Setting the proper example has been at the forefront of my mind since 1998, the year when I was elected to be my Christian college fraternity’s “preacher,” and realized soon afterwards that I would have to start “practicing what I preach” if I was to be taken seriously. As a minister, being a good example has always been a goal of mine, and even more so now that I am a father. I do not always meet this goal I have set for myself; nonetheless, it is still a good goal to have and work towards, and I am still working on it. It is a goal that God want all Christians to have. Scripture tells us to imitate others who in turn imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; cf. Phil. 3:17; Heb. 13:7). Therefore, it would be good for us to consider who our own role models are, who looks up to as an example of right or wrong, and most importantly, what kind of examples we set as Christians.
First and foremost, Jesus Christ should be whom we strive to imitate (1 Cor. 11:1). He must be the example on how we strive to please one another (Rom. 15:1-3), love one another (Eph. 5:1-2), look out for one another (Phil. 2:4-5), and how to suffer patiently when mistreated (1 Pet. 2:20-23). Our Lord said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). How much like Jesus are we?
The apostle Paul would be another role model to emulate (1 Cor. 4:6; 11:1). He must be our example on how to avoid offending others (1 Cor. 9:19-23; 10:32) and how to serve others to their benefit rather than our own (1 Cor. 10:33). Paul recognized that he had not obtained perfection, something we must always remember as well (Phil. 3:12); however, he also did his best to mature in the areas he needed to (Phil. 3:12-15), to never regress back into immaturity (Phil. 3:16), and to enjoy a close relationship with God (Phil. 4:9). We should follow his example in these ways, as well as in choosing to receive God’s Word even in the midst of hardship as he did (1 Thess. 1:6) and avoiding being a burden to others (2 Thess. 3:7-10).
Paul also told us, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Phil. 3:17). The writer of Hebrews likewise exhorted Christians to imitate the faith and patience of their fellow inheritors of God’s promises (Heb. 6:12), and to follow the faith of our leaders (Heb. 13:7). Many Christians today provide examples worth of emulation; whose example are you following?
Even more importantly, whose example are you? I think we forget sometimes that the people sitting around us in the pews on Sunday follow our example, for better or worse. This is why God wants us to mindful of the example we set for others (1 Thess. 1:7; 1 Tim. 4:12; Tit. 2:7). Others, such as children (Matt. 18:6) and unbelievers (1 Pet. 2:12), are watching us, easily influenced by what they see in us, carefully observing us to see if we “walk the walk.” Oftentimes, the unchurched decide just how worth their time it is to follow Christ by looking at what kind of example is set by those who profess to follow him. Christians need to remember that.
What kind of example are you? Is it indicative of a faithful Christian? Do you show the world what it means to be an obedient follower of God? Do you show spiritual infants what maturity means? Is your example helping others to become a disciple of Christ…or discouraging them? Is your example helping the church grow? How often do you show up when the doors are open? How interested are you in developing skills needed to help the church grow, and how interested are you in using your talents to serve God’s kingdom? Is your example helping or hindering the progress of the church? If every churchgoer was exactly like you, would the church be strong and growing? Would it even exist?
None of us are perfect, and all of us have room to grow. We should not be discouraged by our shortcomings, nor should we harshly and hypocritically judge each other without patience and love when we see faults in others. Instead, let the questions asked above challenge us all to take Christianity more seriously and, with God’s help and grace, become an example worth following and help others to do the same.