It was once said, “An ounce of example is worth a pound of advice.” It is for this reason that people observe our behavior for six days throughout the week in order to determine if we mean what we profess on Sunday morning. Walking what we talk as Christians is a way of life. And until we walk our talk about being servants of Jesus, we are hypocrites before the world.
We know today that the plaster that was used years ago contained lime. Benjamin Franklin, as an early American farmer, tried to get his neighbors to use plaster to fertilize their fields in order to grow better crops. As most farmers, they were somewhat difficult to convince, for they depended on the “old ways of farming.” So with one of his fields, Franklin used plaster only on a certain part of the field. Once the crop grew, the neighbors could read where Franklin used the plaster. He had written with the plaster, “This has been plastered.”
Sometimes we need to use example, rather than words, in order to get the point across. At least this is what was behind Peter’s statement to wives who had unbelieving husbands: “… be submissive to your own husbands so that if any do not obey the word, they, without the word, may be won by the behavior [example] of the wives” (1 Pt 3:1).
Jesus said to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works …” (Mt 5:16). The Holy Spirit says to young preachers to “be an example to the believers, in word, in behavior, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tm 4:12). And shepherds must so live that they “have a good report from those outside …” (1 Tm 3:7). Though we do not always live up to what we believe, at least those around us must see that we are making every effort to be like Jesus. We are giving our best to live Jesus as our light to the world.
We must not forget that simply because we do not live perfectly, this is not an excuse to hide our light. None of us is perfect. But every one of us is seeking to give it his best effort. If people are to understand what Christianity is, then they must see our efforts in action. Regardless of our imperfections in the specifics, there are at least some generics in shining our light before men that must identify us as disciples of Jesus.
I. The light of seeking God first:
Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Mt 6:33). What sometimes happens in our lives is that we live the misinterpretation of what someone said, “Seek first the kingdom of men, and all righteousness will be added to you.” In the developed world this may be more typical of disciples than what Jesus actually meant. It might be good for the materialist to listen to the once famous and prosperous Paul after he realized that Jesus was Lord. “I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things” (Ph 3:8). Paul did not make this statement because he lamented over the loss of all things that he had as a Jewish Pharisee, which group of religious leaders were lovers of money (Lk 16:14). It was his transformed thinking that allowed him the opportunity to lose willingly everything for Christ. He footnoted the previous statement with the words, “I count them rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8). The Greek word for “rubbish” is dung. Paul’s transformed mind led him to willingly discard what became repulsive to his transformed life. When that which we so treasure becomes repulsive as dung, then we know we have spiritually grown in our attitude toward the things of the world. There will always be a plateau of spiritual growth for those who clutch on to the things of this world.
We live in the world, and thus, we must use the things of the world to survive. This does not mean, however, that we obsess over the things of the world. It is always an inward struggle to live the spiritual example that the things of the world are not the priority of our lives. Paul wrote how to let go: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gl 2:20). When one crucifies himself with Christ, he will transform in his mind how he sees the things of the world. Instead of laying up treasures on earth, one starts using the treasures of the world in order to lay up treasures in heaven. It is as Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy …. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven …” (Mt 6:19,20). Learning to let go of treasures on this earth is an indication of spiritual growth. It may be time to empty out our storeroom of treasures and have a garage sale. When we empty our storeroom of earthly treasures, it is then that we will feel a great sense of release from the confines of this world. We will never really be free until our storeroom is empty. This is what Paul wrote:
I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. I count them rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Ph 3:8).
We identify the spiritual giants among us by how empty we find their treasure room. But we must not confine “treasures” to worldly possessions alone. We must consider our focus and time. In a world where the cliche “soccer mom” is known throughout society, we know we might have some struggles as to where our focus is in reference to leading our children spiritually. We have raised up a generation where our mothers are more concerned about getting their children to their next ball game, than in getting them to the next assembly of the saints on time. Where are the “Bible class moms” among us?
In an economic society where the average citizen has been allowed to borrow beyond his ability to make payments on his house, have we betrayed what is really first in our lives? The recession of 2008 will go down in church history as the recession that revealed what some Christians really believed should be first in their lives. It was not the possession of a home, but the possession of a house that was far beyond one’s means for which to make the loan payments. We must never forget that our example to the world must reflect what Jesus said.
No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mt 6:24).
