Mark #1: An Example for Others to Imitate
With this first mark of maturity we come to a study of the qualities that describe what Christ-like maturity looks like. Since becoming Christ-like makes one an example to follow, we will begin here. A mature Christian is someone who is a model, a pacesetter; someone who influences others in positive ways according to biblical standards! Modeling Christian virtues, virtues of true spirituality, is crucial to effective ministry in the world. Without biblical and godly models we are cast into a restless sea that can only toss up refuse and mud (Isa. 57:20). William J. Bennett recently said, “We—all of us, but especially the young—need around us individuals who possess a certain nobility, a largeness of soul, and qualities of human experience worth imitating and striving for.”19
People can never be biblical leaders and truly mature until they come to realize that God has called them to be examples to others. As the Lord Jesus pointed out, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). In this context, the Lord was showing that one’s true spirituality, or godliness (or lack thereof) is revealed in our actions and that such actions will of necessity influence others either for good or for evil. Students, sons, daughters, and the flock, tend to emulate their leaders, parents, guardians, teachers, or heroes. The tendency is for us to shy away from this responsibility and reality, but in order to be truly mature and a leader, one must accept this as a reality of leadership.
Principles Related to Being Examples
In regard to being examples to others, it is helpful to consider the following principles:
(1) Being a godly example is not an option, it is commanded in Scripture. Several passages dealing with this issue will be considered later in this study.
(2) We have no choice in being an example of some kind and having an impact on those around us, but we do have a choice in the kind of witness and impact we provide. Someone is going to follow us and be influenced by us. The questions are: Do we know where we are going? Are we providing the kind of example that will enhance their lives, or are we like the blind leading the blind?
I think it was Professor Hendricks who said in his tapes on leadership, “I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “don’t follow me, I’m lost too.” That’s the state of the world and, unfortunately, of many well-meaning Christians. They are like the commercial pilot who told his passengers, “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we are lost, but the good news is we are making good time.”
Motion in itself does not mean direction. Activity in itself never means effectiveness. We can be like the cowboy who rushed into the coral, bridled and saddled his horse and rode off in all directions. We need quality lives with quality motion aimed in the right direction with specific, biblical objectives.
(3) We need Christian maturity that provides people with real honest-to-God examples of authentic Christ-like living. Effective ministry to others is often equated with such things as dynamic personalities, with talent, giftedness, training, enthusiasm, and with charisma. But these things alone are inadequate, as is so evident by the leadership we have seen in the top government positions in our country the last few years. Much more is needed. In the Bible, the qualities that lead to effective ministry are found in the elements of spiritual character, in the character of Christ reproduced in us by the ministry of the Spirit (see Eph. 4:12f.; Gal. 5:22ff).
In his unique style, Dr. Hendricks used to tell the story of a student who came to him with a problem. The interchange went something like this as I recall:
Student, “Hey Prof, I have a problem.”
Hendricks, “Yea, What’s your problem?”
Student, “Why did the Lord choose Judas?”
Hendricks, “Ah, that’s no problem. I have a bigger problem than that.”
Student, “Yea, what’s that?”
Hendricks, “Why did the Lord choose you? Why did the Lord choose me?”
His point was—look at the disciples. How would you like to launch a worldwide campaign with the likes of Peter and his compadres? Yet, with these common, average, uneducated men, the Lord launched a campaign that has spanned the globe and turned the world upside down.
Was this because of their unique and imaginative methodology? No! It was because these common men knew the Lord and began to experience His life and His qualities of godliness. He took common men and made them into great men who became spiritual leaders because they were experiencing Him through the power of the Spirit of God.
