I’m borrowing the title for this post from a sermon I heard last month. The speaker said “Does my personal example matter?” was a question Google didn’t have an answer for, and he was right — searching this phrase only turns up results on “personal matters” and “personal opinions.” Searching for “Why is it important to set a good example?”, though, turns up some interesting results. On the first page, you’ll see articles on parents setting a good example for children, leading by example in the workplace, and the importance of role models. Clearly, there are those who believe your personal example does matter.
Most of the articles I saw connected setting an example with leadership. Indeed, this is inherent to the English definition of the word “example” (as found on Merriam-Webster.com):
: a person or way of behaving that is seen as a model that should be followed
: one that serves as a pattern to be imitated or not to be imitated
: one that is representative of all of a group or type
In the Greek, we have several words translated “example,” but they build a similar picture to our English idea. Tupos (G5179) means a print, prototype, pattern or model. Hupogrammos (G5261) is something that’s written down so it can be copied. Hupodeigma (G5262) refers to an example, pattern, or representative of a type. Deigma (G1164) means an example, specimen, or sample.
A Model To Follow
As Christians, we’re called both to follow an example and to be an example.
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21)
This verse is the only time hupogrammos is used in scripture. The word comes from hupo (before/under) and grapho (to write). It paints a picture of a teacher writing out letters and phrases for a student to copy. In effect, Peter is telling us to study and “trace over” the lines of Christ’s life exactly.
We can also learn from the examples of our fellow believers. James tells us to “take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience,” and mentions Job as a specific example (James 5:10-11). These and others, like the people in the faith chapter, are positive examples modeling Godly life.
Other examples show us what not to do. Israel’s history was “written for our admonition” and “these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted” (1 Cor. 10:11, 6). Ananias and Sapphira are another example of how we ought not to act. Such examples serve as a model of what happens when we stray from God.
Jesus Christ is the key to knowing which examples to follow. Paul writes, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). We need to know the example of Christ, follow Him, and check our role models against the pattern He set. Only then will be be able to tell which examples are worth imitating.
Being An Example
I mentioned earlier that setting a good example is connected with being a leader. Everyone in the church has leadership and ministerial responsibilities, though to different extents and in different roles. We’re all part of “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you” (1 Pet. 2:9). Part of this calling involves Jesus Christ making “us kings and priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). Those are roles of responsibility, roles that people look to for an example.
As we follow the Lord, we can inspire and reach others by our examples, as the Thessalonians did. Paul wrote to them, saying, “you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth,” and not just locally. Their faith in God “has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything” (1 Thes. 1:7-8). Their example was more effective at preaching than words.
Indeed, we teach by what we do equally (if no more) effectively than by what we say. Writing to a young minister, Paul told him to teach “sound doctrine,” yes, but also to lead by example — “showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility” (Tit. 2:1, 7).
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3)
In addition to patterning an example for other believers, we’re also supposed to be examples of what a Christ-follower looks like.
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Tim. 4:12, KJV)
No matter our age, ability, gift, or role in the church, we can serve as a representative of the Christian type. We are “the epistle of Christ … written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Cor. 3:3). We can be seen, “known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3:2). Indeed, as some have said, you may be the only Bible some people ever read.
Our example doesn’t just “matter.” It’s powerful. We have the amazing opportunity, and responsibility, to show the world how God’s people are supposed to live — to be Christ’s body as we model His love for our brethren and for everyone on the planet.