Example is a powerful witness. It is something we deeply admire when the example is a good one.
In each of our lives, we have all noted a specially loved individual who has helped to shape who we are. For instance, those examples may be a favorite teacher, a family member with whom we felt a close bond or someone in the greater society whom we never personally knew, but we were motivated by their accomplishments or some other aspect of the way in which they lived their lives.
That being said, we have also known a greater number of people with whom we were acquainted, but these individuals are the ones who turned out to be, as the saying goes, “ships passing in the night.” Their influence was not counted as lasting or productive.
It is an interesting exercise to think about the most influential people in our lives.
Now, let’s consider the reverse–what has our example been like to others? How have we influenced others?
It is certainly an area in which Christians are accountable–in fact, it has very much to do with the second of the great commandments upon which “‘…hang all the Law and Prophets'” (Matthew 22:40). In verse 39, Jesus stated: “‘…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Certainly, setting a right example in how we live as Christians in this world is one way in which we can fulfill what Jesus taught. Jesus also identified a proclivity of human nature in this regard. He spoke of the scribes and Pharisees in this way: “‘…for they SAY and do not DO'” (Matthew 23:3).
Jesus said of His followers: “‘You are the light of the world'” (Matthew 5:14). He also instructed those who would be His disciples to “bear much fruit” (Compare John 15:8). Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit and identified those qualities which are an outgrowth of godly character: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23).
While it is very easy to want to tell others how to do it better or to somehow fix their problems, perhaps we should consider the fact that our primary role is to first be examples of what is right and true. Note how Peter explains the correct approach: “…and always be ready to give a defense [or, “answer”] to everyone who ASKS you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). The thought here is that others are drawn to ask because of what they first see in our lives–NOT what they first hear!
In this same chapter, Peter addresses the issue of husbands who are not Christians: “Wives, likewise be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, WITHOUT A WORD, may be won BY THE CONDUCT of their wives, when they OBSERVE YOUR CHASTE CONDUCT accompanied by fear” (1 Peter 3:1-2).
Example is indeed a powerful tool for all Christians! More than all that we might say, how we live–the example we set–will show whether we truly honor and serve God and whether or not we really do love our neighbor!