II. The light manifested through dress:
We hear few discussions today on the dress of disciples. It is as if Christians are now allowed to dress themselves in any manner possible. Some even believe that it is within the realm of freedom that Christians are allowed to dress in any manner, regardless if it is judged to be modest by the standards of the world. It is true that there is a great freedom in this area of Christian behavior. However, there are some key statements in Scripture that limit the manner by which Christians are to attire themselves in the public. This is particularly true in reference to the sisters. Since God created men to be sexually aroused through sight, we can understand why the Holy Spirit cautioned the sisters concerning their clothing before the public. It need not be mentioned that the manner by which a woman dresses herself is an indication of her spiritual presentation.
Peter instructed, “Your adornment should not be outward, as plaiting the hair and wearing of gold, or putting on of clothes” (1 Pt 3:3). The phrase “putting on of clothes” defines the meaning of the statement. Of course women should put on clothes. It would be obscene for them to be naked. Putting on clothes, therefore, is assumed. What Peter teaches is that the Christian sister should not “put on clothes” in a manner that draws attention to herself. She is not to advertise her body by the manner of her dress. She can wear gold, but she should not wear gold in a manner by which she draws attention to herself. She can plait her hair, but not in a manner by which she draws attention to herself. On the contrary, her presentation must “be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a meek and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Pt 3:4).
When Christian sisters dress to be precious in the sight of God, then they manifest to the world their spiritual demeanor. When a Christian sister dresses, she should ask herself, “Is this dress precious in the sight of God?” When Christian women dress in a manner by which they seek to use their bodies as a billboard advertisement for sexuality, then we know that their dress is not precious in the sight of God.
Paul instructed “that women dress themselves in modest clothing” (1 Tm 2:9). The word “modest” places a boundary on how women are to dress. Since there is such a thing as “modest,” then there is such a thing as immodest. We may differ in our opinion as to what is immodest, but the fact remains that there is immodest dress. The spiritual minded woman will seek to determine what is modest dress, and thus make a decision to stay within the boundary of modesty.
Since God created men to be sexually motivated through sight, then at least the Christian men have something to say in this matter. In fact, modesty is in reference to how the men feel about a woman’s dress, not what the women think. Christian sisters may think that a particular style of dress is modest to them, but the men may have a completely different view. When determining modesty, therefore, it is the brethren who are to determine the boundaries, not the sisters.
In the context of dressing modestly, Paul does give some guidelines. The Christian sisters must dress “with decency and sobriety” (1 Tm 2:9). Again, if there is clothing that is decent, then there is clothing that is indecent. Spiritual women seek to dress decently.
“Sobriety” refers to the attitude that the woman wants to reflect to the public through her dress. By the dress of the Christian woman, the public can determine the focus of the woman. If a woman craves the attention of others, then her craving is often reflected in the manner by which she dresses herself. This is where a Christian father or husband can advise a sister concerning her dress. Fathers who allow their daughters, or wives, to broadcast their bodies as objects of sexual arousal of other men are certainly failing in their duties as disciples of Christ.
In order to clothe oneself with decency and sobriety, Paul instructs that the woman should not present herself to the public with emphasis on “braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing” (1 Tm 2:9). The societies in which the Christian sisters lived in the first century were not much different than they are today. The Holy Spirit is admonishing the Christian sisters not to use braided hair, gold, pearls and costly clothing as a means to broadcast oneself as the queen of the party.
As Christians, we must focus on being “clothed with humility” (1 Pt 5:5). Our focus must not be on the outward clothing, but the inward heart of a godly sister. The Holy Spirit wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gl 3:27). Our presentation to the public through clothing will reveal whether we have dressed ourselves with Christ, or whether we are still seeking to conform to the dress codes of the world. As baptized disciples, Christian disciples must “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ep 4:23,24). When a child of God awakes in the morning and prepares to clothe herself for the public, she must remember that when she was baptized, she “put on the new man” (Cl 3:10). The old man was washed away in the waters of baptism. And when the old man was washed away, then the new man must empty his closet of all immodest clothes.
III. The light of good habits:
Our habits reveal our spiritual character. They do so because bad habits are an indication that we have not brought everything of this world that may control us under control. It was for this reason that Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, … I myself should be disqualified” (1 Co 9:27).
