The Jewish American comedian Sam Levenson once recalled that his over-protective mother walked lockstep with him on his very first day of school insisting on talking to the teacher before she returned home. Levenson said that, among other things, his mother told the teacher that if he was a naughty boy, she should punish the boy next to him. When asked by the teacher to explain her comment Sam’s mother said, “My little boy learns by example.”
Examples are inspiring and instructive! Tracing over a life well lived is a great help to us in the development and advancement of our own lives. Wisdom informs us that we are less likely to lose our way in life if we have someone to show us the right way. Being able to follow in the footsteps of a shining example is always a good move in life and a tried and true method of self-improvement. And what is true for life in general is equally true for the Christian life in particular. As the apostle Paul taught and modeled, we need people who follow Christ to follow. On a number of occasions, Paul a follower of Christ invited other followers of Christ to follow him (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6).
This pattern and principle of following others in our pursuit of Christ is seen best in the life of Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1). In a passage addressing the need for continued gospel commitment on Timothy’s part, Paul acknowledges Timothy’s faithful following of his example and the need for that to be continued (2 Tim. 3:10-15). In the context of this chapter the virtues of Paul’s life are set in direct contrast to the vices of the false teachers and their empty religion, and thereby provide Timothy a wonderful handrail and guardrail for God-honoring ministry (2 Timothy 3:1-9, 10-15). Timothy had studied at close quarters Paul’s theology, manner of life, purpose, trust in Christ, patience with people, love for friend and foe, steadfastness in trying circumstances, and suffering for the gospel’s sake (2 Tim. 3:10). These life observations were for him, a great source of inspiration and instruction. In terms of spiritual growth and ministry impact, Timothy found motivation not only in looking up to Christ in heaven but also by looking sideways to Christ in Paul.
Finding models of gospel commitment and continuance in our lives is critical to our productivity and perseverance in life and ministry. We need to find people who follow Christ to follow! We can find them in our homes in the shape of godly parents, as was the case with Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5). We can find them in true friends who point us to God, as was the case with David (1 Sam. 23:16). We can find them in faithful pastors who lead by example, as was the case with pilgrims of the Dispersion (1 Peter 5:3). We can even find them among the dead whose testimony of faith lives on, as was the case with the Hebrews (Heb. 12:1; 11:1-40).
The Puritan George Swinnock said, “Man is a creature that is led more by patterns than precept.” He is right, so let us find some good and godly examples to follow!