(4) Mature Christians and leaders have a responsibility to maintain a consistent example. This is a constant theme of the Bible. Other than the raw power of the Word itself, nothing is so determinative for spiritual change in the lives of others as one’s own example. This truth is strongly taught in 1 Thessalonians 2:1ff where Paul recalls his manner of life and that of his team to the Thessalonians.20
Problems We Face in Being Examples
(1) The problem of distinctiveness or manifesting biblical character. This relates to the issue of living so we truly show that what we are, our character, is distinctively the result of knowing and walking with Christ. But, sometimes what Christian are speaks so loudly that it completely turns people off or puts them in reverse. If our lives are not what they should be, others not only will not want to follow us, they will become repelled by what we are. When a Christian’s life is contrary to what he or she says, it indicates either we are unreal or what we advocate and believe isn’t true and doesn’t work.
(2) The problem of direction or the wrong example. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Some people will follow us. In this case, not so much in what we say, but in the way we live—in our priorities, values, and attitudes as well as our actions. If our lives are not what they should be, we become inverted examples who take people away from the Lord and the life He has called them to. I have heard, and perhaps you have also, of children who have said, “Daddy, if the President can lie, why can’t I?”
If we teach our children about the priority of the Lord, of loving others, of the Word, and the importance of assembling ourselves with others believer to worship, grow, and minister to others (Heb. 10:24-25), do we demonstrate the reality of this by following the right priorities ourselves? Or do we find every possible excuse to stay home? Do we consistently allow our family to engage in pursuits that keep us and our families away from church or fellowship with believers? This sets a model that says these other pursuits are more important than the Lord or the assembling together with the body of Christ for Bible Study, prayer, or worship. Actions speak so much louder than words!
Do we teach our children the principles of being on time, of doing all things decently and in order? Then are we consistently late? Do our children often miss Sunday school or church because we are so disorganized that we are unable to make it? Again, Actions speak so much louder than words!
(3) The problem of definition. By definition we mean giving a clear reason for the way we live or the clear distinctives of our lives. As Christians, if our lives are different, as they should be, and we never let others know why we are different, we may have still failed in being examples. “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (1 Peter 3:15).
Passages on Being Examples
Because of the power of our example and the way one’s life either negatively or positively influences others, the Scripture repeatedly addresses this vital responsibility. Leaders and Christians as a whole are to be models for others to imitate. In truth, every believer’s life is to become a source of motivation and direction for others. We are to be a picture of reality, a proof that Jesus Christ saves and changes lives so we can become a powerful magnet that draws others to Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1 and 1 Thessalonians 1:6
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1)
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction” (1 Thess. 1:6),
I don’t know about you, but the idea of telling someone to be an imitator of me is scary. What a responsibility! You mean people are supposed to follow me? That’s right. That’s the way it works whether we like it or not. As this passage points out, the issue is who are WE following? Paul said “be imitators of me,” (i.e. follow me). But then he quickly added, “… just as I also am of Christ.”
Obviously then, the issue here and the key to leadership and spiritual maturity is not how great we are, but how much we are following Jesus Christ who is our supreme example. How much are we allowing Jesus Christ to be the Lord of our lives? Are we in hot pursuit of knowing and experiencing the life of Christ as was the apostle Paul?
The verb “be” is a present imperative of ginomai, “to become.” Again, it emphasizes this is not an option. It is a command. The present tense and the meaning of this verb reminds us this is a process, a target, a goal to set our sights on and pursue daily. None of us ever arrive—but it should be a daily goal. A key question is, “Are we aiming at the target?”
“Imitate” is mimetes and refers to one who mimics another. It is an active noun which brings out the concept of an active responsibility, but we should not let the word “mimic” fool us. This is not a superficial mimicry or a mere imitation. According to New Testament truth, this involves the process of reproduction. The Lord Jesus seeks to reproduce Himself in us as we appropriate His life by faith through the knowledge of the Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Christ-likeness is the direct and exclusive consequence of God’s activity in us. It is not the consequence of our capacity to imitate God, but the result of God’s capacity to reproduce Himself in us through the Holy Spirit as we learn His Word and learn to walk by faith.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:6). The teaching and example of the missionaries (though only for a few weeks) and the afflictions they faced plus the ever-present ministry of the Spirit were the tools God used to produce spiritual growth and changed lives. As mentioned, our word imitate may lead to the wrong impression. Christian imitation has nothing to do with outward conformity where someone merely copies the actions, mannerisms, or speech of another. The Greek word mimetes is from mimeomai, “to imitate, emulate, use as a model.” The main idea here is to follow someone as an ideal model or example. But, as the New Testament context makes clear, this is not merely a matter of external conformity, but change from the inside out by means of the Spirit and the application of biblical truth as seen in the life of the mature Christian model.
“Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith.”
This verse teaches us that the secret to leading others flows out of the recognition by others of the rightness of the life of the leader. The leader’s life becomes the ‘proof of the pudding,’ as they say.
The word, “result” is the Greek ekbasin, which refers to the outcome or product of something. In this context, it is the manner of life of the leader which has made him an example. It refers to the manner of the lives of their leaders that had been centered in the Word and the walk of faith. This had a specific outcome—Christlikeness or godliness.
Note the word “considering.” This is anatheoreo, which means “to scan, look closely.” The basic root of the word means to look at something, not indifferently but purposefully, in order to arrive at a conclusion. In other words, people are going to be watching us and to a certain degree, the example of our lives will affect the conclusions at which they arrive, not only about us, but about Jesus Christ and Christianity. In this context in Hebrews 13, we should perhaps also note verse 17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work.” The willingness of people to follow and be persuaded greatly depends of the kind of examples we become.
3:17 Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example. 3:18 For many live (about whom I often told you, and now say even with tears) as enemies of the cross of Christ.
In the context of this passage, one clear sign of maturity is the pursuit of holiness, a heart set on heavenly treasures and divine objectives (see 3:8-14, 19-20). We might note two things here: (a) the mature man (and there are varying degrees of maturity) will aim at letting go of the past and his previous pursuits and treasures, and he will set his sight on reaching forth to the goal of growth in Christ-likeness. (b) If he thinks he has already arrived, or if his standards are different, then God will seek to expose this error in his life because anything else is contrary to the purpose of God.
In this pursuit, one must have his course fixed on the right beacon or have his radio tuned in to the right frequency, or he will arrive at the wrong destination. In other words he needs the right example and standard. He needs those who stir him on to higher and higher standards.
In this believers have a two-fold responsibility: (a) They must find mature believers, those who are truly following Christ and His Word, and use them as examples and seek to become imitators of them (vs. 17). But (b) they must also be on alert to the fact that there are those who are not walking after the pattern of godliness found in scripture as seen in the lives of Paul and his cohorts (cf. Phil. 3:18, 19 and Rom. 16:17-18).
Naturally, the Lord Jesus is our supreme example, goal, and authority, but Scripture does authorize the legitimacy of following godly people as examples. We need godly examples. Such people demonstrate the possibility and reality of following the Lord and of progress in Christ-like growth. They provide us with godly incentives. It is motivational to find men and women who have truly grown in their walk through the power of the Spirit of God.
In this pursuit and according to the emphasis of this passage in Philippians, the crucial test for being a biblical example and one for others to follow is found in one’s perspective of the person and work of Christ as epitomized by the cross. A biblical view and understanding of the finished work of the Savior on the cross and the believer’s union with Christ does three things:
(1) It provides a proper foundation and motivation for godly living and service It provides a protection against legalism and works done either to gain salvation or to keep it or to gain merit with God (Phil. 3:4-8).
(2) It promotes a commitment to God’s standards of behavior (Phil. 3:9). It recognizes that freedom does not mean license, but provides the power to serve God according to His standards through faith in a living Savior who has made us acceptable to God and provides us with the motivation and means for change (1 John 3:1f).
(3) It gives an eternal perspective. Understanding the finished work of Christ on the cross and our union with Him provides assurance of eternity. This reality of eternity should lead to an eternal perspective which in essence means a new set of values, controls, and pursuits (cf. 3:20-21 with 1 Pet.1:17f; 2 Cor. 4:15-18; 1 John 2:28-3:3).