Every emotion and action of the Christian must be brought under control. And to do so, it takes a great deal of discipline. Discipline building can be fine tuned by fasting from some particular food we crave to eat or activity in which we like to engage. We once had a friend who was a military colonel. Playing golf with his military officers was a primary activity in which the officers of the base participated on a regular basis. One day my friend woke up and discovered that he had an obsession with playing golf. It was such an obsession that he neglected his family in order to play golf with his friends. When we met him several years after retiring from the military, he had not played one game of golf since. He said that golf had controlled his life, and as a Christian, there were more important things than the pleasures of golf. He was on a prolonged fast from golf.
Moses did not engage in the obsession of golf. But there were other pleasures in Egypt in which royalty could engage themselves in order to be entertained. But when he discovered his destiny, it was written about him: “By faith Moses … refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer mistreatment with the people of God than to temporarily enjoy the pleasures of sin” (Hb 11:24,25). We are sure that “pleasures of sin” included habits that were ungodly. But if a particular habit is not ungodly, but controls one’s life, it can become ungodly if it hinders our relationships with others.
Habits reveal the focus of our lives. This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Co 10:32). In another similar statement he said, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus …” (Cl 3:17). Now where would we place our habits, or our obsessions? If we are engaged in something that cannot be named under Jesus, or eaten in thanksgiving to God, then it is time to reconsider our habits. We all live with habits, but our habits must not inhibit our spiritual growth. The things that we personally enjoy should not control our lives to the point that we have no time to minister to the needs of others. Ministry means time, and if our time is consumed with ourselves, then we have no ministry time for others.
The Americans use mealie (maise) to cook what they call cornbread. Eating cornbread is great! The story was told that there was the man who ate cornbread in the morning for breakfast. He carried cornbread to work to eat at lunch. He snacked on cornbread. If there was no cornbread in the house, he would immediately ask his wife to make some cornbread. There is nothing wrong with cornbread, but it had become wrong for the “cornbread man” because he obsessed over cornbread. He needed to discipline his body not to crave cornbread.
Peter would exhort the “cornbread man” to add “to knowledge self-control, and to self-control patience …” (2 Pt 1:16). Paul would admonish the “cornbread man” to be self-controlled (Ti 1:8), knowing that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gl 5:23). And if self- control is a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, then one who is out of control with a habit is not manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in his life.
Sometimes our habits infringe on others, and thus become very selfish. Smoking is such a habit. Most nonsmokers will agree that smoking is not only a danger to one’s health, but it is also one of the most selfish habits a person can have. The smoker is more concerned about the enjoyment of his habit than those nonsmokers around him who have to breathe his leftover smoke. The first admonition the smoker violates is the Spirit’s instruction that we be considerate of others (Hb 10:24).
Romans 15:1 should be considered here: “We then who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak and not to please ourselves.” Any bad habit that infringes on another should be terminated immediately. Christianity is about relationships, and if we harbor a habit that may be right within itself, but infringes on the conscience of other brothers, then we have no right to continue the habit. In the context of Romans 15, strong brethren are given the responsibility to encourage weak brethren who still associated the eating of meat with pagan sacrifices. The strong had the right to eat the meat, but if they encouraged their weak brethren to eat against their conscience, then they were not walking in love. Christian relationships mean that “if your brother is grieved with your meat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy him with your meat for whom Christ died” (Rm 14:15). Paul concluded, “It is good neither to eat meat, nor to drink wine, nor do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Rm 14:21). This is good advice when considering those habits that infringe on one’s brother in Christ, or present an example that would steal away the time of a brother that should be devoted to others. If we persist in maintaining a habit that offends, then we are not walking in love. Paul wrote, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in that thing which he approves” (Rm 14:22). Something may be right within itself, but if it hinders the spiritual growth of one’s brother then it should be suspended.
The story is told of a bird who became so hungry, that in order to satisfy his lust of the flesh and eat, he traded with a sly fox a feather for a worm. After the first trade, he immediately flew away. However, since the fox was the source of the worms, then the next day when the bird was hungry, he traded a feather for a worm. Instead of taking the time to hunt for a worm, he returned to the fox and traded another feather for a worm every day. When he had traded so many feathers that he could not fly away, the fox said, “Now I am hungry.” Habits have the habit of bringing us into the captivity of our own selves.
