You don’t have to look too far in the Bible or in life to see the power of example. We’re wired to be copycats. Infants learn to talk by copying. Children imitate what they see grown-ups doing, dressing up as doctors and teachers, sometimes acting as amusing mirrors to our foibles; my children can do cruel impersonations of me! We instinctively copy fashions, manners, and behaviours. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how the process works, but we are all unconsciously shaped by example, for good and ill. When it comes to teaching the Christian life, it’s one thing to say it; it’s another thing to show it. So, Timothy saw Paul suffer for Christ and learned to do the same (2 Tim 3:10), but Abraham lied (Gen 12:13; 20:2) and Isaac, his son, followed his example (Gen 26:7).
This is why picking good examples to follow is so important in our Christian life. Our heroes are significant. It’s worth asking yourself: who are my examples?
Obviously, the Lord Jesus is our ultimate example:
– “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just I have done to you” (John 13:15).
– “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
When I was younger, there was a fad in which Christians wore “WWJD” bracelets. It stood for “What Would Jesus Do?”. It was a bit cheesy, and the fad was a bit simplistic, but the question itself is both valid and helpful.
But the fact that Jesus is our ultimate example, doesn’t stop us from benefiting from the example of others. Paul was comfortable putting himself forward as an example:
– “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 C 11:1; 4:16)
– “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17).
In fact, there’s something about seeing a fellow sinner being holy that more powerfully shows the gospel than even looking at Jesus in his holiness (e.g. James 5:10, 17-18)!
While the Bible is packed with examples (e.g. Hebrews 11), it doesn’t limit us to the examples we find within its own pages; it expects us to have living examples whom we can imitate (e.g, church leaders – Titus 2:7; Heb 13:7). We need older Christians, mothers and fathers in the faith, who are further along in the Christian life than us.
So, let me encourage you to seek them out. Be on the look at for them. Pray for God to provide them. For, the examples we surround ourselves with will shape us, whether we like it or not. If we ignore this, it doesn’t stop us being shaped; it just means we’ll be shaped in unhelpful ways. Paul says: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Cor 15:33). Christian growth isn’t just a matter of listening to good sermons, but surrounding ourselves with saints who are fleshing out what living for Jesus looks like in day to day life.