Christian maturity does not come automatically, nor simply with the passage of time. Three essential inputs are required: teaching, example and discipline (1 Timothy 4:16). Without teaching we will never be able to understand God's grace or learn how to engage with Him in order to live differently. Without seeing the Jesus-way-of-life in others, it is difficult to grasp the radically different style of living which comes through the Spirit's power. Many try to 'live a good life' by copying good examples, but that is all it is. Imitating other people without the power which comes from the Spirit is a futile fleshly activity. But even the Spirit's work is frustrated unless we choose to discipline ourselves, saying ‘No!’ to ungodliness and ‘Yes!’ to righteousness (Titus 2:11-12).
Paul had just given them God's explanation about this way of life (Philippians 3:7-14). All Paul's letters have two parts, the 'theory' and then the 'practice'. Under God, the Apostle is specific in instructing husbands, wives, children, employers, employees, rich, poor, refugees, city folk, the suffering, the persecuted, the old, the young. He talks about business and money, sex and relationships, the church and the world, heaven and hell: but all in the context of knowing Jesus. Now he says that God has enabled him to put his own teaching into practice. Despite his personal weaknesses (Romans 7:18-25) the way he lived was an example to others, and they had become a model for others too.
His instruction to “follow my example” was not arrogance but a necessary part of teaching others. It is the essential principle of apprenticeship in which a skilled craftsman shows a willing disciple how he does the work and then watches over the trainee until they master the necessary skills. It is still the way in which people become proficient in their trade or profession. Paul repeats this command in 1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:7, and 2 Thessalonians 3:9 – it is clearly a very important principle of Christian discipleship where the life of the teacher validates and demonstrates the teaching in such a way that people can see how to live their new life in Christ.
Despite the sin in every believer, there are plenty of godly examples to follow, and much opportunity to be a role model to others. Take time to observe those who are following after Jesus, and be encouraged that you can also live with confidence, peace and joy. Abandon the carelessness which gives Jesus a bad name. Follow Him as the Apostles did; knowing that the Bible gives you understanding, the Holy Spirit gives you the strength and wisdom, and your decision to keep cooperating with the Lord helps to establish the necessary disciplines in life. That kind of believer is literally the 'salt of the earth' (Matthew 5:13).
© Dr Paul Adams