Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
There is a difference between idolatry and honor. Idolatry seeks something to be in place of God. Honor acknowledges someone seeking to keep God in His rightful place. I believe there is a stigma in the church between these two words. Christians are falsely accused of idolizing Christian leaders. In our day of streaming sermons and conferences, blogs and books, and social media it has become easy for leaders in the Church to influence many people around the globe. I also believe that satan will use whatever he’s got to put obstacles between you and God, and Christians also mistake idolizing these leaders as honoring them. As Christians we are commanded to show honor. The bible tells us to outdo each other in showing honor. The bible also tells us the dangers of the idols in our lives. Those people we honor most are the ones that satan seeks to twist us into idolizing.
Notice the word choice above: imitate. Jesus told the disciples to love people as He had loved them; to be like Him, to do as He did, to imitate Him. Paul told the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ. We honor Jesus by obeying his words, and His words tell us to be like Him. If we see leaders in the faith honoring Christ well wouldn’t we want to learn from them how to better honor Christ ourselves? And therefore, we imitate our leaders as they are imitating Jesus. Jesus equips us in the Holy Spirit, through the Word, and by other Christians to show others what it means to follow Him. Imitation is built into discipleship – it’s the way God designed His church to expand. When we acknowledge that our leaders in the faith have led us well by following their example, then we are showing them honor.
For example: Personally, I have been greatly influenced by the ministry of John Piper. His writings, sermons, and videos have shown me a bigger, more beautiful picture of who God is. I want to be like him. I want to write like him and preach like him – meaning true to the bible, true to who God is, and making much of Jesus. John Piper has more experience than me and more knowledge of the bible. He has been a Christian longer than me and I believe I would do good to imitate him as he seeks to imitate Jesus. However, I can see thoughts creep into my brain that stray from honor to idolatry that satan wants to use against me; thoughts like “I want people to know my name like they know his, or I wish I could sell that many books – I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore.” John Piper doesn’t preach and write to make his name known, but to make God’s name known, and he doesn’t write for money – his books sales go to his ministry and many are free to download. So essentially, if I replace honor with idolatry, I also stop imitating him.
As Christians we should honor our leaders by imitating them. Our leaders should only be our leaders if they are teaching us how to be better Christ followers, and thus, by imitating our leaders, we will also be imitating Christ. But we should be careful to realize how honor and imitation can turn to idolatry and selfishness.