Monday, September 3, 2012

For Example

There was a popular (and, for my taste, overplayed) song on Christian radio a few years back, by Stacie Orrico, titled, “Don't Look At Me”:

Don't look at me if you're looking for perfection
Don't look at me I will only let you down
I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
But don't look at me
No, no, no
Don't look at me, look at Him

A lot of Christians, I think, would recommend Oricco's approach. And there are plenty of reasons for thinking that looking at other humans will let us down. Nationally known preachers and church leaders get embroiled in scandals. Politicians who champion family values are revealed as lacking them themselves. Christian singers' personal lives are revealed to be a mess. Defenders of the faith turn to atheism. Many of us, in our personal lives, have seen friends who we've looked up to fall away, or we've heard of or attended churches that have had to deal with a minister who's had an affair, or we've have had the awkward experience of explaining to our own kids why our actions don't match our words. Perhaps Orrico's advice isn't bad for Christians today.

Paul, however, had no problem telling people to look at him:

Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. (1 Cor 4:16)
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Phil 3:17)
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. (Phil 4:9a)

It would be easy to say that Paul's telling others to look at him was an exercise of his apostolic authority, and not something that others could do, but Paul also tells his readers to be examples, so that others can look at them:

You became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thess 1:7)
Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Tim 4:12b)
In everything set them an example by doing what is good. (Titus 2:7)

Paul had guts. By holding himself up as an example of what it means to be a follower of Christ, he effectively pinned both God's reputation and other Christians' growth on how well he, personally, could live out what he taught. What made Paul willing to tell others to look at him as an example, when so many people today don't (and shouldn't)?

It wasn't because he was so self-confident that he thought he could never fail (1 Cor 9:27); it was because he had confidence in Christ working in him (Phil 1:16).

It wasn't because he thought he was perfect (Rom 7:21-25, 1 Tim 1:16); instead, Paul knew that he was mature enough to be an example to others (Phil 3:15).

Most importantly, it was because Paul knew that he would never give up on his commitment to Christ (Phil 3:12-14). He had the kind of commitment that holds true to Christ even over holding true to oneself; as Rich Mullins said about Jesus, “I will never doubt his promise, though I doubt my heart, I doubt my eyes.”

We need to be more willing to be like Paul. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that people should expect to never see us stumble (if that's what they think that a Christian example means, then they're sorely mistaken), but there's a false humility and a lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit's sanctifying power in saying that people shouldn't look at us at all. And I'm not saying that we should go around talking all the time about what wonderful examples we are; that's prideful and is a great way to be seen as self-righteous. But the fact is that we are examples—to our children, to new church members, to our co-workers, to the cashier at the grocery store—whether we acknowledge it and like it or not. We need to be good examples: to follow Paul's example in letting Christ work in us, in pursuing maturity, and in commitment to Christ.

Although I'm not a big fan of Stacie Orrico's song, I've always appreciated Steve Green's “Find Us Faithful”

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

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