Good Examples—Are You Benefiting From Them?
“YOU came to be an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” The apostle Paul wrote these words to faithful Christians living in Thessalonica. The example they set for fellow believers was truly commendable. Still, the Thessalonians were themselves responding to the example that Paul and his associates had set. Paul said: “The good news we preach did not turn up among you with speech alone but also with power and with holy spirit and strong conviction, just as you know what sort of men we became to you for your sakes; and you became imitators of us.”—1 Thessalonians 1:5-7.
Yes, Paul did more than preach sermons. His very life was a sermon—an example of faith, endurance, and self-sacrifice. Because of this, Paul and his associates came to be a potent influence in the lives of the Thessalonians, moving them to accept the truth “under much tribulation.” By no means, though, were Paul and his fellow workers the only positive influence on those believers. The example of others who endured tribulation was also an encouragement. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “You became imitators, brothers, of the congregations of God that are in Judea in union with Christ Jesus, because you also began suffering at the hands of your own countrymen the same things as they also are suffering at the hands of the Jews.”—1 Thessalonians 2:14.
Christ Jesus—The Foremost Exemplar
Although Paul himself had set an example worthy of imitation, he did not fail to point to Jesus Christ as the primary example that Christians should follow. (1 Thessalonians 1:6) Christ was and is our foremost Exemplar. The apostle Peter wrote: “To this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—1 Peter 2:21.
However, Jesus finished his life as a human almost 2,000 years ago. Now he “dwells in unapproachable light” as an immortal spirit creature. As such, “not one of men has seen or can see” him. (1 Timothy 6:16) How, then, can we imitate him? One way is by studying the four Bible accounts of Jesus’ life. The Gospels provide insight into his personality, life course, and “mental attitude.” (Philippians 2:5-8) Additional insight can be gained by carefully studying the book The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, which discusses the events of Jesus’ life in great detail and in chronological order.*
Jesus’ self-sacrificing example had a powerful effect on the apostle Paul. He told the Corinthian Christians: “For my part I will most gladly spend and be completely spent for your souls.” (2 Corinthians 12:15) What a Christlike attitude! As we contemplate Christ’s perfect example, we too should be moved to imitate him in our own life course.
For instance, Jesus taught us that we should rely on God’s promise to provide materially. But he did more than that. He demonstrated such faith and confidence in Jehovah on a daily basis. He said: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.” (Matthew 6:25; 8:20) Do material concerns dominate your thinking and actions? Or does your life give evidence that you are seeking the Kingdom first? And what about your attitude toward Jehovah’s service? Is it like that of our Exemplar, Jesus? The Bible shows that Jesus did not simply preach zeal but demonstrated fiery zeal on many occasions. (John 2:14-17) Further, what a fine example Jesus set when it came to love! Why, he sacrificed his own life for his disciples! (John 15:13) Are you imitating Jesus by showing love to your Christian brothers? Or do you allow the imperfections of some to hinder your love for them?
In our striving to follow Christ’s example, we will often fall short. But surely Jehovah is pleased by our efforts to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”—Romans 13:14.
“Examples to the Flock”
Are there individuals in the congregation today who can serve as examples for us? Certainly there are! Brothers in appointed positions of responsibility must especially set an example. Paul told Titus, who served congregations in Crete and who appointed overseers, that each appointed elder must be a “man free from accusation.” (Titus 1:5, 6) The apostle Peter similarly admonished “older men” to become “examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3) And what about those serving as ministerial servants? They must likewise be “men who minister in a fine manner.”—1 Timothy 3:13.
Of course, it is not realistic to expect that every elder or ministerial servant will be outstandingly skillful in every aspect of the Christian ministry. Paul told the Christians in Rome: “We have gifts differing according to the undeserved kindness given to us.” (Romans 12:6) Different brothers excel in different areas. It is not reasonable to expect that elders will do and say everything in a perfect manner. “We all stumble many times,” says the Bible at James 3:2. “If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” In spite of their imperfections, however, elders can still, like Timothy, “become [examples] to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” (1 Timothy 4:12) When elders do so, those in the flock will readily apply the admonition of Hebrews 13:7: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, . . . and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.”
Other Modern-Day Examples
Over the past few decades, countless others have shown themselves to be good examples. What of the thousands of self-sacrificing missionaries who have “left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands” to fulfill the Christian commission in foreign fields? (Matthew 19:29) Consider, too, the traveling overseers and their wives, the men and women who serve as volunteers at the offices of the Watch Tower Society, and the pioneers who minister to the congregations. Can such examples motivate others? One Christian evangelizer in Asia recalls a missionary from the eighth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. He said that this faithful brother was “willing to face the swarms of mosquitoes and the oppressive humidity. . . . More impressive still was his ability to make presentations in both the Chinese and Malay languages though he was from England.” The effect of this fine example? The brother said: “His calmness and confidence inspired me to want to become a missionary when I grew up.” Not surprisingly, this brother did become a missionary.
The Watch Tower Publications Index contains a list of dozens of life stories that have appeared in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. These stories tell of individuals who have forsaken worldly careers and goals, overcome weaknesses, made dramatic personality transformations, maintained a positive disposition in the face of adversity, and displayed industriousness, endurance, loyalty, humility, and a self-sacrificing spirit. One reader wrote regarding these accounts: “They make me a more humble and thankful Christian as I read what others have gone through, and they have helped me not to think too much of myself or be selfish.”
In addition, do not forget the fine examples in your own congregation: family heads who unfailingly care for both the material and spiritual needs of their families; sisters—including single mothers—who handle the pressures of child-rearing while still having an active share in the ministry; aged and infirm ones who continue faithful in spite of increasing frailty and impaired health. Are you not moved by such examples?
Granted, the world is full of bad examples. (2 Timothy 3:13) Nevertheless, consider Paul’s exhortation to Christians living in Judea. After recounting the exemplary behavior of many ancient men and women of faith, the apostle Paul urged them: “So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also . . . run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1, 2) Christians today are also surrounded by a ‘great cloud’ of good examples—both ancient and modern-day. Are you truly benefiting from them? You can if you are determined to be “an imitator, not of what is bad, but of what is good.”—3 John 11.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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It is not realistic to expect that every elder or ministerial servant will be outstandingly skillful in every aspect of the Christian ministry
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Elders are to be “examples to the flock”