The Rev Trevor Kirkland spoke on “Paul as an example to believers”. The addresses were given at our Youth Weekend in Arbroath earlier this year. This is a transcript of his introductory talk (the emphasis is mine). Also available: video, audio. I’d recommend the audio version for the emotion and emphasis in the voice, and the video versions of the talks (where available) to be even more involved, but I hope this is of use to some.
‘Paul as an example to all believers’.
By way of introduction if we could turn to 1st Corinthians 4:13-16, the Scripture reads as follows:
13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
15 For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
And it is that statement in verse 16, ‘Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me‘.
Approximately 30 times believers are exhorted or commanded to imitate someone or something, and that demonstrates to us the role, the power, and the place of example. We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘role models’, we have it in football, we have it in all walks of life. Another buzzword is ‘mentoring’, so we have trainee nurses who have a mentor, doctors, teachers, and mechanics, and so books are written by alleged experts at how to be successful at a particular walk of life. Someone starting up a business will buy the latest business books – maybe some of the people who have appeared on Dragon’s Den have written books and so they want to buy all their books and read what their advice is on how to be successful. But that the Bible speaks of examples, examples then to be imitated, comes as no surprise to us. Of those exhortations to imitate others, many of them relate to the Apostle Paul. So we have the statement in verse 16 ‘be ye followers of me’.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 ‘Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.‘
Paul then, is primarily the example for us as believers. Yes, the ultimate example is Christ, but Paul is also a significant example for believers. And if we turn to one other passage in Philippines 3:17 ‘Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.‘ Here we are told, first of all, all of us are to do this. This is not an optional extra. All of us are to do this. We are all commanded to take this example, Paul, and others like him. And then it goes on to tell us that Paul is the primary example, but not the exclusive example. ‘be followers together of me’ so he is a primary example for all of us who say we are Christians, but he is not the exclusive example. He makes that clear in that particular statement, ‘and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample’.
So it’s Paul plus, and of course, the others. If we think of the Old Testament saints, if we think primarily of Abraham, who is so often quoted or referred to in the New Testament. So Abraham perhaps is the primary example in the Old Testament; Paul is the primary, but not exclusive, example in the New Testament.
Now one of the ways Paul will help us, to be an example to us, to help and to encourage us is to consider the dangers that Paul faced in life. What are some of the dangers that Paul had to face up to? Well cynicism on the one hand and rationalism on the other. Another danger was mysticism and emotionalism. Legalism and antinomianism. These were dangers that he faced, issues and problems that arose in his culture and in our culture. What we can say is Paul lived such a life that we can all identify with that life. Yes we know he was an apostle, and we’re not apostles, and there are no apostles, but setting that apart Paul lived such a life, he is an example that all of us can imitate in our so-called pluralistic, post-Christian, tolerant age in which we live.
Paul shows us not only how to live and survive, but how to live and survive and triumph without succumbing to some of the ideas of our culture. Without compromise, without descending into liberalism, or without succumbing to what is often referred to as worldliness. Jettisoning some of the key characteristics of what it means to be a Christian in every age. And so what I intend to do and plan to do is look at Paul’s life from four areas or angles under two general headings.
First Paul’s private life, and there I’ll look at his spirituality and his virtues.
And then Paul’s public life, his relationships and his witnessing.
And I want in bringing all this to a close to leave you with some points to ponder. Some things you might want to think about the rest of this evening or at some other time.
The first is this. Do you have any examples? Who are they, and why them?
And secondly. Are your examples those whom you would imitate and look up to, are they an eclectic mix that includes those from our contemporary culture, and if so why have you picked them? Why do you copy them? What is there about them that you think is important or relevant?
And thirdly. What reasons do you give to justify the ones you have picked, you maybe haven’t picked them particularly – you’ve grown up with them or you’ve just come across them, but what reasons would you give to justify looking up to those people? Why?
And fourthly, amongst all those who you look up to, who are the ones who you’ve selected deliberately, or maybe casually, form our contemporary age.
And finally, is such an idea, of having an example, someone to imitate, someone to look up to, is it still relevant in your life or has it now become irrelevant? If it has become irrelevant, why has it become irrelevant? Is there something wrong with the modern church that the church hasn’t produced fine examples who others would look up to? Or are there examples that we ignore because we might consider them to be out-of-date/irrelevant? How has it come about that we perhaps are not producing examples that others should imitate?
And then finally, are we good examples? what kind of examples and patterns do we show? If someone needed an example of a Christian would you be happy to be selected, maybe someone said ‘look at so-and-so, spend a week with them, and you’ll see what a real Christian is, what a good Christian is, one who is a good ambassador, a good example of one who is a true child of God’? It’s not an easy thing, and it’s easier sometimes to say, ‘well there are others’, but look at what Paul reminds us of: ‘yes’, he says, we are to follow him, ‘mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample‘. Could we mark the person beside/behind/in front of us and say “I know that person, and they are really good Christians, they’ve got really good values, they really understand what it means to be a Christian, and I want to be like them’? And would we be comfortable if someone said to us, ‘we want you to be an example’? Would we instantly say ‘No, someone else please, not me’?
I trust that as we look at the life of Paul and look at some of these characteristics about Paul, that they will be a challenge to us; a help; an encouragement to us; a means of strengthening us as Christians, so that we will not ever be ashamed of what it means to be a Christian in the culture in which we live.