Much could be said for the power of example. Many faithful Christian parents have by their example led their children, and their children’s children, to live faithful Christian lives. Many have left lives of debauchery because they were each influenced by the example of a Christian co-worker whose distinctively pure conduct pointed the way to something better. As long as there have been faithful Christians, there have been human examples to follow. To the Thessalonian church Paul could say, “So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 The. 1:7). The Holy Spirit compelled Paul to instruct the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; compare with Phi. 3:17). Of course, Christ Himself gave the perfect example—as He said, “Follow me” (John 21:19).
But the power of example goes both ways. As many have been encouraged to the path of righteousness by a faithful Christian’s example, an innumerable host have fallen from that path because they followed the wrong example. Many continue to do so, failing to realize the danger. Some refuse to obey the Gospel because their parents were not Christians (compare with Mat. 10:37). Some refuse to be restored to the Lord because their close friends are no longer faithful (cf. 2 Tim. 4:16-18). Some follow false doctrine because a preacher they admire has embraced a particular false doctrine (cf. 1 Cor. 3:4-7; 7:23). Some think the wrong way must be right because larger numbers follow that way (cf. Exo. 23:2; Pro. 11:21; Mat. 7:13-14). Perhaps those providing the poor examples enjoy having others follow them. But consider that no person who provides a wrong example is in his right mind. The only right example is a Christ-like example, and a Christ-like example comes from a Christ-patterned mind. Why could the Thessalonian Christians be the example they were? They were enabled to be exemplary because they first “became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word” (1 The. 1:6). When Christ spoke of “the blind leading the blind,” He was not speaking of visual blindness but of minds that were spiritually clouded. Blind leaders may love playing the pied piper for the time being. A person fallen into the miserable pit of disfellowship with God may want others with them—as it is said, “Misery loves company.” However, what would those bad examples say if they were in their right minds?
Jesus spoke of a rich man who, as the world would see it, “lived life to the fullest”—he “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). He probably enjoyed the companionship of many friends, and wanted his family to live as he did. He probably looked with contempt on Lazarus, the beggar at this gate who “put first things first.” The rich man was not in his right mind—he was not putting first things first. However, he was given a double dose of reality upon his death, when in Hades
he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame (16:23-24).
The rich man was reaping what he had sown; he had reached the destination of the path he had walked.
By their thinking, many would be forced to conclude that the rich man would have wanted those closest to him to follow him to this destination. After all, those people say, “My mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa were members of (insert man made religion of our choice), and if that condemned them to an eternity in Hell, then I’m going with them.” Their parents and grandparents apparently wanted them to follow them while they were alive.
Does anyone really want those he cares about to follow him to eternal misery? As self consumed as the rich man appeared to be, he no longer wanted those he loved to follow him when he was in his right mind. As he pled with Abraham: “Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (16:27-28).
The rich man did not want to see those he loved ever again, if it meant their joining him in torment. Misery may love company as a general rule, but no person experiencing that misery wants to see those for whom he cares ever again. I have three children, and am striving to do all that I can to rear them to become faithful Christians throughout their lives. But if, God forbid, I should ever fall from the path of righteousness, my plea is to them—and to anybody else—“Don’t follow me!”