My fellow minister and student of the Word,
Many well meaning theologians have often said that the data we gather from the writings of the early Church and how it was formed is more descriptive than prescriptive. That is, we can read about what the early church was like from the New Testament, but we should not attempt to prescribe dogmatic practice from such accounts as recorded in the Scriptures. Indeed, such theologians would have us believe all attempts at reconstructing an in-depth model is a vain and futile exercise, and that instead, we are granted much freedom to style our ministries and the churches we are a part of however we so desire. As a result, some ministers see themselves as kings, CEOs, and ranchers, instead of fathers, servants, and shepherds. I believe a close study of the following verses will demonstrate, that such a view is clearly contrary and at odds with what the apostles actually believed, taught, and practiced.
I believe this collection of verses from the writings of the apostles, when closely studied, will demonstrate that the apostles thought of themselves as living examples, given by God for the rest of the Church, to consciously and actively follow by means of imitation. We are exhorted to model our lives and ministries after theirs. What we observe of them, they would have us follow. Here, the descriptive is prescriptive. They believed that the doctrines they taught, the lives they lived, and the practices they established were to be followed. Why? Because they believed these are the things they received from the Lord Himself, and as a result, sought to embody these things in their own lives, and to teach them to the rest of the Church so that it might follow their example.
Indeed, much of the writings of the New Testament can be simply viewed as the apostles attempting to guide the Church in following the example established by them. The apostle Paul saw young ministers such as Timothy as an individual who had successfully embodied the apostolic ideal, and held him up as an example that everyone else was encouraged to follow. Those like Timothy, who embodied the apostolic ideal, were counted as the leaders of the Church, and stewards of the mysteries of the faith. Their spiritual authority was nothing ecclesiastical, as we have traditionally understood such things. Rather, their authority was grounded in nothing other than the life they lived, the degree to which it imitated the example established by the Lord through the apostles, and the difference it made in others.
Having personally wrestled with these verses many times without the aid of a commentary, I would encourage you to do the same. Consult other sources if you must. But beyond all that, Id encourage you to pull up a chair to the dinner table and slowly chew through each of these verses by yourself. Whenever warranted, I have attempted to cite a verse in its wider and immediate context. [In the original MS Word document, I also highlighted all the places I wished to emphasize in a verse]
May you be radically challenged and transformed by the words of our apostles. Some of these verses you have probably read one-hundred times, but I pray you read them again for the first time. May the Lord grant you a true revelation of these verses. May you always see what the apostles taught as the word of the Lord to us, and the essence of our callings and ministries. May you consciously and deliberately seek to follow their example, and as a result, imitating Christ, demonstrating Him to the Church, and to a lost and dying world. Wherever you are following their example, seek to abound all the more in what you do. Wherever you find a practice that is not in agreement with the apostolic example, depart from it as quickly as you can.
[b]1 Corinthians 4:9[/b] For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christs sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. 14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.
[b]1 Corinthians 11:1[/b] Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
[b]2 Corinthians 3:1[/b] Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life
. [b]2 Corinthians 4:1[/b] Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every mans conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus sake.
[b]Philippians 3:17[/b] Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
[b]Philippians 4:8[/b] Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
[b]1 Thessalonians 1:5[/b] for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
[b]2 Thessalonians 2:15[/b] So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
[b]2 Thessalonians 3:4[/b] We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. 6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyones bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.
[b]1 Timothy 1:15[/b] It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
[b]1 Timothy 4:12[/b] Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
[b]Titus 2:15[/b] These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
[b]Titus 3:7[/b] in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.
[b]Hebrews 13:7[/b] Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.
[b]1 Peter 5:1[/b] Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.