(Philippians 2: 5,15)
by: Mike Stokes
Can you answer the following questions: Who founded the first Library in America? Who is the father of the US Mail? Who started the first Fire Department? Who designed the first Heating Stove? Who invented the first Bifocal? The answer to all these questions is, Benjamin Franklin. He was a Conversationalist, Economist, Philosopher, Diplomat, Journalist, Printer, Publisher, and Linguist (spoke and read five languages), all this with only two years of formal education. Isn’t that abasing, and inspiring? Yes, but it can be a bit disconcerting. Mark Twain once quipped, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” Now why would Mark Twain make such a statement? Don’t good examples make us work harder to reach our potential; to accomplish more? Yes, but they do have this one annoying problem, good examples have no intrinsic power to enable us to achieve the same accomplishments. Ben Franklin’s success may inspire us, but it cannot empower us to be the same inventor he was.
If this is true, why did Paul exhort us to follow the example of Christ in Philippians 2:5? “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” If such a goal is impossible, does he set us up for failure? Well, how do we reach this lofty goal of following Christ’s example? I will suggest three possibilities people attempt: First, Fake it. Of course this method doesn’t work. To lip-sync the virtues and doctrines of our faith, focuses on the image projected, not the substance, we would say this is having the talk and not the walk; Second, Try Harder. That is, try harder to do exactly as Christ did. We know experientially it takes more than perspiration to follow his example; Third, It takes power. This is the one which really works. This is what separates Christ from other good examples, he can empower us to be like him. How? Through the Holy Spirit who lives inside the believer.
If we are going to follow the example of Christ we will need to emulate the four qualities outlined in verse 15, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” I will briefly focus on these four qualities: 1) To be blameless. This refers to purity and good character. One version uses the word, holy; 2) To be harmless. Good synonyms would be; gentle, or simple. The Greek word has the idea of unmixed, or unadulterated. It is used of wine or milk not mixed with water, or metal without alloy; 3) To be without rebuke. Synonyms would be; blemish, irreproachable, or unblemished. The Greek word is one that refers to animals offered as sacrifices. It means to be free from blemish, as an unblemished reputation; 4) To be as lights in a dark world. It is not his goal for us to retreat from the world, nor that we blend into it, and darken our witness. The balance is to boldly reflect Christ’s light in every situation of life. We can become either beacons of salvation or a reproach.
Of course I am not talking about perfection but progress. Any efforts made without the help of the Holy Spirit to reach these goals, runs smack into human nature, a barrier we cannot penetrate. The Lord can enable us to realize ambitions which exceed our talents, the challenge is to be worthy of our ambitions. Most of us will never match the inventiveness of Benjamin Franklin, but the Holy Spirit can enable us to follow the example of Christ, our template.