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Christian example
March 30, 2009, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Some food for today

Another cool article from the breifing this time on who we should look to as Christian examples

Factotum #10: Christian modelling

Colin Marshall / Briefing #179 / May 1996 / ShareThis

One of the graduates of MTS was a male model before training for the ministry. As far as I know, this experience has not contributed greatly to his training. But modelling is an important feature of Christian ministry in the New Testament.

In the last edition of ‘Factotum’, we raised the subject of ministry apprentices, and glanced at some of the contemporary concepts of mentoring and training. In this article, we continue our look at a biblical understanding of apprenticing, this time focusing on the theme of modelling or being an example.

Who are our models?

Who should Christians be looking to as models or examples of the Christian way of life? The following section provides a Bible search on the subject of modelling and imitation. You might like to work through it in a study group.

1. God

God himself—especially in the love and forgiveness shown to us through his Son—is the model for our relationships. We are told directly to be imitators of God:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5:1-2)

2. Christ:

As Jesus announced the Kingdom of God, he called disciples to follow him. Jesus’ call is fundamentally an unattractive one, since he demands a denial of oneself to take up the cross of suffering. Even the closest of family loyalties must not precede the loyalty to Christ (Matt 10:37-39); possessions can be a threat to following Christ, and therefore a threat to one’s very soul (Matt 16:24-28).

Christ’s disciples follow his word as a sheep responds to the voice of the shepherd (In 10:27). The disciple also follows the example of the Master, especially in service of each other:

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:14-15)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

Jesus expressed to his disciples something of his philosophy of teaching. He recognised that the teacher’s role includes the training of another to be like the teacher. This role is inescapable; it is to some degree inevitable that where the teacher goes, the student will follow:

He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:39-40

The parable highlights the fact that a teacher is not just an informer, but a life-shaper, leading the student into success or failure, even life or death.

Christ provided the ultimate example of this sort of leadership. Peter finally came to understand the importance of Christ’s example to the church (see 1 Peter 2:21)

The verses which follow spell out the details of Christ’s example: sinless, without deceit, not returning insults, making no threats, entrusting himself to God, dying in our place, wounded for our healing. Not only is the Cross an atonement for sins, it is also our supreme motivation for faith and endurance in the face of oppressive powers.

In summary, Christ is our example of suffering and service.

3. Paul

Jesus anticipated that others would follow the disciples as they followed him and learned to fish for men (Matt 4: 19). It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul called upon the churches to follow him as he followed the example of Christ. Christ is the ultimate example of forfeiting one’s own good for the salvation of others—an example which Paul put into practice:

For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor 10:33-11:1)

The chain of imitation continued through Paul’s ‘apprentices’. The implication of the following passages is that Timothy was so like Paul that, in having Timothy present, the Corinthians were reminded of Paul’s approach to Christian living:

Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor 4:16-17)

You [Timothy], however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings-what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Tim 3:10-11)

Indeed, Paul’s life and teaching were transparent, he could urge his example upon the Thessalonians (see 2 Thess 3:6-10) and the Philippians (see Phil 3: 17; 4:9).

4. Leaders

Paul’s ‘apprentices’ are commanded to be models of what they teach. Timothy is instructed to

Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech; in life, in love, in faith and in purity…

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely… (1 Tim 4:11-16)

Similarly, for Titus, his teaching is to be shown by example in order to confound opponents:

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned. (Titus 2:7-8)

Here is a marvellous profile of the Christian leader. The leader demonstrates by persevering in the faith the proper response to the word he speaks. Christian leaders demonstrate faith in action (see Heb 13:7).

5. All Christians

It is not only leaders but all believers who are to be examples to others. The Thessalonians demonstrated the ‘chain of modelling’ which is to occur among Christians:

You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thess 1:6-7; see also 2:14)

Those who are in danger of falling away are called to imitate the faith and patience of others (Heb 6: 12).

Discussion questions

  1. Relate some specific incidents where you have grown as a Christian through both the teaching and life of a leader.
  2. What implications of this article do you need to think through for training leaders in your church?
  3. Can you ask others to imitate your way of life? Why or why not?
  4. Do your teachers call upon you to follow their way of life? Why or why not?
  5. Should you offer yourself as an apprentice to your leaders?
  6. Should you invite someone to be your ministry apprentice for their training?

Conclusions for gospel ministry

1. As ministers of the gospel, it is right to call others to follow our example

At first, we cringe at this idea—either from a pious humility or a realistic assessment of the poverty of our example. Paul felt no such embarrassment for himself or his co-workers. He appealed to the churches to imitate their way of life.

2. Our example has to be worth following

We are always an example to our followers—either a godly one or an ungodly one. We cannot stop being an example. One of the key tasks of Christian servants is to ensure their lives demonstrate a godly pattern for others. We will never arrive at a state of sinlessness in this life, but those we are serving must see our progress and faithfulness in following the way of the cross.

3. The goal of ministry is to create disciples of Christ, not of ourselves

This is the counter-balance to our first conclusion. We are to call upon others to imitate us inasmuch as we imitate Christ. The result must not be division but unity—not loyalties owed to men, but to Christ (see 1 Cor 3:3-4).

4. Teaching is by Word and life

The Christian teacher calls for the learner to adopt his way of life, which should embody what he teaches. He must, then, watch his life and doctrine closely. The integrity of the teacher is thus at stake; he cannot teach what he does not live.

At this point, Christian leadership is radically countercultural. Our community promotes a separation of the public and private lives of our leaders. We are told that the morality of our leaders is irrelevant to their job performance. This attitude is unthinkable in Christian leadership.

5. The teacher models the way of the cross

The consistent theme in the passages above is a modelling of faith and perseverance in the face of trials. The disciple shares in the sufferings and service of the Master. And, like Christ, he exhibits love, patience and holiness.

Implications for training gospel workers

1. The trainer is more important than the curriculum.

Theological information, even if true, does not train ministers of the gospel. The trainer must do two things: impart the true knowledge of God and demonstrate, in his own life, how to apply it. Anything less than this is not Christian training. The loss of integrity in a faithless teacher is fatal to Christian training.

2. Create contexts for integrating Word and life

There is truth in the old chestnut that ‘ministry is caught not taught’. Both Jesus and Paul drew around them a handful of disciples into close association. In this context, they imparted the content of the message and the way to live it.

This is at the heart of the apprenticing model. The fledgling minister learns by instruction, but also by association and example.

To illustrate, a lecture on divorce and remarriage might give a young minister some counselling procedures and accurate biblical teaching, and even reveal something of the subtlety of this pastoral issue. But involving the apprentice in a real pastoral situation, including interviews and prayer, will unveil the heart of the pastor. The apprentice will witness his compassion, his faithfulness to the word of God, the agony involved in saving others and the pain of rejection.

3. Avoid the guru syndrome

No minister of the gospel should be the ‘creation’ of one person. Paul was not the only model for his delegates and churches; there were many apostles and teachers, and the churches were to imitate each other.

A collegiate approach avoids the excesses of dependancy, manipulation, oppression and legalism which develops in some ‘discipling’ ministries. The minister-in-training needs to learn from many ‘mentors’ while drawing close enough to a few who can impart both Word and life.


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