partner him “to bring good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the
blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
(Luke 4:18b-19) In short, to be his disciples.
There are many verses in the Bible that bring definition to what following Jesus truly
looks like. However, one sums it up quite well:
“He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any wish to come after
me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those
who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) In short, to follow Jesus is
costly. To emulate is not that costly. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ
calls a man, he bids him come and die.” To follow Jesus is to make his agenda my
agenda. To follow Jesus is to be willing to “deny myself” and “take up my cross”. To
“emulate” Jesus I don’t have to do that. There is nothing passive about being a
follower of Jesus.
Maybe I am not progressive enough for some of you, but I follow Jesus not simply to
emulate his life. I follow Jesus, not simply subscribing to a set of “right beliefs or
propositions” about him. I follow Jesus and seek to “love God with all my heart and
with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength” and to “love my
neighbour as myself”. (Mark 12:30-31)
… in the meantime, blessed be.
Rev Swee Ann Koh