There are several aspects of how Jesus changed the world. We will consider a number of them over the next few posts in hopes that we may be inspired to do what he did
Did you ever hear someone say, “Do as I say, not as I do?” How did you feel about that? I’m guessing you weren’t impressed. I don’t know how that line ever got enough traction to become a saying.
In contrast, one foundational characteristic of how Jesus changed the world is his example. Jesus practiced what he preached. He preached the kingdom of God, and he himself was ruled by God. This truth is pretty obvious, but it is such an vital principle for influencing others that it is important for us to take the time to emphasize it.
On a few occasions Jesus stated directly that he was setting an example for his follows to imitate. In John 13 we read about his washing the feet of the twelve (vv. 1-11). Afterward he explained some of the significance of what he had done. He stated directly that, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).
Likewise, in Mark 10, Jesus taught the same subject when he told the twelve that the greatest among them must be a servant or slave. He backed this up by calling attention to his own example of coming not to be served but to serve and give his life for many (Mark 10:42-45). Elsewhere, in a more general sense, he said that when a disciple is fully trained they will be like their teacher (Luke 6:40). He did not hesitate to hold himself up as an example of what his followers should become.
Essentially Jesus was saying the same thing every time he called someone to “follow me.” To follow him was to become his disciple. That meant to watch him and listen to him and live accordingly. His life would show what he teaching.
A good example of calling others to follow him is when Jesus called Simon (Peter) and Andrew to follow him, saying he would make them fishers of men (Mark 1:17-18). But not only was this their calling, it was his as well. Jesus spent much of his time seeking to attract others to follow him. Later, just before sending them out, he would give them extensive instruction on proclaiming the kingdom and healing people (Matthew 10), followed immediately by him doing the same thing (11:1). So the call to follow him and become fishers of men could be learned by watching his example, as well as listening to his teaching. To follow Jesus was to become like him, in this case in regard to the specific matter of helping others become followers.
Another example of a “follow me” teaching is when Jesus stated that anyone who wanted to follow him must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24). Sure enough, Jesus himself did these things. He denied himself significantly in coming to our world to begin with and then denied himself repeatedly while he was here. He was poor, didn’t have place to lay his head, and was constantly serving and helping other people. And he suffered crucifixion on a literal cross. The teaching here is that those of us who want to follow him must be willing to do what he did. In his own life, Jesus shows the example of what we are to do.
In addition to these statements that talk directly about Jesus setting an example for us and the need to follow him, there are numerous specific ways we can see his life matching his teaching. He taught baptism and he himself was baptized. He said we would receive the Spirit and he received the Spirit. He taught us to trust, pray, and closely follow God, and he did all this. He taught us to seek first the kingdom, to obey and submit to God as King, and he himself did so. He taught that our loyalty to him must exceed all human and earthly loyalties, and he had that kind of loyalty to his Father. He commissioned us to do good and tell others the good news of God’s kingdom, and he spent most of his time doing these same two things. He taught us to deny ourselves, and to serve and expend ourselves for others, which is exactly what he did. Time after time, his teachings were visible in his own life.
Paul follows the same principle in his work of influencing others toward God. “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” (Philippians 3:17). Notice that the last phrase points to other qualified people also as examples also. Elsewhere Paul explains why he worked hard in a regular job instead of accepting financial support by saying, “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (2 Thessalonians 3:9).
Another layer of this principle is seen when Paul not only serves as an example but then also urges someone else to be an example for those they were seeking o influence. To Timothy Paul wrote, “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 Timothy 4:12). Likewise Peter teaches elders that their calling is not “lording it over others, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
Perhaps the classic statement of the principle of example is, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Sometimes I think the words, “as I follow Christ,” were meant to convey the idea that Paul did not always follow the example of Christ perfectly. Other times I think he was just saying that Christ was his example. Regardless of what he meant, it’s clear that we will not always follow Christ perfectly. Yet even when we don’t, we can and should still set an example of humility and confession of sin. This is a lesson many of Christians badly need to learn.
Can you see ways in which Christ has influenced and transformed your life so that you have become a good (though not necessarily perfect) example for others? Is there an aspect of your example that calls for repentance, confession, and prayer? If you’re like me, the ongoing answer to that question will be yes, as we continually seek to be transformed and more closely reflect the glory of God and Christ in our lives (2 Corinthians 3:18). This prepares us to change the world like Jesus.