Author: Ron Graham
The Power of Bible Examples
—Showing us what to do
To understand the commands and ways of Christ, we need the examples that Scripture provides. The Bible examples of people’s obedience and disobedience clarify the meaning of God’s commandments. Bible examples motivate us to obey God. They show us what we must do to please God.
Some people deny what I have just said. They hold that you cannot make a scriptural command better defined by associating it with scriptural examples. They say that when the Bible tells of a response to a command, that response teaches us nothing about the command.
This denial stops the Bible from being properly understood and applied. Let us take for illustration the command to to be baptised.
1 Understanding Baptism
The command to “be baptised” cannot be properly understood without an example of obedience to baptism.
The Command (Acts 2:38)
"Repent and be baptised everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
It's all very well for the Bible to command, “Be baptised” but what does one do exactly? Someone might say, “To be baptised means to be immersed.” That's helpful, but it doesn't tell me enough. In what am I to be immersed?
Is baptism an immersion in belief, or in the Holy Spirit, or in passion for Jesus, or in tribulation, or in something else? We could argue about this till the hens roost. We could “examine the context” till our eyes itch. We would still not know in what element one should be immersed.
So someone could say, “Well since the command doesn't specify the element —I'll just lie down on the lovely green grass while you throw rose petals on me till I'm all covered up. I love rose petals, so if God doesn't tell me what to be baptised in, I'll choose rose petals.”
Then someone will come along and say, “No, no, it's water! Seriously, if you want to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, then you have to be immersed in water not rose petals”.
Well, that's interesting. Where did the idea come from that the command means “be baptised in water”? Where's that stated in the Bible? Where's the “scriptural authority” for that? There is nothing about water in the command.
So if we are going to insist on water we will have to look for it not in the command itself, but in something associated with the command. What does the scripture provide, that tells us that baptism is “water baptism”?
The Example (Acts 8:38)
"And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptised him." (Acts 8:38).
That is a Bible example of someone being obedient to the command to be baptised. It illuminates the command; it explains what happens when one is baptised. Only if we take both the command the example of it being obeyed, do we understand that the command means, “Be baptised in water”
Someone will argue that, in order to follow this example, one would also have to stop one’s chariot! However, any sensible person can understand that travelling on a desert road in a chariot was not relevant. The chariot stopped because there was water at that place. It was the water that was relevant.
Daddy says to little Johnny, “Come along little mate, and help me dig the garden”. Little Johnny sees daddy get the spade and his gumboots, so little Johnny gets his small spade and his small gumboots. He sees daddy go to the vegetable patch and start digging, so Johnny imitates. Johnny is interpreting what his daddy said by what his daddy does.
But Daddy is wearing blue jeans; Johnny is wearing red trousers. Johnny doesn't seem concerned about this difference. As young as he is, little Johnny can quite naturally distinguish the things that are relevant from the things that are not.
Our manner of interpretation (using the example with the command) is natural. It is not of human invention, not contrived, nor arbitrary.
There's no different in principle from associating the command with Paul’s statements about baptism in Romans chapter 6. The command to be baptised means more to us when we understand that baptism is symbolic of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Yet that information is not given where the command itself is found.
This process, of adding scriptural information to a scriptural command, is essential to fully understand the command. Some information is provided by Bible examples of obedience to that command.
This approach to scripture is not Pharisaical, or legalistic. Rather, this approach simply takes all that the scripture says about a commandment of God in order to be fully informed. We should not separate a command from all the complementary scriptural information about it.
Let's now just briefly mention other important cases that illustrate what we are talking about.
2 The Memorial to Jesus
1Corinthians 11:23-25, Luke 22:17-20, Matthew 26:26-30
The command, “Do this in remembrance of me” is meaningless by itself. What is “this” that we are to do? Well, Jesus was giving the disciples unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine for them to eat and drink together. So we understand the command “Do this” to include what Jesus did as well as what he said. We cannot fully obey the command unless we follow the example of Jesus as described.
Much more could be said about other passages associated with the Lord’s Supper, but for this moment I wish only to illustrate that we cannot make sense of what Jesus said, if we take no notice of what Jesus did.
3 Conduct In Daily Life
1Peter 2:21, James 5:10, 1Corinthians 10:5-11
On a more general level, the Biblical examples instruct us, and motivate us, to live rightly in faith and grace. Jesus himself is our Great Example. ¶ "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." (1Peter 2:21).
Through the scriptures, we may not only listen to Jesus, but we may also look at his manner of life. To separate his words from his example would be wrong. It would rob the scripture of its power and authority to order our ways, to help us persevere through suffering, and to make our lives abundant in good fruits.
We also have as examples in the suffering and patience of the prophets (James 5:10). Even the sins and rebellion of people and their punishments were "things that happened to them as an example, and they were written for our learning" (1Corinthians 10:5-11).
So I commend to you the Bible examples as being powerful in helping you to understand obey God’s will for you. In this way you will please your heavenly Father; and his Son Jesus Christ, who died for you and ever lives to intercede for you; and the Holy Spirit, who not only dwells in you, but gave you the scriptures so you would know what you must do. To God be the glory as you serve him in his way.