Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Power of Example

'Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things ... and the God of peace will be with you.'

Familiar words from Paul's letter to the Philippians. All great stuff. But we've missed out half a verse. They are tough words for us to hear and live up to, just as I'm sure they were for the first Christians who read them.

'What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me - practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.'

What arrogance of Paul! It's almost an affront to tell people to look at him, and then copy him. Isn't it? Who does he think he is? For us today, as we read those words there is almost a sharp intake of breath - would we put ourselves forward as examples for others to copy and imitate? Surely we should only seek to copy Christ, becoming like him, looking to him?

Well, quite. Time and again, Paul points to Christ as our example and guide. Absolutely proper. So how do we account for the times when Paul tells people to copy or imitate him? Especially since Paul urges that no one think of themselves more highly than they ought (Romans 12:3).

The answer lies in the fact that we are on a journey - a process of sanctification. Those who believe in Jesus are saved to the uttermost - this is justification. But this kicks off the process of sanctification - becoming more like Jesus as we die continually to our sinful desires and live for Jesus.

We're all at different points along the road of sanctification - the seasoned follower is more like Christ than the stubborn believer who seems reluctant to let go of sins and strongholds. Yet together, in the Church, we can encourage and support one another to become more like Jesus. Those who are further along the road know the struggles and can help those behind. But more than that, they can also be examples for others.

I've been struck this week by the power of example. The other day we were in the new house, and Lynsey and myself were looking after her niece, my niece-to-be. I leant on the windowsill to talk on the phone, and so the wee girl wanted to sit on the windowsill too. We had been painting the day before, so she had to have a paintbrush to pretend to paint.

Simple things, yet the power of example goes a long way. You find yourself having to think carefully about what you're saying and doing in front of the little one.

There can be something very powerful in the fleshed out sanctification, seen in examples before our eyes. Think of the change evident in Paul's life - from persecutor of the church to one of its chief spokesmen and missionaries. Seeing the experience of the crucified and risen Christ shape his whole existence as he lived for his Lord.

Paul was by no means perfect. He still slipped and sinned. Yet he was unafraid to offer himself as an example to other believers. More than that, he urged the same for those who came after him - when he told Titus to 'Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned' (Titus 2:7-8), and when he says to Timothy, 'Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.' (1 Tim 4:12)

What example are we setting today? Could we tell others to imitate us as we imitate Jesus? Challenging thoughts indeed. The call is to be faithful in our following, so that others may see our progress.

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