My son is now of the age when children mimic for the fun. And he is no exception to the rules. It brings great joy to my heart to see him acting like me. I first noticed it when I was sitting on the couch watching a movie. It was a cartoon. Justus, my son, would never miss a cartoon. So he rushes to the couch and hops aboard. Usually he would make himself comfortable regardless of where or how I sat, but this time he made an extra effort to situate just right. He crawled up next to me so close that his head would lean on my side. He then scanned my body and readjusted his so that he mirrored me as my double. His legs crossed at the shin. His posture sloped forward. And after taking one more glance at me, he folded his hands together to sculpt the finishing touches. He then paused for a moment … waited … and turned to see if I was looking. I was. And I was so honored.
That experience was the first of many. Whenever he is able to sample me, Justus is doing it. And as much as I love to see that, there are some times when it is dangerously bad. For example, in my office are several computers and other production tools that power up electronically. I’m always plugging and unplugging that equipment as my work requires. Justus is amazed at all of the “toys” I have. So he watches me with great eagerness. It should be no surprise that this caused uproar with his mother. Fortunately, he has never electrocuted himself mimicking his father by playing “Plug-in-Boy.” But he tries as often as he can. So more than often, we find ourselves disciplining him in order to stop him from harming himself.
My son does not realize the danger in playing with plugs. The right connection with his finger and the electrical socket could send 120 volts of current through his body. He does not see the harm. He just loves to be like daddy. But I do see it. And it is my responsibility to prevent him from doing it. An easy fix like outlet child-proof covers were the solution. But in some occasions there is no easy fix. Sometimes I simply have to avoid doing anything in front of him in order to keep him safe from himself.
In like manner there are believers who are new to the faith or are simply immature in their spirituality. They simply do whatever the grown-ups do. They mimic what they would call, the mature believers. So these mature believers have to sometimes avoid doing things in order to keep safe the immature. They have to be examples.
First Corinthians 8:9 reads, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” In our last principle, we addressed the Principle of Encroachment which is violating another person’s convictions. In this lesson we will turn back to the same situation and look at another aspect. In our passage, Paul is writing to the Corinthians about their example. He rebuked the mature believers for enjoying their freedom without making notice of their reflection. The young in faith, were stumbling because of their unscrupulous examples.
In the first verse of the same chapter, Paul writes, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” These believers were aware of their liberties in Christ. They did not wrestle with the idea of unclean meat which was offered to idols. They enjoyed the meat for being the food that it is. They understood that there is only one God, so all other “gods” did not exist, even if they are worshipped (v4). But some young believers were not enlightened yet. They refused to eat unclean meat because of their convictions. Thus, when the elders ate, the young stumbled. They either ate against their conscience (Romans 14:23), became judgmental, or fell back to their life without God.
Paul teaches them as John taught in 1 John, to love is to know God (v4:15-5:1). Love is the proof of knowing God. A mature believer who has knowledge (as the Corinthians boasted) will love others. They will seek to be an example before all.
Second Thessalonians 3:6-15 adds some helpful thoughts:
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
The church in Thessalonica was becoming weary and idle because of their persecution v1:3-12). While drained and discouraged, some false teachers crept in and confused the believers about the Lord’s return (v2:1-5). Some were so lost in their confusion that they were bitterly disobeying divine command, particularly by refusing to work (v3:6-15).
After encouraging the persecuted to be hopeful and to persevere, Paul cleaned up the confusion by correcting the heresies. And then in this last chapter, he states his concerns for the church. Some believers were living an undisciplined life. They wanted the luxury of food, but did not want to work for it. They were lazy and idle. He first teaches the mature believers to “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly” and do not obey divine command. Paul explains that while he had every right to not work for the food (because he is a missionary – working for God), he did. He desired to be an example. His liberty was set aside for charity. He loved his brethren more than his freedom.
In summary, being an example to other believers can cause some persecution. One can become lonely. So Paul encourages us to not be weary (2 Thessalonians 3:13) but rather to persevere in doing good. “Follow me as I follow Christ.” One aspect of godly love is to set aside liberty for love. Being a godly example sometimes means laying down your freedom. It is edifying to young believers to see the mature reflecting a holy life. So before you choose to exercise your freedom among other believers, consider the fact that it may not be the perfect example before someone else.