We all need role models. Much of the time we seek out our role models haphazardly, without a sense of what it is that we are looking for. Sometimes we get lucky and find one that shows us the good that is possible in us and we want to be like that ourselves.
We all need role models. Much of the time we seek out our role models haphazardly, without a sense of what it is that we are looking for. Sometimes we get lucky and find one that shows us the good that is possible in us and we want to be like that ourselves. Sometimes we settle on models that are not so good for us and we suffer as a result. Christians have many role models to emulate, from the past and in the present. We need look no further than today’s scripture to see an example of what a proper role model for the Christian life looks like. We need look no further than Paul and the Apostles. Paul also gives us a sense of what to avoid as well.
ʺJoin with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their ‘shame.’ Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.ʺ
There we have it. Paul has, in his typical manner, put what we need to know in a nutshell. We know what kind of life Paul has lived for Christ, but he is giving us the more important information we need here too. He has given us examples of those we should not take as role models. It is all tied up in what the mind is occupied with, and the habits that reveal that focus. There are some who ‘conduct themselves as enemies of the cross.’ They may be very sophisticated and intelligent people who gain a following because they come across to others that way. They will express seemingly well-formed arguments in high sounding words, in self-confident tones. But what they express is not valid argument against religion. Rather, they are little more than dressed up ad hominem attacks against believers in particular and religion in general. They are based on ridicule, innuendo, revisionist history, and myth.
There are those who conduct their whole lives in an effort to satisfy their nerve endings. They are the materialist, the sensualists, the gourmands, those who never rise above the material things of the world. This is the whole of their ‘religion.’ They are moved by the most base of human attributes, the senses alone. That is why Paul says that ‘their god is their stomach and ‘the things that they glory in are their shame.’ When the mind is focused exclusively on earthly things, it is unable to see beyond those things. Such a focus diminishes the good, the true and the beautiful, even distorts it, in order to rationalize the ‘superior value’ of the immediate pleasures of the moment. Here the focus is exclusively on pleasure and coercive powers of every kind. It is all about the self.
The Christian pilgrim on the journey to heaven must travel this earthly road and must learn to recognize those who make themselves look attractive, but who lead the innocent away from the path. Of course, the opposite is true too. We must recognize those role models who are genuine in their words, in their moral actions, and in their humility. These are the models of a deep and abiding faith well lived. These are the role models that show us the right path, who not only lead us, but walk with us through the complexities of this life. Paul is just telling us in another way here what Jesus told them earlier: ʺBeware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit…ʺ (Matthew 7: 15-17) As Christian parents it is our duty to be ‘good tree’ role models of faith for our children. We are the first that they see and look up to in order to find out how to live in the world. We must practice what we preach to them every day. When they make mistakes, and they will, we need to model true forgiveness and encouragement. We need to explain these matters to them with patience and kindness, but with certainty too. When we fail, and we will, we must be humble enough to ask their forgiveness and then try to never do that again. In this way they will see how to be good trees that will bear good fruit in the world themselves.
We pray, Lord, that you give us clean and discerning hearts so that we may recognize those who would lead us away from you. Give us role models that will show us the clear and joyful path to you. Give us, too, the strength of faith to live in those holy ways that we might be your role models to others. We pray this prayer, as we do all of our prayers, in your name, Jesus. Amen.
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