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Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
An apostle has said, “As members of the Church, each of us needs to model what it truly means to be a believing and behaving Latter-day Saint. Our example will have a powerful effect on others, making the restored gospel become much more relevant, meaningful, convincing, and desirable to them” (M. Russell Ballard, “Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” General Conference, October 1999).
Paul also challenges us to “be an example of the believers” (1 Tim. 4:12). How do we do this? How can we become model followers of Jesus Christ, so that others will find in our example relevance and meaning for their own lives?
Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon provide inspired answers to this question.
A person who typifies Christ is an example “in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). The words that come out of our mouths, the conversations we have every day at work or at home or on social media reveal who we are. Do we come across as charitable, spiritual, faith-filled, and pure? Or selfish, unforgiving, cynical, or coarse?
President Thomas S. Monson said, “Be an example in word and in conversation. The words we use can lift and inspire, or they can harm and demean. In the world today there is a profusion of profanity with which we seem to be surrounded at nearly every turn. It is difficult to avoid hearing the names of Deity being used casually and thoughtlessly. Coarse comments seem to have become a staple of television, movies, books, and music. Bandied about are slanderous remarks and angry rhetoric. Let us speak to others with love and respect, ever keeping our language clean and avoiding words or comments that would wound or offend. May we follow the example of the Savior, who spoke with tolerance and kindness throughout His ministry” (“Be an Example and a Light,” General Conference, October 2015).
“Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). Model disciples are not ignorant—they “give attendance” to the scriptures and the words of the prophets. “To give attendance” (prosecho in Greek) is to focus on, devote yourself to, give full concentration to something. Disciples intentionally read the scriptures, study the doctrines of the gospel, and “exhort,” that is, teach the gospel with words.
“Neglect not the gift that it is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14). Model disciples cultivate the gifts of the Spirit that they uniquely have and use them in serving in the Kingdom. Model disciples magnify the callings they are ordained to perform by the laying on of hands, whatever those callings may be. Each of us is called “by prophecy,” that is, by inspiration, and ordained or set apart by the “presbytery,” that is, the elders of the Church. Can we neglect our callings and be “examples of the believers”?
“Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15). The Greek word translated as “profiting” (prokope) actually means “cutting down all obstacles to progress.” Ancient Greeks used the word of armies breaking through forests and crossing rivers to get to their destination. If we become absorbed in our callings, the Lord will remove by His power the barriers to fulfillment of those callings and it will be apparent to those around us.
In summary, this is how we become “examples of the believers” who influence others righteously. We might have family members, friends, or neighbors who really need our example, and we can be instruments to bring about their salvation. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Paul also gives a lot of counsel specifically to women on how to be examples of the believers. He advises women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety” (1 Tim. 2:9). The Greek word translated as “shamefacedness” (sophrosune) is clearly mistranslated here, revealing the Puritan prejudices of the King James translators. The word is better translated as “moderation” or “soundness.” The New English Bible translates it as “self-control.” He also advises women to “adorn themselves with good works.”
Let wives be “grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things” (1 Tim. 3:11). He advises women to “be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things” (Titus 2:3). Although Paul expressed reservations about women taking an active role in teaching, in 1 Corinthians 11:5 he refers to women “praying and prophesying” in church. According to Bible scholars, in the early church “women did indeed teach men, women served as leaders, and in doing so they enjoyed God’s blessing and won the praise of other believers. Priscilla instructed the learned Apollos, Lois and Eunice taught Timothy. . . . Furthermore, believers are enjoined to teach and to learn from one another, without reference to gender” (R. and C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman, Baker Academic, 1998, p. 1).
Clearly women are to teach in the church. Even though Paul says women should be “submissive” (1 Tim. 2:11), we would better translate this word as “humble” or “supportive.” Certain parts of Paul’s counsel to women do not apply to our time, but model disciples live by these principles at all times.
Now, how can we be exemplary disciples of Christ in a time of nearly universal estrangement from Him?
Paul knew that in his own time the “shades were coming down,” so to speak, as the Church slipped into general apostasy. 2 Timothy is probably his last letter, written to one of the few faithful who were left. “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15). This is a tragic realization, for Asia (what we now know as western Turkey) was Paul’s most productive mission field. He precisely prophesied the conditions that would soon prevail:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent [lacking self-control], fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady [reckless], high-minded [conceited], lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Of course, these conditions continue to our day. “From such turn away” is good advice. At the same time, Paul knows that even those who embrace the gospel are susceptible to the evils of the last days. For example, he warns of the dangers of prosperity: “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
Why does Paul teach that the “love of money is the root of all evil”? Because “the treasures of the earth” are in the hands of the “prince of this world,” Satan, who dangles material temptations in front of us as bait for his snare. He leads us into the “foolish and hurtful lusts” that can only be purchased with money.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “The possession of wealth or significant income is not a mark of heavenly favor, and their absence is not evidence of heavenly disfavor. . . .Whoever has an abundance of material things is in jeopardy of being spiritually ‘sedated’ by riches” (“The Parable of the Sower,” General Conference, April 2015). Model disciples follow Paul’s advice: “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Tim. 6:8).
How can we avoid these spiritual dangers? Here is Paul’s formula:
“Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of. . . that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through which is in Christ Jesus.” Intentional scripture study is key in protecting us from evil. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God,” Paul says (2 Tim. 3:14-15), and the study of scripture in turn brings inspiration to our minds and hearts.
Another key to avoiding evil is to teach the gospel to others: “Preach the word,” says Paul, “be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). Model disciples are ready to teach whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently encourage others by teaching them the doctrine of the Kingdom. They may not listen. Paul is perfectly aware that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . and shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Still, he invites us to “watch in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). In other words, take care that you don’t fall into temptation yourself, persevere through your trials, teach the gospel the best way you know how, and work on your calling. Model disciples never give up spreading the joy of the gospel regardless of how the message is received.
Model disciples are also forgiving. “For love’s sake,” Paul writes to his friend Philemon, “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus . . . which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent again: therefore receive him.” Onesimus was Philemon’s servant, who apparently had stolen from his master and run away. Paul took the runaway in, taught him the gospel, and came to love him as his own son; so, he pleads with Philemon to forgive Onesimus. “If he hath wronged thee,” Paul says, “or oweth thee ought, put that on my account. . . . I will repay it” (Philemon 1:9-12, 18-19). Like Christ, Paul is willing to bear the burdens of those he loves.
Finally, model disciples of Christ are not fearful but faithful. Imprisoned in Rome, Paul is facing old age, the apostasy of the church, and death at the hands of the executioner. How can he be so fearless? What does his example teach us about facing our own fears?
He writes, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). By centering our lives on the Savior as Paul did, we will find faith replacing our fears. What can we fear if we are full of faith in “our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”? (2 Tim. 1:10). Likewise, President Thomas S. Monson taught, “As we make Christ the center of our lives, our fears will be replaced by the courage of our convictions” (“Be an Example and a Light,” General Conference October 2015).
We become “examples of the believers” by centering our lives on Christ, and we do that by staying strictly on the covenant path. Remember these words of Elder Ronald A. Rasband: “Take heart, brothers and sisters. Yes, we live in perilous times, but as we stay on the covenant path, we need not fear. I bless you that as you do so, you will not be troubled by the times in which we live or the troubles that come your way” (“Be Not Troubled,” General Conference, October 2018).