The word example is a translation of the Greek word tupos. From this Greek word you can see several of our common English words, e.g. type and typical. The Greek word actually meant to make a mark by striking a blow. This is how the typewriter got its name. A strike on paper was made by a key in the machine.
The most exemplary use of this word in the New Testament refers to Christ being our example, a type to us. After Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he urged them to follow his example (John 13:15). Peter spoke of Christ as the example of true forbearance. He also tells us that his suffering and sinlessness were both examples to us (1 Peter 2:21–22). He urged Christians to specifically follow him as their example, tupos.
But Paul went even further. As an apostle he assumed personal responsibility for being an example to other Christians. He instructed Timothy to do the same (1 Timothy 4:12). As a young minister Timothy was to be an example to the whole church. In Titus 2:1–5 Paul urges godly women to be examples to younger women. The principle works its way out in many relationships in the New Testament.
I could go on and on with numerous other examples of my point but these will suffice to show you that we are called to be examples to others in our faith and life. This is especially true if you are leading anyone else as a minister or church leader of some sort. A leader will be an example. You will either be a good one or a bad one. The more you are like Jesus the more you will become a good one. This is why ministry is always more than knowing facts and teaching them.
Most of us learned what we know by imitation. We learned, in other words, by example. Henry Drummond (1851–97) wrote to D. L. Moody: “To become Christlike is the only thing in the whole world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition of man is folly and all lower achievement vain.”
But what does it mean to be Christlike? We cannot do his works, at least not in the fullest sense. He is unique thus his works are one with his true uniqueness. To follow him is not to imitate every action that he performed or to do every work that he did. I believe D. W. Lambert expressed the right sense of true imitation well when he wrote: “The Christian goal is not the outward and literal imitation of Jesus, but the living out of the Christ life implanted within by the Holy Spirit.”
The famous book, In His Steps, posed the question: “What would Jesus do in this situation?” I think that is a great question. Some Christian leaders attack this idea and mock it as deficient. I was inclined this way but no longer. So long as we clearly understand that his actions were unique the question is a good one. Congregational minister Charles M. Sheldon (1857–1946), the author of In His Steps, clearly meant it in this correct way. We thus should ask, “What is the Christ life in this/my context and how is the Spirit leading me, and empowering me, to actually do what he would do?”