Our habits can build us up or brings us down. It is by the example of our habits that people determine where our focus is in life. Habits can identify whether our focus is on spiritual things, or things of this world wherein we seek to please ourselves above others. Decades ago someone once wrote,
You tell on yourself by the friends you seek,
By the very manner in which you speak,
By the way you employ your leisure time,
By the use you make of dollar and dime.
You tell what you are by the things you wear,
By the spirit in which your burdens bear,
By the kind of things at which you laugh,
By the records you play on the phonograph.
You tell what you are by the way you walk,
By the things of which you delight to talk,
By the manner in which you bear defeat,
By so simply a thing as how you eat.
By the books you choose from off the shelf,
In these ways and more you tell on yourself.
So there’s really not a particle of sense,
In an effort to keep up false pretense.
The Holy Spirit allowed Paul to use his life as an example for others to follow. “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1). But for some, it is what Montaigne said of himself, “Virtuous men do good by setting themselves up as models before the public, but I do good by setting myself as a warning.”
The Holy Spirit knew that we needed models to follow in order to exemplify Jesus in our lives. We follow Paul insofar as we see Christ in Paul. Every disciple of Jesus must understand that he is the example for someone to follow. Either the example will lead others closer to Jesus, or the example will give others an excuse not to go down our road. We do not live unto ourselves, and thus we become responsible for those who would follow us. We must always remember as some preacher said,
You can never tell when you do an act,
Just what the result will be.
But with every kind deed you are sowing a seed,
Though the harvest you cannot see.
We would be as Paul exhorted the Philippians, “Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ …” (Ph 1:27). And because Paul submitted his behavior to be worthy of the gospel, he could write, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and note those who so walk according to the example you have in us” (Ph 3:17).
- The light of salted speech:
Someone once said, “Your manner of speech is an indication of your manner of life.” And true this is. Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). Our spirituality is manifested by the things we say, by the things we talk about, and by the jokes at which we laugh. It is our speech that either reaffirms our Christianity or betrays our hypocrisy. For some it is as James wrote, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing” (Js 3:10). As disciples of Jesus, we know that such things should not be. But sometimes, the tongue “is an unruly evil full of deadly poison” (Js 3:8).
The only guard one has against an unruly tongue is to train our speech by our focus on the word of God. It is as Peter exhorted, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pt 4:11). When the word of God is on one’s mind at all times, then he will direct his speech according to the oracles of God. One can always determine if a person is a student of the Bible. His words and phrases in his speech continually reflect on the vocabulary of the Bible and events recorded in Bible times. If one is filled with the speech of the world, then his speech will betray him.
IV. The light of submission:
The spiritual person manifests a spirit of submission to the needs of others. He has submitted to the will of God by being born again in the waters of baptism. As a disciple, he continually submits to the needs of his brothers and sisters in Christ, and those of the world in which he lives (Gl 6:10). It is as Jesus said, “And whoever of you desires to be the first will be the bondservant of all” (Mk 10:44).
The Christian’s life began with the call: “… submit yourselves to God” (Js 4:7). This life-style was initiated with our personal submission to God, but is carried over into every aspect of our lives. “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands …” (1 Pt 3:1). Disciples are continually “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ep 5:21). “Obey those who lead you and be submissive” (Hb 13:17).
I urge you, brethren, you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints, that you submit to such, and to everyone who works with us and labors” (1 Co 16:15,16).
Need we go on? The spirit of submission is what characterizes those who seek to grow spiritually. If there is no submission, but only rebellion, then one has sacrificed his opportunity to grow spiritual for the sake of having one’s own way. Our example of submission to our God and the needs of His people, is one of the most powerful means by which we draw people to Christ. The spirit of submission develops our personality to be approachable. People are drawn to those who seek to submit to their needs.
The world believes that it is an oxymoron that leadership among the disciples of Jesus is by submission to those who are the greatest slaves. In the world, leaders take command by authority and position. But those who would lead among the submissive disciples of Jesus are those who dedicate themselves to submit to the needs of the submitted. Is this not what Jesus taught His disciples in Mark 10:42,43? When the disciples put his principle of submission into action, they truly turned the world upside down.
You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority over them. But it will not be so among you. But whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant.
We know the spiritual giants among us by Jesus’ concluding statement on the subject: “And whoever of you desires to be first will be the bondservant of all” (Mk 10:44).
[End of series. This will be Book 61 in the Biblical Research Library at www.africainternational.org]
[Next series of lectures: DEAD PREACHERS]