On the Pilgrim Way (Part Four)


Hebrews 6:12

So that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance (CSB).

The Christian way of life is a life of learning. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a learner of him and also of his people. The second can be valuable because of the union of the Lord Jesus and his people. We are “in him” and he is in us. The Spirit of God develops the character of Christ in us, so that his words, ideas, attitudes, and actions become ours. This happens in everyone who knows the Lord, which points to the value that we can gain as we learn from his people. All have significance as examples through their union with Christ and the transforming work of the Spirit. Consider how Paul commended the Macedonian churches to the Corinthians in the matter of giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-6).

The Spirit uses various methods to accomplish his purpose of developing the character of Jesus in us. For example, he uses the Scriptures and people teaching them. The Spirit wants us to understand that he also uses the examples of other followers of the Lord. Later in the letter to the Hebrews, the writer will present numerous examples of faith (Hebrews 11). James writes of the faith that worked of Abraham and Rahab, the endurance of Job, and the prayers of Elijah. Such believers provide models or patterns of faith and other graces that we are to imitate. Think of how John pointed out the good example of Demetrius (3 John 11-12).

  • God himself is worthy of our imitation. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children (Ephesians 5:1 ESV; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6). This involves our consecration to God and his purposes. But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV, my emphasis). This is one of the core principles of godliness. We are to be set apart to God and what pleases him.
  • We are to imitate spiritual leaders like Paul. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV; cf. 4:16). Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7 NIV). The essential prerequisite is that they themselves are imitating Christ. We ought to see Christ-likeness in them and imitate it.
  • We should also imitate local churches. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14 NIV). Yes, entire local groups of believers are to show forth the power of faith in God. Churches have been far too content to drift along, coddling the spiritually lazy and weak, when they ought to be aiming for strong faith in their whole assembly.

Who are the “model believers” from whom you learn faith, love, hope, joy, peace, and goodness? You need such people on the pilgrim way. Are you a model for others? Can you challenge your brothers and sisters in Christ to imitate you? How is the Spirit of God making you a better example now? What fresh ways of godliness is he forming in your words, ideas, attitudes, and actions? May you have the joy of seeing him form Christ in you more clearly the rest of this month!

Grace and peace, David

Following a Good Example (Part Two)

img_36972 Timothy 3:10

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness… (ESV).

In this verse, the apostle Paul encouraged his friend and coworker Timothy to keep on following the example or pattern that he had lived before Timothy. As we have said, Paul stressed the importance of each item. It has been too easy for Christians to concentrate on either teaching or conduct, while ignoring the others. Many churches have focused on teaching, which is important, so much that they have created the impression that what a church exists for is to cram everyone’s heads full of ideas. Perhaps this has been in overreaction to the neglect of doctrine by others. Many other churches have overemphasized conduct, perhaps again in overreaction against the “teaching” churches. The result has been a group that grades everyone by the rules or “standards” they keep. However, as we realize that both teaching and conduct are important, let us not forget five other examples that Paul set for his friend and for all other believers to whom he ministered.

