Examples create reference points
A good many times, scripture simply points us to the things we should avoid, the outcomes of wrong choices, or the warnings which might just alert us to being a little too close to the edge with some of our life decisions. I think this might just be because we all learn by the examples set by others – what we see will hopefully help us to make the right decisions ourselves. As often is said, a picture speaks louder than a thousand words. I don’t see many “pictures” in my Bible, but I do see “word pictures” – those things, when put together, actually form a reference point for us. This is what examples do – they set a reference point. Perhaps this is why it is so important to have a good example to follow – because they act as this point of reference by which the "compass" of our lives is set.
Mixed motives twist life into tangles; pure motives take you straight down the road. Simpletons only learn the hard way, but the wise learn by listening. A God-loyal person will see right through the wicked and undo the evil they’ve planned. Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind finds life itself—glorious life! (Proverbs 21:8, 11-12, 21 MSG)
If you have ever stopped long enough to observe the example of a not so happy person - one who has chosen to live by their own standards and therefore is riddled with guilt because of the plethora of wrong choices they have made - you will probably observe some pretty obvious "examples" you will set within your mind as "avoid" points. You might see an "avoid point" such as when the example set is one of pursuing injustice instead of standing up against it. Or perhaps there is an "avoid point" dealing with the inability to forgive another who has offended them, allowing bitterness and resentment to eat away at their lives. Regardless of the "avoid point", the example set and observed will become a thing we can learn to set our "compass" away from rather than moving toward it.
A simpleton learns by seeing others punished - the godly and wise learn by being open to all manner of instruction. The godly don't just need to see the negative outcome, they also learn from the positive examples they have set before them. One example gives us a reference point to aim toward - the other sets our reference point at a 180-degree point away from it. When we set our compass toward right action, the outcome is right dealing. Sometimes we need to follow the example of common sense - such as when water is rushing across the roadway at an unknown depth and speed. We operate in the realm of common sense to avoid the passage across the roadway at that specific point. We might see an example or two of those who did not operate in the realm of common sense, now stranded out in the wash, sitting on the top of their once shiny car! All this does is lend to the common sense we already were relying upon.
Not all of life is as simple as relying upon common sense, though. Sometimes the decisions we are called to make have no real clear-cut answer in our minds. This is where exploring the examples we have been provided in scripture can be invaluable. They act as "reference points" for us to conclude, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what actions should be avoided like the plague and what actions really are okay for our lives. In the "grey areas" where there does not seem to be a clear example, admonishment, or commandment, we have to rely upon what we know to be true about what God expects of his kids AND our common sense. Just as with the car in the roadway with the rushing water, we won't find this example in scripture - but enough examples of others going before us into those waters and the consequences they endured stand as enough of a reference point for me to stay on this side of that rushing stream!
If we can learn from the examples we have been given - in real life around us today, in scripture recorded for all times, or even in something depicted in a "created" environment such as a play or movie, we are indeed moving toward becoming very wise individuals. I went to see a totally awesome live theatrical production of the Lion King with my best friend last weekend. As the production was well-underway, many messages were spoken to me throughout the play. Now, for most there, those messages probably didn't come across quite the same way, but here are only a few:
- When the young lion goes out on his own, pursuing what his deceptive uncle tells him will do not harm, forgetting the warnings of his own father, I thought about how many times I've listened to the voice of deception in my own life over the voice of my loving and compassionate heavenly Father.
- When the consequences of his decisions impact the outcome for the entire "herd" of lions and lionesses, I thought about how what may seem like entirely innocent behavior on one person's part can impact the lives of a great many.
- As I watched the restoration of the young lion to his family, I thought about the embrace of a merciful and loving heavenly Father, watchful over each of our steps and renewing in his touch.
- As we cheered when evil was finally vanquished, I thought of the many times in my own life when God has come into the midst of the mess of my life and turned evil away, replacing it with his presence and his love.
Yep, even the examples of a child's play can open the heart to consider the wonder of an awesome God. To pursue godliness and unfailing love is to find life, godliness, and honor. This is pretty plainly spoken of in scripture and we have many examples as reference points. If the pursuit is in the right direction, the reward is available to the seeker. The wise will conquer even the toughest of obstacles, but not so much because they are super-smart, but because they have learned to put into practice the things they have learned and to use the common sense they have been given. Just sayin!