What is an Approved Example?  What Makes Them Binding?
Timothy W. Carignan

"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him " (Colossians 3:17).  Paul, writing these words as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, commanded all men to act in the name, or by the authority, of Christ.  All our actions, therefore, must have scriptural authority.

According to one dictionary, an example is "a person or thing to be imitated; model; pattern, precedent."  Therefore, if something is an example, it is binding, and if it is not binding, it is not an example.  The Bible records an account of people lying to the Holy Spirit, but this is not an example to be imitated (Acts 5:1-10), but rather a warning.  The question then is, what makes an account of action an example for us today?  If it is an example, is it permitted, for us to follow or not as we choose, or is it commanded, and therefore something that we must imitate?

For an account of action to be an example, it must be carrying out some command which is given to men today.  Abraham lied about his relationship to Sarah (Genesis 20:2).  We are not to imitate this aspect of Abraham's life, however, because God has never approved of lying  (Revelation 21:8).  At a later time, Abraham was ordered to offer his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering to God (Genesis 22:2).  Since we are not under such a command, we are not bound to imitate this action today.  However, under the New Testament, we are commanded to fear God (I Peter 2:17).  Abraham's offering of Isaac can be an example to us of the attitude that one should have toward Almighty God; He should be obeyed without question, without hesitation.  This is a binding example because Abraham was faithfully carrying out the command to fear God, a command which is given to men under the New Testament.

If something has been determined to be an example, how can we determine if the action is permitted or commanded?  Examples, by their very nature, are inclusive, not exclusive.  That is, they show what was done by a particular person on a particular occasion, but they do not tell what is not to be done.  A single example cannot show every possibility.  We must look at the totality of scripture on a particular subject.  If the Bible gives a command to "go" (Matthew 28:19), and it shows as an example a person running to carry out this command (Acts 8:30), then we can learn that running to carry out this command is permitted.  This does not mean that running is the only means of going that is permitted, and that sailing in a ship, for example, is not authorized -- there is an example of that in the Bible, also (Acts 20:3).  In fact, both are authorized.  Scripture as a whole shows that people in the first century church used every means available to "go".

On the other hand, Christians are commanded to partake of the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:19).  An example of this command being followed is found in Acts 20:7, when the church met on the first day of the week.  We therefore have authority to partake of the Lord's Supper on Sunday, the first day.  Is this permitted or commanded?  We need to look at other scriptures concerning the assembly.  The first gospel sermon was preached on Sunday (Acts 2).  The early church came together on the first day of the week to give of their means into the church treasury (1 Corinthians 16:2).  We have examples only of meeting for the Lord's Supper on Sunday.  Why can't we meet on a Tuesday night to take the Lord's Supper?  Because, there is no authority for it.  Acting without authority is transgression, or "going beyond".

The last verse of the book of Matthew contains a command to teach to observe all things whatsoever Jesus had commanded them (Matthew 28:20).  We are not commanded in this verse to teach people all things, but to teach them to observe all things.  Jesus was emphasizing the importance of authority.  It would take years to teach people all the things that Jesus commanded, but it takes mere minutes to teach people to respect Christ's authority, and to look to the scriptures for our pattern.  If people understood and respected the authority of the Bible, then all would speak the same things and there would be no divisions between them (I Corinthians 1:10).  Anywhere that there is division, it can be traced to a lack of respect for the authority of the scriptures.

Please e-mail me (Tim Cariganan) if you have any questions: tcarignan@juno.com

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©2001 This paper may be freely distributed as long as there is no cost to others and no changes to the content of any material in this paper.

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