  • “My aim in life” – Paul reminded Timothy about his purpose. The apostle lived according to the purpose to which God called him. This affected how he lived in many ways. It infused him with a missionary attitude (Romans 15:20-21), helped him live with a clear conscience (Acts 24:16), and caused him to be devoted to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:12-14). When Paul discovered God’s purpose for him, it helped him to simplify his life by pursuing what the Lord wanted him to do.
  • “My faith” – This probably refers to his life of faith, the example he set by trusting God for what was needed for his life and ministry. The Christian way of life is a life of dependence on God. This can become difficult when God’s ways fail to match up with our opinions about how God should act for us. It helps us to remember God’s purposes (Romans 8:28-30), but it still is hard for us to humble ourselves before God and to wait upon him and so to cast all our anxieties upon him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7).
  • “My patience” – Paul spoke of his pattern of patience. He had to learn to wait calmly for God to act. His patience developed from his earliest days as a Christian, when he went away to think from the Scriptures about what he had learned from meeting the Risen Jesus on the Damascus road. It developed when he had to leave Jerusalem to spend a few years in Tarsus. It grew when he and Barnabas were thrown out of town after town on their first missionary journey. His patience increased as the Holy Spirit took time to lead him to Europe on his second missionary journey. And what can we say about the many years that Paul was a prisoner? His life was a pattern of waiting calmly.
  • “My love” – Paul taught and modeled love. Two of the greatest passages about love in the Bible (Romans 12:9-21; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13) were written by Paul. His love for God and his people caused him to press on through many difficulties. He loved people like the Corinthian and Galatian believers who frustrated him. He loved his own people of Israel and was willing to give himself for him that they might be saved (Romans 9;1-3; 10:1). He demonstrated love by constantly praying for people and remembering them in his letters. Timothy had seen that Paul was a man who loved God and others.
  • “My steadfastness” – His friend also knew about the example of endurance that Paul set. All we need to do is to read Luke’s account of Paul in Acts to know that Paul persisted in the face of the greatest difficulties. His own words about his sufferings for Jesus the Messiah (2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:16-12:10) provide us a model of perseverance in suffering for Christ. Please don’t complain about your problems until after you seriously reflect on Paul’s faithfulness to the Lord in the most trying circumstances.

The point of his pattern is not to shame us, but to motivate us to live for the glory of the Lord. Paul did all of these things by trusting God the Father to help him by the Holy Spirit, who made Christ’s power known in him. We are to live in conformity with this pattern.

Grace and peace, David

A Godly Example

IMG_0939Ruth 2:1-7

A core matter of the Christian way of life is to follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 10:38; 16:24; etc.) We are to imitate his way of life and think his thoughts, have his attitudes, speak with grace and truth, and do good as he did. The Lord knows that it is beneficial for us also to have people that we can see as examples that we can imitate. Each of us ought to be living in such a manner that we can say “follow my example” or “imitate me” because we follow the Lord Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:15, 17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7; Hebrews 6:12; 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). In the story of Ruth, next in the story is a man called Boaz. God has an important purpose in his plan for Boaz and Ruth. What kind of a man was Boaz? He was a godly man, a man of integrity, goodness, and action.

First we see an example of Boaz’s active oversight. Surprise! Who should arrive to inspect his fields except the “man of standing”, Boaz! And when did he reach his fields? He came to one of his fields after Ruth had been gleaning for a while. This was perfect timing; it was beyond coincidence.

  • Boaz greeted his workers in a godly manner. He brought God into his workplace by blessing his workers in God’s name. Not everyone has the opportunity that Boaz had to act so boldly. Most followers of Jesus must act and speak cautiously, since they neither own the company nor are they paid to evangelize. Some Christians become overzealous and brash when they ought to be humble and quiet. The Lord expects us to be wise and gentle among our coworkers. We need to make friends from our coworkers and then tell our friends the good news, but not on company time. Having been in management, I know it is not appreciated when any worker wastes time for which they are being paid to work. So then, Christians need to show the example of diligent work.
  • Boaz was a man of influence and wealth (2:1). He was in a position to help the poor. This is the view that we should take of our lives. God gives to us generously, so that we might help others, and in this way show his kindness and compassion. The Lord wants us to work, so that we can give to care for others in their needs (Ephesians 4:28).
  • Boaz was also a godly man, as the whole book makes clear. He spoke in conformity with his world and life view. God was in his thoughts, and there could be no better greeting than to wish them God’s presence of blessing. Many times in the Old Testament Scriptures, this is emphasized by saying that “God was with” someone.
  • Boaz noticed who was working in his fields. This shows that Boaz knew what was going on in his workplace. He wasn’t oblivious. He paid attention to his workers. He knew that people were a very important part of his business. Other things being equal, the business that cares for its employees will prosper more than others that do not. More importantly, God cares very much about people! Part of your responsibility as a member of the local assembly you attend is to know everyone who worships with you. That gathering is your spiritual family, and it is unthinkable that you should fail to pay attention to people that God the Father brings into your assembly. Engage everyone in kind and godly conversation.
  • Boaz noticed Ruth. Hmm, this also showed that he was a real man. Men do notice women—in about three-tenths of a second or less. What made him notice her? Was it her good looks? Was it her foreign appearance? Was it her youthfulness? (Yes ladies, men do look at younger women first. Don’t get upset at your man or men in general. Men noticed you first when you were the younger woman.) Whatever the reason, Boaz did notice her and decided he ought to have more personal information about her.

