Saturday’s West Australian (19/11/16) reported the Police Commissioner’s plea for the government to intervene in the lives of seriously at risk children. The need for intervention is there because some children are growing up in homes where the parents have enormous criminal records. According to the West, one extended family had 3650 criminal charges between them. Children growing up in homes like this simply have no example of how to live as ordinary citizens, let alone righteous lives. While I was reading this news article and considering what could be done about this dreadful situation, it occurred to me that there is enormous power in living out the gospel.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), I have often wondered why he did not simply tell the churches to imitate Jesus directly. Indeed on one occasion he does tell them to imitate God (Eph 5:1). There is every reason to follow Jesus directly. He showed us how to live. He told us to follow his example. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). Jesus is held up by the apostle Peter as an example for us to follow. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). When Paul tells the church to imitate him, he does so knowing that he had already followed the example of Jesus himself. Jesus always remains the perfect example of how to live a godly life, which is pleasing to God.
However, when Paul told the church to imitate him, he did so knowing that when he lived out the gospel, not simply proclaimed it, this had enormous power to change the lives of others. On several occasions he put forward his own example as a person living a godly life as something to follow. “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Phil. 3:17). “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6). “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you” (2 Thess. 3:7). He exhorted Timothy to set an example for the church. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). On another occasion he offered the churches in Judea as an example to follow. “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 Thess. 2:14). The writer to the Hebrews also offers human beings as examples to follow. “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Heb. 6:12).
There is something profoundly powerful about having a living, tangible example of godliness to follow. When a person can see what righteous living looks like, by looking at something who acts in a godly way, that makes it so much easier to live a godly life. The children mentioned by the Police Commissioner had no such example. No doubt there is a place in our culture for state intervention in the lives of at risk children. However, surely as the people of God we must be salt and light in the world. There is great power in living out the gospel in a public way. I know, for example, that there have been people whose parenting I have imitated and been a better parent for it. Who knows what living out the gospel might mean for the culture in which we live. This is not preaching to deaf ears, and no doubt the ears of many in Australia are deaf to the gospel. This is living the life of faith in a way which can be seen by others. The example of Christians as they publically live in a way which imitates Jesus must profoundly influence those around us.