LCN Article
The Power of Your Personal Example

January / February 2015

Richard F. Ames

Jesus said: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). He said that we should shine as lights in this world so that others “may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). God has called us to live the way of life of genuine Christianity. Our charity and our obedience to God’s commandments are a witness of our practicing Jesus Christ’s own original Christianity, the way that He and His apostles lived and taught.

Three generationsAre you setting a genuinely Christian example? Whether we realize it or not, our conduct, actions, attitudes and beliefs communicate an example to others. There is an old axiom in the field of communications: “You cannot not communicate.” In other words, we communicate whether we want to or not. If we try to maintain a “poker face,” our body language tells others that we might be hiding something. However, if we are the light of the world, our countenance will radiate God’s love, joy and peace!

In 1962, I met a longtime faithful member of the Pasadena, California congregation. His wife had not been a member, but his faithful example as a husband influenced his wife—and after eleven years of his Christian example, his wife was converted. Even in the context of an unbelieving spouse, the Apostle Paul recognized the power of the believer’s example, for “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:14–16).

Yes, your faithful Christian character can be instrumental in the conversion of another person—even your own spouse! God does the calling (John 6:44), but the godly love, patience, kindness and service of a genuine Christian can make a big difference! Later on, in the 1970s, I met a woman who was a long-time faithful member in the Big Sandy, Texas area. Her long-time example of serving her husband, as a loving wife, led to his conversion. She had been baptized for about 12 years before her husband finally became converted.

Our Mission

Has your example been an influence on others? For good? Or for evil? Has God ever used you to “turn” anyone “to righteousness” (see Daniel 12:3)? Has God ever used you to “save” anyone? The power of personal example is one of the greatest Christian tools for influencing others. In fact, we have a mission to influence others: by our conduct, our example of service, our words and our attitude!

Our Savior gave us another metaphor for our identity: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Salt is a preservative—it adds taste and spice to life. Jesus said in Mark 9:50: “Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” As we saw earlier, He told us to let our light shine as well! “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

Christ has given us a mission to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world! Our character and personality should influence others toward righteousness—or at least be a witness to the world. As Proverbs 16:21 states: “The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (NASB). The Moffatt translation states it this way: “A wise man is esteemed for being pleasant: his friendly words add to his influence.”

The Christian life radiates light and positive influence. In his book, The Message of the Sermon On The Mount, John R. W. Stott writes: “A Christian’s character as described in the beatitudes and a Christian’s influence as defined in the salt and light metaphors are organically related to one another. Our influence depends on our character. But the beatitudes set an extremely high and exacting standard” (p. 68). Yes, God gave us high standards for genuine Christianity, but He also gave us the power to fulfill those standards (2 Timothy 1:7; Philippians 4:13)

How committed are we to fulfill the whole way of life taught by our Savior? How committed are we to our mission as true Christians? Those of you who attended the Feast of Tabernacles with the Living Church of God in 2014 heard Dr. Meredith emphasize very powerfully what he calls the “sevenfold commission” of God’s Church.  What was the fourth of the seven items? “Be examples to the Church at large and to the world of Christ’s way of life.”

encouragingYes, Jesus Christ has commissioned us to exemplify a way of life! As most of us know very well, Christianity is a whole way of life, not just a one-day-a-week or surface religion! The disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26). But notice what the true religion was called. Before Saul’s conversion, he persecuted the disciples. He “asked letters from him [the high priest] to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:22). Yes, we are to set an example to the world, of God’s total way of life! That means we strive to live by “every word of God” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).

God explained another major aspect of our mission through the prophet Daniel. In the first two verses of chapter 12, Daniel prophesied the “time of trouble” and the resurrection that follows. Who will be glorified in that resurrection? “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (v. 3). Our preaching the Gospel, and our example, have been turning many to righteousness, and will continue to turn many to righteousness. Later in this article, we will see more principles for witnessing to and positively influencing others.

Following the Right Examples

Who is your hero? Whose example do you follow? Many look to sports figures such as Michael Jordan, Jackie Robinson, Lindsey Vonn, Wayne Gretzky or Serena and Venus Williams. Others look to high achievers among musicians, movie stars, businessmen, politicians and statesmen. While some of these may exemplify success principles in physical ways, whom should we follow in spiritual ways?

Jesus instructed us to follow Him! He told His disciples: “‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (Matthew 4:19–20). Our commitment to follow Him requires self-denial and dedication. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:24–25). Our willingness to be a living sacrifice and to follow our Savior must be active every day! Are you following His example daily? Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Our spiritual example to others must reflect that attitude every day!

As the great spiritual Shepherd, Jesus knows those who follow Him, and His sheep—His followers—know Him: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27–28). Jesus promises eternal life to those who faithfully follow Him! He set the example of service and sacrifice in both life and death. He was willing to give His life for the sins of the world: “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27–28).

Are we willing to give our lives in service to the Master? Are we willing to help others with their most basic needs? In the classic movie Ben Hur, Roman captives passed through the village of Nazareth. One captive in chains, Ben Hur, was whipped—Jesus gave him water to drink. Near the end of the movie, the beaten and scarred Jesus carries the cross. On the way to Golgotha, Jesus falls. Ben Hur struggles through the crowd and gives Jesus water! This portrayal, although not historically accurate, was touching to me. We must be willing to sacrifice in service to others following Jesus’ example: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

Those of us who have had the privilege of participating in the New Testament Passover have been taught the lesson of humility and service. Jesus again set the example. When He had washed His disciples’ feet, He said: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:13–17). Yes, Christian life is to be a “blessed” life. Read about that in this issue in Mr. Rod King’s article, “Living the Beatitudes” on page 6, and Mr. Peter Nathan’s article “What Is Blessedness?” on page 8.