In essence, then, a proper grasp of the person and work of Christ should produce a personal reevaluation that leads to a denunciation of our old attitudes, values, and priorities (see Phil. 3:3ff). But what we need in the church are men and women who demonstrate this as examples to their families and others.
1 Timothy 4:11-16
Command and teach these things. 4:12 Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. 4:13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 4:14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. 4:15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. 4:16 Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
The apostle begins this section with the charge to “command and teach these things (a reference primarily to 4:1-5, a warning against legalistic doctrines which have their source in demonic influence).” But Timothy’s ability for this is dependent on two things contextually: (a) nourishing his own soul on the words of the faith, i.e., godly discipline in his own life (vss. 6-10), and (b) being an example for other believers (vs. 12).
Failure to be a solid example ruins or at least gravely hinders one’s credibility because it causes others to look down on and reject one’s ministry (vs. 12). “Look down” is kataphroneo from kata “down” and phroneo “to think, contemplate.” So this word means “to have contempt for, despise, disdain, think little or nothing of.”
“Youthfulness” suggests that Timothy was a young man and with youthfulness comes immaturity. But young men and women can, through spiritual maturity in the Lord, overcome their typical, youthful behavior and become examples and models even for older people.
The words “speech, conduct, love, faith and purity” warn us that to be an example, one needs Christ-like change in all areas of life. Failure in one area can harm our ability to be an example.
“Show yourself” (NASB), “set” (NIV), “be thou” (KJV), “set” (NET) represent various translations of the Greek word ginomai, which means “to become, come to pass, happen.” Paul’s use of this verb may suggest the idea of a process and progress, i.e., growth (cf. 4:14).
Paul adds the words, “for believers,” (NET) or “of those who believe” (NASB). Since the context is dealing with our ministry to the body of Christ, the emphasis is on our need to be an example to fellow believers, but this in no way exempts us from the responsibility of being an example to unbelievers (see Col. 4:5; 1 Pet. 3:15-17; 4:15-19).
In 1 Timothy 4:13-16 Paul gives six commands that are needed to be effective models of the Savior. Verses 13-14 deal primarily with public ministry and the stewardship of his spiritual gifts. Obedience to these commands would allow Timothy to become an example to follow in public ministry when the church is assembled. Verses 15-16 deal more with his private life and stresses the idea of dedication, diligence, endurance, and discipline, a fitting challenge against laziness and just going with the flow.
2:6 Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled, 2:7 showing yourself to be an example of good works in every way. In your teaching show integrity, dignity, 2:8 and a sound message that cannot be criticized, so that any opponent will be at a loss, because he has nothing evil to say about us.
We should note that verse 7 flows out of the charge to encourage younger men to be self-controlled (vs. 6) because being an example to them is so important to their encouragement or motivation. We should also note the all-encompassing nature of this command as seen in the words, “an example of good works in every way.” This reminds us of the need to be well rounded in Christian character in every sphere of our lives.
The words, “showing yourself” is the middle voice of the Greek word parecho, which means “to offer, show or present one’s self to be something.”
1 Peter 5:3
“And do not lord it over those entrusted to you but be examples to the flock.”
Some people are what we might call “controllers.” These are people who seek to dominate or lord it over others as a means to get followers, but in doing so they ruin their capacity to be an example of Christ-like leadership. Thus, in this passage, Peter warns of the tendency to lead by dominating others, a characteristic that is typical in the world, but that should not exist in the body of Christ. To be a biblical and Christ-like example a believer must have the character of one who leads as a servant (Mark 10:45). This is one of the distinctive characteristics of Christian leadership and will be discussed below. In this, there is a note of warning: As we seek to be examples, we must learn to serve from godly motives. Too often people serve from neurotic reasons—to feel good about themselves, to be praised and accepted, or to be in control, etc. Some use their position of leadership as a way to get their own needs met outside of faith in Christ and the sufficiency of their new life in Him.
