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The Power of Example

The Greek New Testament contains several terms that are rendered by the English word “example.”

The word deigma denotes that which is shown, hence, a specimen. Jude declares that the permanent destruction of wicked Sodom and Gomorrah serves as an “example” of the eternal punishment of hell (Jude 7).

The term hupodeigma (literally, “to show under”) suggests a model, either for good or bad. We should not follow Israel’s “example” of apostasy in the wilderness (Heb. 4:11).

The Greek tupos denotes a print (cf. Jn. 20:25); or it can suggest a “pattern” (Heb. 8:5). Thus, elders are to be “examples” to the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:3).

Hupotuposis in secular Greek was an outline or sketch. In the New Testament it can denote a behavioral example or a pattern of doctrine (see 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:13).

The word hupogrammos (literally, “to write under”) was employed in ancient Greek for a child’s writing exercise in copying the alphabet. This term is used to describe the “example” of the sinless Christ who passively endured suffering and confidently committed his care unto the Father (1 Pet. 2:21).

Some Facts about Example

The Bible repeatedly appeals to the power of example. Note the following:

God Is Our Example

The Lord commanded his ancient people: “You shall be holy; for I Jehovah your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Similarly, Christ admonished: “You therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).

The example of Jehovah’s lovingkindness was a great motivation in David’s life (Ps. 26:3). Heaven’s example in extending forgiveness for our transgressions can surely encourage us to be compassionate concerning those who have offended us (see Eph. 4:32).

Christ Is Our Example

Jesus was such a marvelous pattern in a great variety of ways. He was an example of righteous living; he never yielded to sin (Heb. 4:15). He delighted in doing his Father’s will (Ps. 40:8) and pursued that course with diligence (Jn. 8:29). The Lord was a fitting example in serving (Jn 13:15) and in suffering (1 Pet. 2:21ff).

There is a vivid commentary on the influence of Christ in the book of Acts. We are told that the Jewish rulers, in observing Peter and John, “took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). What a commentary on the Savior!

Christians Are To Be Good Examples

Paul frequently urges the readers of his epistles to follow his example to the extent that such reflects the life of Christ. To the Corinthians he wrote: “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul encouraged Timothy to be an example to other believers “in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

No one can argue with a good example; it is simply there! That is why Peter tells the Christian woman who is married to an unbeliever that if she cannot reach her spouse with verbal instruction in the Scriptures, perhaps she, without uttering a word, could convince him by her manner of life (1 Pet. 3:1).

Examples and Authority

There is considerable controversy these days about whether or not apostolic example is a legitimate means of establishing the authority for a religious practice.

For instance, does the solitary example of the church observing the communion supper on the Lord’s day constitute a binding example?

First, let us simply raise this question. Does the New Testament itself endorse the principle that example can bear the force of authority?

First, consider Acts 11. When Peter was before the brothers in Jerusalem, he argued the case for accepting Gentiles into the church. One of his main arguments was the example of the Spirit’s operation upon the household of Cornelius, thus proving that these people were entitled to Christian status. To refuse the Gentiles would be withstanding God (Acts 11:15-17).

Second, when a question arose as to whether Gentiles would be required to practice circumcision in order to be saved (Acts 15), both Paul and Barnabas, as well as Peter, demonstrated by the citation of examples that the Lord had miraculously worked through them among the Gentiles.

These examples were hard evidence that God had granted salvation to the Gentiles without submission to the law of Moses. Thus, circumcision was not to be bound as a matter of salvation (cf. Acts 15:4, 6-12).

Yes, examples can be binding (cf. 2 Tim. 1:13).

Now, back to the question of the Lord’s supper. How do we conclude that the example of observing the communion on Sunday (Acts 20:7) is a binding precedent?

The answer: the overall context of the New Testament, i.e., biblical information on the same subject elsewhere, establishes a spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper and the first day of the week. The components of the communion (bread and fruit of the vine) are reflective of the Savior’s death (Mt. 26:26-28), and the first day of the week commemorates his resurrection (Jn. 20:1ff).

Obviously, therefore, Sunday becomes a binding example for the time of the Lord’s supper (see The Weekly Observance of the Lord’s Supper).

Scripture references: Jude 7; Hebrews 4:11; John 20:25; Hebrews 8:5; 1 Peter 5:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 1 Peter 2:21; Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48; Psalm 26:3; Ephesians 4:32; Hebrews 4:15; Psalm 40:8; John 8:29; John 13:15; Acts 4:13; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 3:1; Acts 11; Acts 11:15-17; Acts 15; Acts 15:4, 6-12; Acts 20:7; Matthew 26:26-28; John 20:1