“Show, don’t tell.” This basic principle rules the writing world. It makes life easier, also. To teach a man to fish, he must see you fishing. Personal-development guru Anthony Robbins wrote in his 1991 book, Awaken the Giant Within,
If you’re not sure how to get yourself out of pain and to feel pleasure as a replacement to your smoking, drinking, worrying, or other undesirable emotion or behavior, you can simply find the answers by modeling people who have turned things around for themselves. Find people who have made the lasting changes; I guarantee you’ll find that they had an alternative to replace the old behavior (p. 135).
The Bible both tells and shows. It communicates the message of truth and gives us visual lessons, both positive and negative, on how to be holy. Examples abound from beginning to end. All the great virtues shine in flesh-and-blood people throughout the pages of Scripture.
After a chapter chock-full of examples of faith down through the centuries, the author of the book of Hebrews offers his readers some models in their own midst. “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” Hebrews 13.7 NASB. As the NJB puts it, “take their faith as your model.”
First, the readers needed to remember and consider. The writer calls them to focus on their spiritual guides, possibly those people who had evangelized them. They had seen living role models who did what they needed to do, who got where they needed to arrive. They mustn’t forget them in the midst of intense persecution. Such examples show the way forward and out.
These successful examples reached the positive result in their lives that the readers needed to establish as well. The result or outcome of these guides meant their victory of faith. Perhaps they surrendered their lives as martyrs. At the least, they remained faithful to Christ throughout all the challenges and sufferings they faced.
What was the faith that these guides lived out? It was centered in Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!” Hebrews 13.8. The one who takes the constant Jesus as model himself becomes constant. Based on Jesus’ constancy, the writer makes a mirrored appeal: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name” Hebrews 13.15. The verbal sacrifice here may well correspond to the teaching of the message of the original guides “who spoke the word of God” to them and evangelized them.
Christ’s blessed sameness contrasts with “all sorts of strange teachings” which threaten to carry the converts away from the Lord, Hebrews 13.9. Faithfulness centers in staying with him who is constant and remains forever. In their successful guides, the readers could see the sameness of Christ.
How does imitating the example of others differ from the divisive attitude of saying “I am for Paul”? 1 Corinthians 1.12. Some have said we should never imitate others, only Christ. But in the same letter in which Paul condemned following men, he said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” 1 Corinthians 11.1. Here he spills the secret. Those who imitate the Lord become examples worthy of imitation, 1 Thessalonians 1.6-7. In what is probably the worst chapter division in the Bible, between 1Corinthians 10 and 11, Paul had identified the specific quality worthy of imitation in himself and in Christ: “… I also try to please everyone in all things. I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved” 1 Corinthians 10.33.
Paul’s example corresponds exactly to that of the guides of the Hebrews readers. They evangelized and spoke God’s word for people’s salvation. So the Hebrews writer calls his readers not only to faithfulness, but to the fulfillment of their mission as well. Success in faith results when we concern ourselves not only with our salvation, but with that of others.