God the Father sent His Son to be the greatest example of love and life the world has ever seen. And He has called us to follow that example with our whole heart! Jesus, the Head of the Body, has also trained and chosen leaders to guide us spiritually. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:1–2). We must be willing to follow the Christian leadership of God’s servants. The NIV states it this way: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

Hebrews 11—the “faith chapter”—gives us many more illustrations of God’s faithful servants. In our modern era, we know of many others who have died in the faith (Hebrews 11:13), including Mr. and Mrs. Herbert W. Armstrong, whose positive example of faith we follow. Notice this exhortation: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7, NRSV).

We should also take warning from negative examples in the Bible. The Israelites lacked faith, and practiced “unbelief.” Listen to this exhortation: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12–13). We need to set a positive example: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11).

The Apostle Jude (like Peter in 2 Peter 2:6) strongly warns us with the horrendous example of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). May all of us, brethren, heed these warnings and strive to follow positive examples.

Our Personal Example

What kind of an example do you and I set for others? Jesus tells us to let our light shine. How can we set the right example? Here is what Dr. Meredith wrote in this publication several years ago:

“In all of this we must try to help everyone we can—both within and without the true Church—to at least grasp the concept that true Christians are to “live by every word of God”—and that Christ is to literally live His life within us through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20). A vital part of this mission is that we are to be “examples” and “lights” to the world (Matthew 5:14–16). As the “Church of the living God, the pillar and ground [or “bulwark”] of the Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), we, dear brethren, should set the example to the world—and to all professing Christians—of the way of life that Jesus taught!

“In our personal lives, in our zealous work and productivity, in being closely bonded to our wives and families—and in a constant spirit of giving, serving and helping others—we should set a sterling example of what Christ really stands for! This is an awesome responsibility for each one of us and is, in fact, part of our commission.

“By our own examples, we should set the standard of self-control, wisdom and judgment, of faith and courage and—most of all—of genuine love and outflowing concern. We should show others by our conduct that we do love God and put Him and His commandments above all else in everything we think, say and do” (“The Purpose of God’s Church,” Living Church News, May-June 2009, p. 4).

We need to apply the principles outlined in Dr. Meredith’s comments above. Whether we realize it or not, others observe our conduct, words and way of life. Think of the ways you have helped others. Living the whole way of life exemplified by Christ is essential! What are other keys to setting the right example? Here are several additional practical steps:

Pray for brethren in need. Pray for their healing (James 5:16). Pray for national leaders and neighbors (1 Timothy 2:1–4). Pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44). Trust God that while people may not “see” you pray, God rewards those who serve in secret (Matthew 6:4). Your “light” will shine through your outgoing attitude

Exhort and encourage one another. Hebrews 10:24–25 tells us: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting [or “encouraging” NASB] one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The popular Bible bookstore pocket card: “Children Learn What They Live,” gives us this perspective: “If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn…. If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.” Encouragement goes a long way in providing a positive influence to others.

Go the extra mile. We often accomplish only what is required. But Jesus said: “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41). Strive to go above and beyond in your work, in your service to the needy and in your obligations to your family and friends.

Strive to be a peacemaker. Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Tell someone you are sorry. Ask for forgiveness and extend forgiveness. When “setting the record straight” in a conflict, give a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1).

Speak the truth in love. The Apostle Paul wrote that, “…speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Pray to communicate honestly, discreetly and kindly. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Share your faith. Jesus warned those who would be ashamed of Him and His words (Mark 8:38). Paul said he was not ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). Be ready to give an answer for your faith (1 Peter 3:15). Be ready to let others know the time and station for viewing the Tomorrow’s World television program in your local area. Be ready to share the Web site address with those who ask about your Church and your faith. Whenever you can, sow seeds to the Kingdom (Galatians 6:7–10).

Radiate the fruits of the Spirit. When others meet you, do you project love, joy, peace and patience? The very first characteristics of charity are patience and kindness: “Love suffers long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Maintain a positive and joyful outlook. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

hand writing "lead by example"As we have seen, the power of personal example is one of the greatest Christian tools for influencing others. Each of us influences others, whether we want to or not! Christ commissioned us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He wants us to turn many to righteousness, to help others reach their human potential and use their God-given gifts, and to help others into God’s Kingdom. Your example may turn others to righteousness. Your example may lead another person to salvation! “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16).

Never underestimate your effect on others. Our example is an influence that is always active. Our words, habits and deeds, in secret and in public—perhaps a hug, a thank-you note or a word of encouragement—may turn someone to the truth and to righteousness. We should strive to fulfill the mission Dr. Meredith stated: “Be examples to the Church at large and to the world of Christ’s way of life.”

We are commissioned to exemplify a way of life. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Pray that you can turn many to righteousness. Let Jesus Christ use you, your influence, your personality, your Christian example. Let God’s Spirit flow out from you in love—and let God use you and the power of your personal example!