I visited my mother recently. In the town where she lives, the city supplies the trash containers. You probably have them or have seen them. They are huge and tilt back on two wheels so they can be moved easily. The lid attaches to the handle so it can’t be lost. In my mother’s case though, the lid and handle on her container had broken. She called the city and they told her to leave the container by the curb, so that’s where it was when I pulled into her driveway. The neighbor next door saw my mother’s container there and next thing you know, his trash container was there too. And before it was all over, I’m pretty sure I saw a few more containers by the curb. Apparently, my mother is the alpha trash person on her street!
That’s the power of an example, isn’t it? You see someone yawning and before you know it, you’re yawning. And then someone else yawns. And while it’s true that we learn a number of ways (hearing, visualizing, thinking, etc.,), we learn primarily by imitating the example of others. (After all, if you have to put something together are you going to read the instructions, watch the video, or imitate the person beside you who’s halfway through putting the same thing together?).
The world’s had its share of bad examples. Sometimes it seems as though they are paraded before us unendingly. It’s not that there aren’t good examples; it just seems as if you have to look a little harder to find them. I don’t know that there are less of them, but I do know that bad examples have been deemed more newsworthy and entertaining and that is a sad commentary on us. Bad examples might be entertaining (in a base sort of way), but good examples are inspiring, so maybe the question we should ask ourselves is why we would rather be entertained than inspired.
None of the following is meant to mitigate what Jesus did at the cross in accomplishing our redemption, but to remind us that He also came to model how we should live (1 Peter 2:21ff, Philippians 2:5ff, etc.,). When John tells us that the Word became flesh (John 1:14), on at least one level he is saying that Jesus is the personification of all of God’s words. He came to show us what God meant by the words He had spoken through the centuries by His prophets and teachers.
I think that’s why people (believers or not), are drawn to the gospel accounts of Jesus. Whatever else they might find there, they see someone a compelling portrait of someone who lived what He believed in life all the way to death. They see someone who fleshed out the lofty principles of the Torah in a way that no one else had ever done before or after. He was the embodiment of the law because He was the embodiment of love. There is something majestic about the life of Jesus that is profoundly attractive.
Christians are called to be the body of Christ in the world. In accordance with the eternal purpose of God, the church is to proclaim (verbally and non-verbally), the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. (In Ephesians, this has reference to unseen spiritual powers and entities. Think of something like the situation we find in Job 1-2). Our lifestyle is part of our proclamation to be sure, but there is more to it than that. In the end, our message isn’t our lifestyle, it is Him. He is our proclamation! Our attempts to imitate Him are feeble to be sure, but they nonetheless still point to Him! And despite all of our failings, He still shines through. Paul writes:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body, (2 Corinthians 4:7-11).
In the end, we’re like a weather vane that sits atop an old barn. It doesn’t do all that much. It doesn’t tell you the temperature, barometric pressure, or give you tomorrow’s forecast, it just points out the direction of the wind. I think that’s what Christians should do; we just point people in the direction of Jesus. Individually, that might not seem like much, but when a community is doing it together, it says something.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life, (Philippians 2:14-16).
That’s the power of an example!