So then, God had Ruth and Boaz in the same place at the same time, and Boaz had some level of interest in her. This was beyond coincidence. God would use all this to accomplish his purposes in Jesus Christ. Since we are also part of the story of God’s glory, we must be ready to be used by the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

Unnoticed Example

DSCN03612 Timothy 1:16-18

We praise God for the many, many followers of Jesus that give themselves unselfishly for the good of others. They labor behind the scenes, not sounding trumpets (Matthew 6:1-4) to attract attention to what they’re doing. I encourage people to read biographies of Christians, because they testify to what the living God can do through his followers. (Thank God for his work through them without exalting them. Remember 1 Corinthians 1-4.) However, you do not find many biographies of common Christians. That should not dissuade us from noticing and celebrating what the Spirit does through average children of God. We can profit from their examples.

Paul the apostle presented one such example in his second letter to Timothy. It is an example that easily goes unnoticed in the teaching most of us receive from the Word. As Paul neared the end of his life, he found himself deserted by many; the loss of Demas seemed especially bitter to him (1:15; 4:10). In this context, the Spirit of God directed him to write about a man who remained faithful. His name was Onesiphorus. What Paul says of him gives us a four-part paradigm about how to help in the service of the good news of Christ. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus (NIV).

  • Onesiphorus was an encourager (1:16). Paul experienced many down times during his years of service for the Lord (2 Corinthians 4:8-10; 6:3-10; 11:23-33). Except for this text, we would not know that Jesus had Onesiphorus there often to encourage Paul. It should make us all pause to think of how much the apostle of Christ depended on the service of Onesiphorus and others like him. The story of his life would be much different from what we read in Acts apart from these people. Paul especially praised God that he refreshed This word can include both spiritual and physical actions. In both cases they would have been a strong encouragement to Paul. Many times a simple encouraging word does wonders. Other times, more extensive works are need to refresh people. He understood how to help Paul in a way that left Paul refreshed and encouraged.
  • Onesiphorus was bold (1:16). He was not afraid to serve Paul while he was a prisoner. Anyone in jail or prison in ancient times was in deep trouble. Often they were dependent on friends outside for food, clothing, and other needs. For those helping there was the danger of “guilt by association” with the imprisoned. Onesiphorus boldly helped Paul in spite of whatever dangers might come. When we help people, we can expose ourselves to danger, like when someone has an illness that is contagious. He trusted the Lord to care for him as he took these risks.
  • Onesiphorus was diligent (1:17). When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, Onesiphorus had to look hard to find him. It is easy to make a quick effort to try to contact a person and then to give up. Obviously, he cared about Paul enough to persist through disappointments. I can imagine the conversation going something like this. “I’m looking for Paul, the prisoner being held for trial before Caesar. He’s under house arrest. Do you know where’s he is?” And the answer comes back, “Let’s see; that’s really not my department. But if you contact Julius Gaius, he might be able to tell you what you know. However, he’s out of town for a couple days.” We all have been through this runaround, but he didn’t quit.
  • Onesiphorus was generous (1:18). He helped Paul in many ways. It is always tempting to assume that we have done enough when we have done a little. But Onesiphorus did not have that kind of attitude. When one task was done, he was spiritually and mentally prepared for the next one. What some might have looked at as an expense, he considered to be an investment in God’s kingdom.

We need examples like this to spur us on to love and good works. Our vision is limited by what we think is easily doable. Onesiphorus provides a better model. May the Spirit use it to impel all of us to do more for the cause of God and truth!

Grace and peace, David