Several months ago, my mom paused what she was doing, looked me in the eye, and warned, “Son, I hope you realize that there are younger children who are looking up to you. Don’t take that lightly!”
She said this with a hint of severity. Years earlier, my mom had urged an older woman be a role model and hero for those looking up to her. The woman considered the implications this monumental challenge; It would require constant self-denial and sacrifice. The woman replied flatly, “no. I don’t want to do it.”
This woman had forgone an irreplaceable opportunity to make a positive impact on the next generation. Unfortunately, however, that didn’t mean she would no longer be setting an example.
If you are old enough to read this, doubtless there are children younger than you who look up to you. And for the teens out there, you never know if you have a secret admirer watching you! The fact is, all of us, whether we intend to or not, whether we want to or not, and whether it’s a good one or not, are setting an example.
This principle was humorously illustrated to me one day as I stood leaning against the edge of the car, waiting for the gas pump to finishing filling the tank (and draining my wallet). I noticed the the container for Shell Card applications was empty. Well, actually, it was full. But not full of applications; it was full of former customers’ receipts. Apparently, it was too much work to carry the receipts 3 feet over to the trash can, so they just tried to hide them in the transparent box.
Somehow, though, I am fairly certain that all ~65 people didn't independently have the idea to stuff their receipts into the box. Rather, the first person had the idea, and the rest followed suit (up until me). Someone, likely unintentionally, set the example for the others to follow.
All of us are called to follow the example that Christ set for us. As 1 Peter 2:21 declares, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps”. But it’s more than that. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” He choose to set a good example for the younger Christians to follow. He did this by following Christ, who set the ultimate example for all of us to follow.
And we are called to do the same. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul told his protege, Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” This is no small task, and so we will must look to the Lord, trusting Him to give us strength and wisdom.
Now, of course, we think, "sure, we should try to be good examples. I agree". But, we need to remember that, whether we try to be or not, we are examples. Another believer may use us as a positive role model. But they might also use our actions to justify their own, saying “well, Nathaniel did it”.
We may not want to be a role model, but it’s too late - we have already started a down a path, leaving footprints that someone else may be following. The only thing we can control now is where those footprints are going to lead them.
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About Nathaniel Hendry
I blog on common social issues from a reasoned, conservative Christian perspective in easy to understand writing. I am committed to academic excellence in writing and supported by solid reasoning and research.
About A Worthy Word
The Worthy Word isn't mine, but God's. I just try to explain the truly Worthy Word and encourage you from it.