In order for mature Christians and leaders to become examples for others (i.e., a living evidence of the power of Jesus Christ to change lives), they must develop a number of Christ-like qualities that mark them out as examples to follow. Thus, the marks discussed in this study are the kind of qualities that enable one to become a biblical example of Christ-like maturity and leadership whether at home or in the office or in the church.
In summary, the biblical plan and order of modeling and following is as follows:
(1) With Christ and the heavenly Father as their own personal model (John 15:13; 1 Pet. 2:21; Eph. 5:1), mature Christian leaders need to recognize they have a vital responsibility to model the reality and character of Christ to those whom they teach and minister (1 Tim. 4:12; Tit. 2:7; 1 Pet. 5:3).
(2) Leaders may even encourage others to imitate or follow their example as long as they take heed to their own walk (1 Tim. 4:12-16) and are sure they are seeking to follow the example of the Savior themselves (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9).
(3) The ultimate goal of the leader must always be to help others become imitators of Christ. At first, disciples become imitators of their spiritual parents or teachers, which is the normal and natural pattern. But teacher and student alike must recognize that the ultimate goal is to become like the Savior who is our perfect model and objective (1 Pet. 2:21). Since Paul’s objective was to be like Christ, he could encourage his disciples to imitate his walk, but always with the goal in mind of imitating the character of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1)
(4) The basic order or process is: (a) Leaders are to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) that they might be models for others (1 Pet. 5:3); (b) new converts and the flock as a whole are to imitate their leaders, assuming of course their leaders are following Christ (Heb. 13:7); (c) other churches are to recognize their responsibility to be a model of godliness or Christ-likeness as the Thessalonians were to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess. 1:7); (d) All believers are to become imitators of God who is revealed to us in Christ (Eph. 5:1).
Following the example of others has nothing to do with imitating the style or charismatic personalities of certain Christian leaders. What we are to provide as a model for others and imitate in others is Christian character as illustrated in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) or in Paul’s attitude and behavior as it pertained to some of the doubtful issues like eating meat offered to idols. Paul’s pattern was that of love, putting the needs of others above himself as Christ did for us. It is really this Paul had in mind contextually in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he said, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (for the immediate context see 1 Cor. 10:31). The same principle is seen in the context of 2 Thessalonians 3:9 as it pertained to working to support one’s self and one’s family (see 3:6-15).
19 Kindred Spirit, Vol. 23, No. 1, p. 10. Dr. Mennett served as President Reagan’s Secretary of Education and gained national acclaim as President Bush’s “drug czar.” He is the author of The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals, and he served as editor of The Book of Virtues.
20 See the author’s commentary on this passage on our web site.
Appendix: Discussion Questions for Marks of Maturity
MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of bible.org. Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.
These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
1. Describe the four principles related to being a true Christian example to others and discuss the roles these principles play in your life.
2. What problems do we face in being Christ-like examples to others?
3. What specific problems do you face in being an authentic Christian example to others?
- In your home?
- In your church?
- In your workplace?
- In your community?
- With your non-Christian friends?
4. What conclusions about Christ and Christianity would others draw from watching you conduct your everyday life?
5. In Philippians 3:17-18, what two exhortations does Paul give us if we are to be mature follows of Christ?
6. What are the two responsibilities we must fulfill in order to heed Paul’s directive?
7. What three things does a biblical understanding of Christ’s finished work on the cross and our union with him produce?
8. In 1 Timothy 4:11-16, what is Paul’s directive to Timothy.
9. Describe how you nourish your soul.
10. What is the direct consequence when we become “controllers”, seeking people to follow us to fulfill our own motives?
11. What are the four components of the biblical plan and order for modeling and following?
12. What areas of your life would you like others to imitate? Why?
13. Are there parts of your life that you would not want others to imitate? Please describe?
14. What will you do to change?
15. Who will you ask to help you?
- Who are the personalities in the cultures that your children are imitating in their language, dress, and lifestyles?
- Whose lifestyles do you find yourself imitating?