The Importance and Power of Setting an Example in Discipleship

The Importance and Power of Setting an Example in Discipleship

We witness the importance and power of example in the lives of faithful Christians who lived before us. We can consider the practice of their faith to inspire and help us to follow Jesus and make other disciples. Knowing the outcome of their way of life, we can imitate their faith (Heb 13:7).

When I began working in construction, my boss neither offered a book to read, nor gave me a lecture about framing a wall. I was assigned to work with an experienced man. By working alongside him, I learned how to drive a nail and frame a wall. Throughout history people have served as apprentices to others, working in their shadow to learn their craft. People watch examples on YouTube to learn to how do a myriad of tasks—from plumbing to working on a car.

We see the power of example in the way many people pray in church. How do most Christians learn to pray? Most learn by listening to the prayers of others. For this reason, we hear commonly repeated phrases in prayer like, “lead, guide, and direct,” or “we lift up . . .” In the church in which I grew up, one faithful saint always ended his prayer by saying, “and let my daily walk be a testimony to others.” I noticed members in the church began using this same phrase in their prayers.

This post is part four of a practical series on making disciples. The task of discipleship requires and emphasizes faithful teaching (Matt 28:20). Biblical discipleship also recognizes the importance and power of setting an example for those we teach.

The Apostles Appeal to the Example of Jesus

The Apostles point to the example of Jesus as they teach others to live a faithful Christian life. Peter’s first letter emphasizes the theme of suffering as we follow Christ. He points to the example of Jesus for us to emulate as we face suffering. He writes, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:21–23).

Philippians 2:1–5 addresses relationships in the church. Paul calls the Philippians to follow the example of Christ’s humility. He presents the glorious theology of Christ “taking on the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7) as a powerful warrant for Christians to be humble toward one another. He points other Christians to the power and importance of Jesus’s example.

The Importance of Example in Paul’s Discipleship of Timothy

Throughout 1 and 2 Timothy, Paul emphasizes the importance of teaching sound doctrine in the church (1 Tim 1:3; 4:6, 13, 16; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13–14; 2:15; 3:12–4:5). Timothy was to use healthy doctrine to counter poisonous teachings infecting the church (2 Tim 2:17). The Apostle also highlights the necessity of Timothy setting a Godly example for Christians. He writes, “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:11-12).

Let’s consider the five areas Paul specifies for Timothy’s example in the church:

  1. Set the Believers an Example in Speech: We use speech as a primary way to communicate and interact with others. Paul consistently addresses problems with the speech/words of the false teachers (1 Tim 4:7; 6:4, 20). “In speech” translates the Greek phrase “ἐν λόγῳ” (logos). This example likely refers to what we say to others—the content of our speech. In our conversations with other Christians, or those we are discipling—what are we saying?

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