Yesterday we looked at the danger of treating Christ as our role model. Today I’ve kept up the pseudo latin title pattern (since Christians seem to love latin in the blogosphere) and want to zero in on a related danger: treating biblical characters as examples to copy.
Surely the biblical narratives were written both to instruct us and to warn us, therefore they are legitimately to be treated as examples in our preaching? Yes, but there is still a danger that we fall short of preaching the Bible when we fall into a simple, “go thou and do likewise” approach. Points to ponder:
Paul probes deeper than behaviour in 1Corinthians 10:1-13 – There he states that there is example in what happened to characters in the Old Testament, but the purpose of that example is not to push the Corinthians simply toward good conduct. These were examples, “that we might not desire evil as they did.” The people of Israel all “did” the same things, but the problem was with their desires. They wanted evil, and they did not please God. The passage heads toward a warning for those who are self-confident (a real danger for those who are diligent to obey conduct-focused preaching!)
Paul pushes beyond behavior in Romans 15:1-7 – The Old Testament was written for instruction, but the goal goes beyond conformity to conduct codes. Paul is pushing for a vertical and horizontal outworking in the context of relationships. The fruit of the instruction is supposed to be hope, mutual harmony and participation in the worship of the Father through the Son.
Biblical characters are responsive humans, not conduct models – In every narrative we see real people living in a standard set of circumstances. That is, they live in a fallen world, swimming in the post-Genesis 3 world of autonomy from God. And they live in a world where God is inviting them to respond to His Word. Some respond in fear, others in faith. To simply look at a godly individual and then make the application to go copy their conduct is like telling a small boy to watch motorcycle racing and then go do the same on his bicycle. He may deceive himself by leaning forward and making engine noises, but the reality is missing. We have a lot of people in churches acting like Christians, but the performance is a charade because the reality of a living union with Christ by His Spirit has been overlooked in the effort to act like virtuous biblical heroes.
Godly conduct is profoundly important. But for it to be real, it must come from the depths of a heart vivified and responsive to Christ, it will not come from copying the externals of exemplary individuals while ignoring the inner realities of those people as they walked with God.