Extra: Looking for a role model?
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
One of the issues that has raised its head again during recent debates over race issues is the perceived lack of role models for young black men and women. We can understand this frustration because the truth is that every one of us at one time or another need people in our lives who can demonstrate to us the way to live. And, the Bible is no exception in pointing out the importance of such role models.
In the book of Philippians Paul states boldly:
Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models. (Philippians 3:17)
What you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. (Philippians 4:9)
And, in case we think Paul is making too much of himself, it is clear from his statement to the Corinthians that the reason he can be a model for them is because he himself is following Christ.
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Encouraging Timothy in his leadership role, he says:
“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.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
The writer of the book of Hebrews makes the same point when he exhorts followers of Jesus to:
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
Following the example of church leaders is an important key in the development of our own walk of faith, and playing our part in the body of Christ and the wider world.
But, did you notice the reference in that last Scripture to a leader’s “way of life”? We often think a major component of discipleship is learning about and grasping Biblical truth, getting our beliefs straightened out, resulting in the renewal of our minds. And, perhaps of equal importance, learning how to apply God’s truth so we can obey biblical teaching in our daily life and experience.
However, in Jesus’ time, the discipleship focus had more to do with adopting the lifestyle of one’s teacher or rabbi. Following a rabbi meant not simply to grow in knowledge and self-discipline, but to adopt his ways and his lifestyle, to be transformed into his likeness.
To follow a rabbi meant something other than sitting in a classroom and absorbing his lectures. Rather, it involved a literal kind of following, in which disciples often travelled with, lived with, and imitated their rabbis, learning not only from what they said but from what they did – from their reactions to everyday life as well as from the manner in which they lived. The task of the disciple was to become as much like the rabbi as possible. Learning wasn’t so much about retaining data as it was about gaining essential wisdom for living, absorbing it from the rabbi.
When Paul urges followers of Jesus to “imitate me”, he is not only saying to follow his example, but become examples yourselves. "Be people who copy my behaviour and actions, and teach others to do so. Show others how to live, teach them the way of Jesus." After all, God’s goal isn’t simply to fill the world with people who believe the right things. It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ!
Who are you spending time with, so you can learn from the entirety of their life? Perhaps, just as important, who are you letting into your life so they can observe your way of living and grow up in Christ? As parents, what kind of example are you modelling for your children? May God give us his grace to become models for others to follow.