I think most of us would agree that there is something powerful, as well as informative, in having a living example. By that I mean someone who exemplifies what it means to live in a certain way, or carry out a certain task, in front of our own eyes. It lets us see what it looks like, what's involved, and what it costs. One of the most important examples I have experienced is my, soon to be, father-in-law. He has shown what it looks like to really love your wife and family. I'm not meaning that his example will work for me if I have the exact same circumstances as he does, but if I seek to cultivate the heart, passion, focus, determination and loyalty with which he has loved his wife and family, in my endeavour to really love my wife. So a living example is not always one who is exactly the same as us, or facing the same as us, but one who, in his situation, shows us glimpses of what it takes, of what is required of us, of who we need to be. The apostle Paul, through the Scriptures, is our living example of a life lived in obedience to the command "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
This has been brought home to me, all the more powerfully, while I have been reading through the book of Acts this week. Paul is introduced to us, as Saul, in Acts 7 at the stoning of Stephen; then in chapter 8 we read that "Saul was ravaging the church"; then in chapter 9v1 "But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" went on his way to Damascus "so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." While on his journey to persecute the church, he fell to the ground to be questionned by Jesus as to why he was persecuting His people. Saul does what he is told, enters the city blind, and waits. Ananias, sent by the Lord, goes to Saul, laid his hands on him, Saul received the Holy Spirit, and the scales fell off his eyes. The transformation was incredible- he was baptised; we also read that "For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclained Jesus in the synagogues". The tables have completely turned as in that same chapter we read that the Jews plotted to kill him; in chapter 13 he was reviled and driven out of a district; in chapter 14 there was a plot to stone him; in chapter 14 he gets stoned and dragged out of the city, with the people assuming that he was dead! The list continues for us in the book of Acts of his sufferings! Just prior to Paul's departure for Jerusalem, in Acts 21, the people tried to dissuade him from going because a prophet had told them that Paul would be captured. Paul's response... "I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus".
Paul gives us what is, in effect, a summary of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11v24-28. He lists his whipings, beatings, stoning, being shipwrecked, dangers from all sides, hardship, anxieties etc! Paul practiced what he preached! He offered his body as a living sacrifice! And, in the midst of all of these happenings, he still said "it is my eager expectation and hope that I will be not at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death."
The challenge? At the end of Romans 11 Paul absolutely explodes! His love and awe of God can't help but come out! Everything that he had written to the church at Rome, his knowldege of God and His ways, led him to burst with verbal praise. Paul didn't stop at verbal praise, though, as he continued on into a life of sacrificing himself, and eventually in the final sacrifce of his death! Have we stopped at verbal praise? Do we even have the knowledge of God, and His ways, that would lead to such an explosion? Have we followed through into the offering of ourselves, no matter what the cost may be? Paul sets an example- seek knowledge as it leads to worship, but that worship doesn't end at our lips, but with our whole lives on God's altar... whatever the cost to us!
A living example shows us the cost, the heart, the sacrifice, the determination involved in living a certain type of life. Are we going to heed Paul's charge, when he wrote to "follow me as I follow Christ" ?