I have been fulfilling my church history requirements in seminary over last quarter and this quarter. I’ve always been fascinated with history, just never been really good at it. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse into the past to see how past events have shaped the world today. When it comes to church history, it’s easy to see the development of systematic theology as one studies the heresies and debates of the early church.
A lot of what we call “heresies” today started out as an idea that someone had that one of their followers took to the extreme. Someone had an idea that happened to make its way onto the written page, people read it, and before too long, people had developed the idea and made a whole system of beliefs around that idea. It’s kind of frightening to see that happen.
We are going to be going through the book of Philippians during the summer months at my church. In preparation for planning for those months, I read through Philippians today. In the final portion of the letter that Paul wrote, he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Paul exhibited a confidence that is rarely seen in our day and age.
Paul was so confident in the life that he lived and the things that he had said that he was not afraid to tell his brothers and sisters here in Philippi to follow his example. He didn’t just say, “Do as I say,” he also said, “Do as I do.” He knew that if they followed his example, they would be in pretty good shape.
I was blessed with parents who were incredibly consistent. They never asked or expected anything out of me that they didn’t expect or ask of themselves. They never told me one thing and did something else themselves. They are a far cry from what our society hands us every day. Take for instance some of the wonderful people who are collecting our taxes who have been guilty of not paying their taxes. Frankly, it’s really hard for me to “render unto Caesar” when Caesar ain’t rendering anything himself!
Consistency in word and deed is not always an easy task. It’s easy to cut corners. It’s easy to think that no one’s looking. It’s hard to do the right thing. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We have many who have gone before us who have left examples, like Paul, to follow. They were consistent. They ran the race. They fought the fight. They finished well.
I think about the scene in Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams takes the boys to the trophy cabinet and tells them to listen. As they all inch their heads closer to the cabinet, he whispers the line that has become so famous from the movie, “Carpe Diem.” Seize the day.
As we open up our history books. As we walk through our buildings. As we enter into our churches. As we open our Bibles and read, do we hear the voices of the great cloud of witnesses telling us to follow their lead? Do we hear them telling us that they have gone before us and forged a path that may have been less traveled, but was well worth the trip and effort? Do we hear their words, like Paul’s, saying, “Follow my lead”?
As I look in on my two sleeping boys every night and lift up prayers to God for their safety, their education, their health, their future, and so many other things, I realize that they are the two most important investments that I have in my life. I have a choice whether to be consistent and let my actions and words match, or whether to cut corners. If I cut corners, they’ll probably be the first ones to know. If I don’t cut corners, I might not reap the benefits until much later in life, or I may not even see the benefits.
I want to join the voices of the cloud of witnesses when I leave this earth. I want my voice to loudly proclaim that those who come behind me can follow my lead. I want to live a life where my words and my actions match. In so doing, I hope that others might see my example and not give me credit, but follow after the One who has given me the strength to run this race, to fight this fight, and to eventually finish well.