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Who Would You Follow?

Everyone chooses role models. Sometimes we emulate people who are older than us. At other times, it is people our own age or even younger than us. How can we decide whom to follow?

by Gary Smith

If you were asked to follow someone, on what basis would you decide to follow along? Would you fall in behind someone blindly or would you want to know where he or she was going and why? Wouldn't you also want to know if he or she was qualified to lead?

presidentPeople who exhibit knowledge, skills and the character to do what is right—even under difficult circumstances—are called "role models." In other words, role models are people who can serve as examples for us to imitate. Simply put, good role models are people we can safely follow.

But how do we determine our role models? Who do you want to follow? Who would you want to imitate? Let's consider this question from a biblical point of view.

We have all heard the stories of men and women in the Bible. Perhaps you have looked at them as primarily neat stories that children enjoy. But do you realize that many of these stories were recorded so we could see role models in action?

Paul mentions the teaching power of the stories of the Old Testament saying, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:11-12). We can safely conclude that since what is written in the Old Testament serves as an example for us today, the information that is recorded in the New Testament is instructive as well.

As we read through the Bible, we find that it is about individuals and nations. A number of the people mentioned in the Scriptures set good examples and their experiences are recorded so we can learn from them. Noah, Abraham, Ruth, David, Esther, Paul and Jesus all fall into the positive role model category. When we read the accounts of these and other individuals, we can see their examples of courage, wisdom, faith and other qualities that would be of benefit to us if we practiced their exemplary behavior.

On the other hand, there are also a significant number of stories that recount the failures of individuals to do the right thing. Because these people failed to follow God and His way of life, many of them suffered various consequences. Some examples of poor role models include Adam and Eve, Cain, King Saul and Judas. The Bible records their mistakes so we can avoid the paths that led to their downfalls.

You might ask, "Why do we need role models?" The primary reason has to do with how we learn. For instance, if you were given the task of learning to serve a tennis ball, what would be the easiest way for you to master that skill? Would it be easier for you to be given a ball and a racquet with no instruction, or would it be easier to have someone explain the technique and then model how to effectively serve the ball? Of course, it would be easier to have someone explain the process and then show you.

Our best role model

God, as our Creator, is well aware of our need for instruction and example so that we can master His way of life. Our most outstanding role model is Jesus Christ, who was perfect in every way (Hebrews 4:15). He was a person who did the right thing even when He suffered for it.

The apostle Peter wrote, "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:21). We can also experience suffering even when we are trying to do what is right. This is hard for us to endure, but Jesus experienced this and set an example for us. In a sense, He blazed a trail for us so that we can "follow His steps." In other words, He models the steps that we should take in the area of suffering and in all other facets of life.

The importance of role models is further emphasized by the apostle Paul when he says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul points out that the highest standard possible is the example of Christ. It is a perfect example, and where Paul lived up to Christ, it was safe to follow him. Paul, in writing to the members of the congregation at Philippi, said, "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Philippians 3:17).

Again, we see Paul serving as a role model for people in the Church so that they can have a pattern of living that produces good results. Paul sought to live a life that followed the pattern set by Jesus Christ. As he modeled Christ's actions in his own life, people who learned from him would be able to see how Christianity was to be put it into action.

All these choices

As mentioned earlier, many people want us to follow them. The list includes movie stars, rock stars, teachers, sports figures, politicians and even friends. Some of them offer good examples that we can follow with good results. Others entice us down destructive paths.

Boy wearing a stocking Consider this example: "If young toughs tell you, 'Come and join us,' turn your back on them! 'We'll hide and rob and kill,' they say. 'Good or bad, we'll treat them all alike. And the loot we'll get! All kinds of stuff! Come on, throw in your lot with us; we'll split with you in equal shares.' Don't do it, son! Stay far from men like that, for crime is their way of life, and murder is their specialty. When a bird sees a trap being set, it stays away, but not these men; they trap themselves! They lay a booby trap for their own lives. Such is the fate of all that live by violence and murder. They will die a violent death" (Proverbs 1:10-19, The Living Bible). There are those who want you to follow them and offer you fun, pleasure or money, but at a very high price.

How can we discern if a role model is offering a pattern that is hurtful? We must consider the outcome of the person's behavior. "Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the words of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7). We should also evaluate "the outcome of their conduct" of those encouraging us to follow them. We should only fall in behind someone if his or her example will produce good results.

The Bible recounts for us many examples of men and women who can serve as role models. Following their patterns of living can have a positive impact upon our lives.

What about our example?

Since it is true that following good examples benefits us, we can ask the question, "What about our example?" The stories of our lives may never be written down in a book, but they can impact others. If you have younger brothers and sisters, you can help them by modeling the right way to live. In addition to positively impacting our families, we can also be examples of good conduct for our friends, some of whom may never have had anyone to model their lives after. We can be tremendous assets to such individuals by showing them that we have the strength of character to make right choices.

Jesus noted the importance of being a good role model in saying, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Doing the right thing is like a light shining that will be noticed. In fact, it will be noticed and cause people to give honor to God because they will see that we are living a particular way because Jesus Christ is our role model.

As a young person you might ask, "Why should I be worried about role models at this time of my life?" The reason is that young people are developing patterns of behavior now and those patterns are going to impact the person you marry, your children, your career and all facets of your life. As you observe good role models, you can take their examples and follow them until the patterns they have set become your very own.

Earlier we asked, "On what basis should we follow someone?" We have learned that the ideal people to follow are good role models. It is safe to follow them because they live in a way that sets a good example. We have also learned that we must make determinations on potential role models by evaluating whether their behavior will produce a positive outcome.

Where do we find positive role models? The Bible offers a rich resource where we can find "a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) who can show us the right way to go. There are positive role models such as Jesus Christ and there are negative role models such as Adam and Eve. The Bible is a rich resource in this area. Of course, we can also find positive role models in history, business and many other facets of life. Sometimes positive role models are incredibly close to us. Our own parents and family can model qualities that can show us the best way to live. Why not take a look at the life skills your parents display on a daily basis?

So who should we follow? Only those who set a pattern of good works. In other words, we should only follow those who can truly be called good role models. YU

About the author:
Gary Smith is a husband, father and pastor of United Church of God congregations in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Prestonburg, Kentucky.

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