This is why I am suffering now. But I am not ashamed! I know the one I have faith in, and I am sure he can guard until the last day what he has trusted me with. Now follow the example of the correct teaching I gave you, and let the faith and love of Christ Jesus be your model. You have been trusted with a wonderful treasure. Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. (Contemporary English Version)
Offense and defense are both equally important in sports. And the same is true for Christianity. A good offense includes confident proclamation of the gospel in word and deed. And a solid defense involves holding our ground through following the example of apostolic teaching passed down to us.
The Apostle Paul set himself up as a both a model of Christian character and an example of Christian action. That isn’t pride or arrogance; it’s the confidence of knowing you have something of value to offer the church and the world.
Everyone needs training and mentoring – and that is especially true for the Christian life. Christianity is a team sport. Believers must work together to survive, thrive, flourish, and be faithful in daily life. We all need good models of faith to learn from. Paul was just such an example for Timothy. And the essence of spiritual formation and maturity is found in imitating sound teaching through trusted leaders.
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised. (Hebrews 6:12, NIV)
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, NIV)
It’s wise and necessary to imitate Christian leaders who have a proven character. They’ve demonstrated persevering in the faith through suffering; and have done it with great humility. Such leaders also have a track record of preserving the faith through consistent teaching of sound doctrine.
This does not necessarily mean that we emulate those who are erudite speakers, have superior gifts and abilities, and enjoy ministry success. What it does mean is that we ought to have as mentors in the faith those persons who imitate Christ and are not self-promoting peacocks who go after being admired and praised.
Paul chose Timothy as a mentee, and eventually as the leader of the Ephesian Church, because he had proven himself as being genuinely concerned for others, and not for making decisions that would simply further his ministry career. (Philippians 2:19-23)
Timothy learned from his mentor, Paul, how to cultivate a life of service to others rather than to be self-serving; and to teach others with sound instruction in love.
We are to imitate those who have proved themselves in hardship. A Christian leader who has not undergone the purgative fires of trials in this life may more easily become seduced by their own importance.
However, leaders who have seen their share of hard circumstances, pain, and suffering, and have come through it loving God and serving others out of grace and humility, are leaders worth imitating and listening to.
Put in this light, the choosing and electing of church deacons and elders is important. Simply getting a warm body willing to serve is not really an option. Perhaps it could be that many young people are leaving the church, and even the faith, because they have not seen genuine Christianity lived-out with passion and integrity among those who hold leadership positions in the church.
No matter who we are, people are watching; they see what you do, what you say, how you act, and your attitude toward most things. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as an example to others, or believe that ordinary people have much influence. Yet leadership isn’t really about having a position or possessing power; it’s about the actions and/or inactions you take.
All this is to say that we have to take responsibility for the quality of our Christian life. We need to be careful about which post we’ll hitch our horse to – which leaders we’ll follow – and what sort of teaching we will learn from.
It takes time and effort to learn anything, including how to live the Christian life. That life must be developed and honed. We can only guard the message and a particular way of life if we know what it is and how to communicate it to others. We’ve got to put the work in.
We don’t just get zapped by the Spirit like some divine magic trick and become automatically great Christians and church leaders. God calls, molds, develops, mentors, and shapes individuals of all kinds for his purposes. That’s why there are so many exhortations in Scripture to be an example, follow godly examples, and mimic sound doctrine.
Making disciples isn’t like making microwave popcorn. It’s much more like the outdoor smoker; go low and slow and let the meat cook just right.
The Christian message of good news, and the Christian life, are learned. And living this life is both a skill and an art. Because of that, failure is inevitable.
We practice anything to get better at it. That’s why we work on engrafting spiritual practices into our lives. We do it, blow it, learn from our mistakes then try it again – over and over and over again. Grace comes into the equation because we must allow people the freedom to try and fail without beating them up over their mistakes.
No one wants to even try if they know they’ll get slapped if they fail. Of all the places on planet earth, the church really ought to be a place where folks can experiment, try, implement ideas, and learn from their failures. The fact that we don’t typically think of the church this way says a lot.
Intelligence is helpful; talking a good line never hurts; confidence is beneficial; but taking the time to practice the skill and art of Christian living takes having a model, a mentor, an example – and being an example to others.
Gracious God, you prepared your disciples for the coming of the Spirit through the teaching of your Son Jesus Christ: Make the hearts and minds of your people ready to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit so that they may be filled with the strength of his presence, and empowered for service to the church and the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.