Proverbs 12:26 ESV
One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
The power of a good- and a bad- example seems obvious to all of us. We imitate what we admire, and as we imitate it, we are shaped by that imitation. Further, what we see around us we tend to do, even if we don’t consciously admire it. If everybody around you gambles, drinks, and whores, you will find it much easier to gamble, drink, and whore. If everybody around you honors God in their deeds (or at least follows the vague externalities of a Christian moral code), you will find it much easier to do the same. This result originates in two different impulses: that of the shame instigated by being different and the pride fed by conformity. To limit this phenomenon merely to our direct social connections, however, would be to foolishly miss the fullness of its power.
Good and bad examples operate, first, in the here-and-now, between us and the people we’re around a lot, whether or not we’re friends. In these relationships, the righteous man is a ‘guide’, and the wicked show a path that leads ‘astray’. To draw on traditional wisdom, the old saying reminds us that birds of a feather flock together, but in truth, those that flock together usually become birds of a feather, regardless of how they started. A fairly benign example of this can be seen when an immigrant enters a new country and settled down there. Provided he’s not in the midst of an ethnic community made up of his own countrymen, he will begin to adapt to follow the manners and mores of his new nation. His feathers are thus changed from one shade to another, though doubtless some of them look much the same as before.
Christians, as is usually the case, have a specific, more difficult duty here. Christians are called to live in the world but not to be of the world (Isaiah 65:1-7). In other words, we are called by God to live in the midst of a world which hates our guts, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and to not be swayed by it (John 15:19, 17:11-14). Instead, God command His people to be righteous as He is righteous. The Christian’s job is to live in the midst of men who show him a wicked path and to be for them a living guide, implicit and explicit, towards God and towards His glorification.
Good and bad examples operate, second, from the past into the present and from the present into the future. One constantly repeated theme of 2 Kings is of the behavior of the northern kingdom, how they, despite many mercies, persisted in walking in the “sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10:31, 13:6, etc.). Similarly, 2 Chronicles frames each successive kings in terms of whose way he walked in- the way of the righteous, such as David, or the way of the wicked, such as the kings of Israel (2 Chronicles 17:3, 22:3). Men follow in their father’s footsteps and in the footsteps of their father’s fathers. Men rebel also from those footsteps, but even in their rebellion they are fundamentally shaped by that history. God was not merely offering a helpful summary every time He recounted the history of Israel throughout the Bible, including such passages as Nehemiah 9, Psalm 136, and Acts 7. The example of the past matters, both as a negative and a positive instruction.
The Christian, as we’ve already seen, must understand and apply this truth to his own life. What history does he hold, which either raises him up or pulls him down? What history does he create, which will either raise up or pull down his children? What about their children? We have a responsibility to establish in our families an ever more perfect reflection of God’s mercy and more fundamentally, his glory (Genesis 1:27; Deuteronomy 6:20-25).
Good and bad examples operate, third and most importantly, upon the most persistent and perpetual of relationships, that between a man and his deity. We become like unto what we worship. On the most basic level, after all, the worship of that which is dead, whether in sin or in actuality, leads to eternal death; the worship of that which is alive, God, leads to eternal life. The repercussions of worship do not stop there, however. What man worships and admires, he also imitates. The gods of Greece were arrogant, sexually obscene, and violent; therefore, their culture was the same. True, they were a product of that culture, an egg to the chicken in some sense, but any rational person will recognize that when Greece turned to worship the true God, their behavior changed.
The Christian should see this clearly; he should take from it both encouragement and warning. He should take warning because if he does not see in himself the outworking of his worship, a, probably excruciatingly slow, climb upwards towards righteousness, his faith may be dead. After all, faith which does not produce works is, as James assures us, a faith already dead (James 2:14-26). He should take encouragement though, in great measure: the Lord is a merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Numbers 14:18). He transforms those who worship Him in faith into a right image of Himself by His grace (Genesis 1:27; Romans 12:2). We can take joy, therefore, in the knowledge that He has redeemed us and is purifying us to be fit vessels, set aside as holy, to His eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:21).
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.