Leading by example–a concept that sounds good on paper but is often difficult in execution. It is difficult because leading, especially in the Christian faith, requires the leader to follow someone else–namely Jesus.
Paul the apostle wrote a couple of swan song letters to his disciple Timothy as Paul was nearing his own death, and in these letters (1 & 2 Timothy) Paul instructs Timothy on many issues regarding church government and also Timothy’s own leadership as a pastor.
In 1Timothy 6:6-10 Paul instructs Timothy to keep himself from the “love of money,” saying that the love of money brings a snare and has the potential to destroy the lives of people. Consequently, Paul tells his young disciple to be content with having food and clothing, which are necessities. Notice that Paul does not say “money is the root of all evil” but “the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” Timothy’s instruction is to watch out for this trap.
Then Paul (in verses 10-11) makes the following statement:
11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
A quick survey of some key words in these verses reveal the following definitions:
Flee: — (to shun or avoid by flight) something abhorrent, esp. vices…
Pursue: — to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing
Righteousness: –the state of him who is as he ought to be (before sin entered the world at the Fall—Genesis 3)
Godliness: — piety towards God, living all of life Coram Deo—“before the face of God.”
Faith: –conviction of the truth, belief w/ the included idea of trust & holy fervour born of faith.
Love (‘agape’ love): — unconditional love, love that is purely a choice, not based upon anything meritorious in the receiving the love.
Steadfastness: — (in the Greek, literally to “endure under”) –endurance; especially as God enables the believer to “remain (endure) under” the challenges He allots in life.
Gentleness: — “gentle strength” It is a divinely-balanced virtue that can only operate through faith.
Paul tells Timothy to “run away” from evil temptations and to “run towards (as to overtake)”: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.
These six words all defined Jesus’ earthly life, but they were especially on full display when He was dying on the Cross. Here is the ultimate righteous man (the state of Adam in his perfection as before the Fall)—Jesus, the second Adam, who has His face set like a flint toward the glory of God. He was the greatest example of living godliness Coram Deo—before the face of God and embracing suffering, not shrinking back—FULLY drinking the cup of the wrath of God against sin. Jesus was the greatest example of living faith ever seen. He was FULLY CONVICTED of the TRUTH to the point that He was willing to trust God all the way to death. He would say in another place, “Zeal for God’s house will literally consume Me” (John 2:17). It consumed Him to the point of death on the Cross. Yet, Jesus was not merely enduring the Cross; He was looking BEYOND it. In faith, Jesus knew what was said of Him in Psalm 16 which states:
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Jesus, in full assurance of faith and for the JOY that was set before Him, endured the Cross. He KNEW that His heavenly Father would not abandon Him to the grave but would raise Him from the dead on the 3rd day.
And out of unconditional love (He became PERFECT through what He suffered-Hebrews 2:10) as He was on the Cross He was pure love, “agape” love, blessing those who cursed Him, forgiving those who railed against Him. Even for the Pharisees who smugly stood by ((finally getting what their hearts’ desired (the ones whom Jesus boldly refuted & constantly took to the theological woodshed) Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” There was no more debating, no more correcting or castigating–only love. On the Cross Jesus exuded pristine, life-giving, holy, unconditional love for His enemies.
Under this heavy weight of suffering Jesus was steadfast. He literally “endured under” the stress of the Cross, not only physically, & emotionally but also spiritually—suffering the abandonment of God’s smile and feeling FULLY the hammer blows of wrath in His heart for sin.
He BECAME sin; more specifically, He became a sin offering (2 Corinthians 5:21). Every ounce of His being wreaked before the nose of His heavenly Father–not b/c of His sin but because of yours & mine. Still, He endured under this impossible weight—when EVERYONE was telling Him to save Himself & to save others….
As He repeatedly resisted the temptation to call down “legions of angels” to come to His aid & rescue, He did not become bitter. As He constantly, moment-by-moment KILLED sinful temptations that nipped at His heals and His soul, He became more & more gentle, even to the greatest of sinners, exercising His sovereign prerogative to forgive a terrorist—one who was a major threat—they would not merely crucify a common criminal. The forgiven thief on the cross was most likely an insurrectionist to the government. To this man Jesus unconscionably stated: “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”
Here, the glory of God—the heaviness or weightiness of God’s love is most expressed. This is the kind of glory that when seen it causes us to shake our heads in wonder—AMAZED at its vastness and its grace-giving power.
And this is exactly what Paul is telling Timothy to run after.
Better yet, this is what God is telling each one of us to chase down with all of our hearts. He tells us to FIGHT for it (to fight our FLESH) AND TO TAKE HOLD OF THAT WHICH JESUS IN HIS FULLNESS TOOK HOLD OF AS WELL.
If you want to lead people to Jesus, you need to follow Jesus’ lead. No, we will never be perfect on this side of Heaven. However, if unbelievers and even rebels to the Cross are going to behold the power of the gospel to change them, they need to see that power lived out in the lives of those who profess to know Him.
Here’s a question for you to ponder:
If Christianity was made illegal tomorrow and you were brought before a court for the crime of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to find you guilty of being a Christian?