Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
The word “example” does not occur in the Old Testament, which is not surprising when we consider that the Old Testament contains many persons and events that are examples for them that should come later. In the Mew Testament there are five Greek words translated “example,” or “ensample.” These five words have their own nuances, but also show a high degree of similarity and agreement. One refers to a mark that a strike or a blow makes, that is to be observed as a dissuasive warning or an example to be imitated; another means a sign either for imitation or warning; another means a written copy of the alphabet as an aid in learning, as an example before our eyes. An example can be defined as a person or thing that is ordained by God to serve as a pattern that is to be imitated or avoided. Scripture uses other terms, such as “disciples,” “followers,” and “imitators,” to get across the same idea. Only the very foolish and headstrong would ignore the examples God gives us in His Word.
Hear the Scriptures. Ministers are to be examples unto other believers in word, in conversation, in spirit, in faith, in purity (I Tim. 4:12). Elders are examples to the flock, and not cruel overlords (I Pet. 5:3). Job is our example of suffering affliction (James 5:10). Paul is to be followed in his heavenly conversation (citizenship), as well as others who walk as he walks (Phil. 3:17). He is also an example to us of one who does his own work and eats his own bread (II Thess. 3:9). Faithful churches are commended by the apostle and are set forth as worthy examples for other congregations in the areas of charity, brotherly love, suffering affliction, and faithfulness in evangelism. As we read the Old Testament we are to understand the priesthood and the tabernacle service as examples of better, heavenly things, for Moses made all things according to the pattern (type, example) shown him by God in the holy mount (Heb. 8:5).
Because of our sinful natures and the presence of a twofold seed in the church, Scripture also speaks powerful warnings, gives negative examples, things never to be emulated. The entire history of Israel in the wilderness is replete with examples for us upon whom the end of the world is come. We are not to lust after evil things, commit idolatry or fornication, tempt Christ, or murmur. We are exhorted to heed these examples, or we fall even as we are thinking we are strong (I Cor. 10:1-12). Many in Israel could not enter the land because of unbelief; we are to labor to enter into the rest that remaineth to the people of God, lest we fall after the same example of unbelief (Heb. 4:11). The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with brimstone, as well as Lot’s wife, are warning examples to us, but especially to those who should after live ungodly (II Pet. 2:6; Jude 7).
The greatest example for the believer is God’s own Son in our flesh, our elder Brother, Jesus Christ. It is true He is much more than an example, for by His Spirit He is also the power by which we are enabled to follow Him. But first of all, He is the splendid example for every aspect of our calling. Using the word that means a copy of the alphabet as an aid to learning, Peter writes, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his footsteps” (I Pet. 2:21). The Alpha and Omega teaches us the ABC’s of discipleship. Especially is this true in respect to suffering patiently and committing ourselves to God the righteous Judge. The night before He died, Christ gave to us the example of footwashing, “that ye should do as I have done unto you” (John 13:14, 15). The context makes plain that as Jesus labored to make us clean every whit, we are to be busy in washing one another’s feet, i.e., in humble assistance of the brother and sister in overcoming sin and living a holy life as becometh saints. The pattern for life that Christ has left us is one of self-forgetfulness, self-denial, and willingness to suffer even to the extent of losing one’s life; in other words that we are careful to place our feet precisely in the footsteps He has left upon the pages of Holy Writ.
The current word for “example” is “role model,” a word much in the news these days. People in the world of sports, music, movies, and television think of themselves, and are thought of by multitudes of others, as role models for children and young people. Where this pernicious idea came from I can only guess; it has to be the measure of the blindness and poverty of unbelief. One after another these idols fall as Dagon, as their lives of drug use, sexual promiscuity, gambling, and greed are exposed in the media. Are their posters hanging in the bedrooms of our children? And there are many more out there ready to topple! There is something wrong if our children’s examples are not found around the dining room table, in the elder’s bench, in the church’s pew, and in the Word of God preached, studied, and believed?
Disciples of Christ, take good heed.