We Must Be Holy to Teach Holiness
It is really hard to teach others to follow Jesus without following Him ourselves. “Follow me following Christ” is Paul’s simple direction to the churches. When lost, confused, upset or facing opposition, keep your eyes on your human example so you don’t lose track of Christ. They should walk like Paul does. It makes sense when considering how most people learn effectively. It can be hard to apply abstract concepts from the Bible to our lives at times. Yet, when we see them lived out, it is often much easier. This is the model that Jesus lays out for us in the Bible. A more modern version of the concept is summed up in the expression “There is more caught than taught”. People learn more by watching our lives than by listening to us. There is an essential pre-requisite to this type of discipleship that can elude us and undermine anything we try to teach. We must live the life following Jesus without reservation first in order for others to learn how to do the same. Personal holiness is the essential qualification point for anyone who seeks to disciple others.
It is a simple concept but it is also key to teaching godliness in others. Follow Christ openly and clearly first. Then tell others how to follow Christ openly and clearly and tell them to watch you following Christ fully…then wash, rinse and repeat. The example we set for others in our everyday walk makes an impression that lasts for years.
We are Always Teaching…for Good or Ill
My father had a tradition. Whenever we went into a supermarket, he would swing by the candy aisle. Dad would grab one of the bags of candy and open it up while still in the store. He would then give the candy to eat as we shopped. As kids this was awesome. What child does not like candy? But when it was time to check out, Dad would turn a quiet corner at the market and slip the opened bag of candy back onto the shelves. He would never pay for the ones we ate. It was a clear case of candy theft.
This practice continued throughout my childhood. As a kid, it provided me with joy despite the wrongness of it. Sugary treats and attention from my Dad were both desperately lacking in my life, so I savored them both. I did not understand how wrong it was as this was my example.
When I became a father, the desire to repeat what I had seen was extremely strong. The memories of what I experienced as good flooded back and fought against an adult realization of the definition of theft. I never did carry out the tradition, but I sure did want to. It was a struggle not to as sin was crouching at my door because of my father’s choice 20 years before.
I thought of the supermarket candy while pondering Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians, specifically:
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you;
2 Thessalonians 3:6-7
Paul is writing to the Church at Thessalonika about the members of the church who are unruly or walk in disobedience. The word he uses for unruly is a military term that means out of step or not in line with the rest of the group. Earlier in 1 Thessalonians, Paul told the church that these folks should be warned about their disobedience. They should be taken aside and shown where they are violating Scripture. The goal is to bring those out of line back in the proper order.
Paul goes further in this passage. He states that if the unruly brothers are not repentant, the church should withdraw from them. The idea is to remove the wonderful comfort and love of the church so that the offender will feel the sting of his own sin and turn back to God. Jesus also covers this church discipline process in Matthew 18.
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This is not sin sniffing. It is not disagreeing with you about politics, using instruments, or being Pre-Trib or Post -Trib or even just being annoying. This section deals with someone who is in open, unrepentant sin. It assumes that the steps from Matthew 18 have been carried out and every attempt to bring the struggling brother back into fellowship has failed. This is not a brother who is struggling, but one who is not. This is someone completely given over to their sin. They have chosen sin and know they are choosing sin. The man sleeping with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5 is an example. Paul says not to be like them and not to keep company with them.
Set an Example for the Believers
What is amazing here and elsewhere in Paul’s writings is how he tells the church to judge that what he says is true and possible to carry out. Paul says they can know what he is saying is true and right by looking at him. His life and his example are so aligned with Jesus, the church can look to him when in confusion. When in doubt follow me. He expresses a similar sentiment in 1 Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ
and 1 Timothy 4:12
but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
Follow me following Christ is Paul’s simple direction to the churches. They should walk like Paul does following Jesus. It is simple as all get out, but it is also the key to discipleship. Follow Christ, tell them others to follow Christ, tell them to watch you following Christ and then walk that out.
Parents – Set an Example for your Kids
Kids are smart. Though they may be just out of diapers, they can tell when Mom and Dad are not doing what they tell them to do. As they get older, any disparity between words and actions in a parents life becomes like a blinking neon roadsign in their lives. “Go ahead and sin, go ahead and sin, don’t listen to Jesus, Mom does it, Dad does it.” It is a tacit recommendation for sin in their lives. It is like a parent expressing doubt in God.
How many men had their first encounter with porn through finding something that dad was hiding? What messages does that send? Sin is pleasurable for a time. It is like stolen supermarket candy. It tastes good for a moment but it sets those who are watching up for trouble.
Leaders – Set an Example for your People
People are perceptive. They are also natural mimics. If a leader is bringing a compromised life into their ministry, it will have an effect. When a leader is upright before the Lord, it will have an even greater effect. This is the heart of discipleship. Sharing what God has done in our lives with those who have not yet experienced these blessings.
Imitate Me as I Imitate Jesus
The question is really simple. Are we able to tell others be imitators of us as I imitate Christ? This does not mean follow Christ perfectly but earnestly and continually. In victory and in defeat, in much or want, follow Christ so that the one following you can see you follow Christ and be taught to do the same!
If we do so, then we have done everything we can to disciples a man or woman of God.
If not, then what sin have we left crouching at our kids and people’s door for them to struggle with for their lifetime?