The power of example

imitationI’m just re-reading Tom Wright’s Virtue Reborn (and loving it btw) and was struck by his list of passages in which Paul sets forth himself as an example to follow. Now I know Paul says ‘imitate me’ somewhere, but I hadn’t previously clocked how often he does it. Here’s some examples:

  •  “Therefore I urge you to imitate me . . . Timothy will remind you of my way of life” (1 Cor 4:16-17)
  • “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)
  • “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Phil 3:17)
  • “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Phil 4:9)
  • “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess 1:5-6)
  • “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example . . . We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” (2 Thess 3:7-9)

Repeatedly Paul says to the churches ‘follow my example’. Now is that just because he’s an apostle – he can make these kinds of statements in a way we can’t. Perhaps, to a degree. But note the Phil 3 reference – it says follow my example, and take note of others who follow the pattern. In other words a life of example is not confined to Jesus and the apostles. All Christians (and it seems leaders especially) should be able to point to their own lives as a worthy example to follow. Yikes! I guess, in our culture, we’re so scared of appearing arrogant, and fall so far short in our own personal godliness, we think saying something like this would be inappropriate. We know ourselves only too well. But for Paul, it seems, an ingredient of pastoral leadership was the ability to say ‘follow my example.’ Paul wasn’t perfect; we’re not perfect. But Paul highlights the importance (as if we didn’t already know) of a consistently and consciously striven for virtuous life, and it’s power to lead others.



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