This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young: Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it. (2 Timothy 3:14)
Florea died in Gherla Prison in Romania. Because he refused to do slave labor on the Lord's day, he was beaten until both arms and legs were paralyzed. The communists would not take him to a hospital to be treated, but left him in his prison cell. There was no running water, no bedding and nothing with which the other prisoners could help him, but they did not have a spoon, so they used their fingers.
Florea was the most serene and joyful among them. His face shone. When the other prisoners sat around his bed brooding about their sorrows and complaining that their future outlook was so bad, he would say to them, "If the outlook is bad, try the uplook."
After one of the prisoners was released, he went to see Florea's family. He told Florea's nine-year-old son about his father, and that his father had told them he wanted his son to grow up to be a good Christian man.
The boy replied, "I would rather become a sufferer for Christ like my father."
A moment of introspection: One of the first childhood activities that we learn in our early years is called Match-to-Sample, and as we grow up there may well be teenage "idols" we would like to emulate--sometimes, even to the extent of wearing similar clothing or sporting a similar hairdo.
As Christians, we listen to and learn from our elders and from paragons of the faith who have gone before us and helped guide our lives. Florea's 9-year-old son looked to his earthly father as his example in life. But does God's Word have anything to add, regarding examples of the faith?
In his letter to the Church in Philippi, the apostle Paul urged them, saying "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:17) He wrote to the Church in Thessalonica, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command with the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from any Christian who lives in idleness and doesn't follow the tradition of hard work we gave you. For you know that you ought to follow our example. We were never lazy when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so that we would not be a burden to any of you. It wasn't that we didn't have the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow." (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9) In this passage, Paul provided examples to avoid, and ones to follow. Thomas Jefferson agreed with the apostle Paul, in writing "I have ever deemed it more honorable and more profitable, too, to set a good example than to follow a bad one."
In his letter to his protege, Timothy, the apostle explained "...I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16) Thomas Carlyle spoke well, in saying that "One example is worth a thousand arguments." (in "Men of Integrity", Vol. 3, no. 4) Samuel Johnson wrote that, we find an example a better teacher than rote learning: "Example is better than precept." In this, would the power of an example be shown. And Thomas Morell, British classical scholar and chaplain explained that "The first great gift we can bestow on others is a good example." (in "Men of Integrity", Vol. 3, no. 4)
Additionally, the apostle Paul urged Christians to BE an example: "We know that God loves you, dear brothers and sisters, and that he chose you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know that the way we lived among you was further proof of the truth of our message. So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you yourselves became an example to all the Christians in Greece. And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Greece, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God." (1 Thessalonians 1:4-8)
He adjured his young co-laborer, urging him to "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12) James also encouraged his readers as Christians, saying that "As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord." (James 5:10) Jesus Christ also lived, as an example for us to follow: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21) Peter asked his readers as Christians to be examples to their congregations and the fellowship of believers of which they were a part, "not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:3)
Several anecdotes serve to illuminate Scripture, in the first case by quoting Christ's Words in the gospel of Matthew, and the second, urging us to focus on the example of Christ Himself:
A preacher told of eating lunch in a restaurant and seeing the manager eating lunch from a nearby fast-food establishment. What did the manager's choice say to the people who watched? I would think, "Don't eat here … the food across the street is better." People are watching you. They see how you live. They hear you talk. They see your priorities in the things you buy and the way you dress. They observe the places you go. And they know the company you keep. You are a "walking billboard." Does your advertisement say "follow me to Christ, " or does it lead people across the street? "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16).
In the British Museum, a Greek writing tablet (earlier than the Christian era) is shown. It is the classical equivalent of a child's copybook. The headline has been written by the master. The scholar has traced the second with his eye upon the first; but afterwards each line is a reproduction, not of the first writing, but of the last. Consequently, each line shows a wider divergence from the pattern than the one before.
Is not this one cause of the broken character of our holiness--that we imitate one another, or reproduce our familiar imperfections, instead of portraying the fair likeness of Jesus Christ? “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked” (1 John 2:6). --Christian Victory
We serve a living Lord; we abide in the victorious King! Let us live as citizens of the heavenly realm of the God above all gods; in this life, may we set a good example seeking to emulate that which Scriptures encourage us to emulate, and shun the bad examples with which the world entices. As Florea did for those who followed him in life, let us also, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote--consciously choose the legacy that our life offers to those who follow:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.