Written Once…Lived Forever: An Example

It was noted in the last article that the “men of Galilee,” two of whose writings are found in the Word of God, were skilled in the use of language. They were by no means uneducated, ignorant individuals. Having considered one example of the careful selection of words from the pen of John, we now turn to the other, Peter. It is clear that the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, reference to which is found in every chapter of his first epistle (1:11; 2:21, 23; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1), were prominent in the mind of the apostle as he formed his words. He states that he was a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (5:1). There is no record of his being at the Cross, and even when he did follow the Lord after His arrest, it was at a distance. But he was in the palace of the High Priest and certainly saw the Lord as He looked at him when the “cock crew.” That look caused Peter to weep bitterly and he never forgot his shameful denial of the Lord. Surely that act filled his mind as he wrote, “if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (4:16).

The beautiful example of the Lord Jesus, as on the dark night of His betrayal and trial He stood before His accusers, is found toward the end of chapter two. They buffeted Him, spat on Him, mocked Him, sought to humiliate Him and scourged Him. Yet “when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (2:23). The sufferings to which Peter refers were “not expiatory, but exemplary” (W. E. Vine) and they are a lesson on how to behave when we meet hatred and persecution from the world. In that, asserts Peter, He is for us “an example, that ye should follow His steps.

The word “example” (hupogrammos) is found only here in the Word of God. It literally means “an underwriter” and throws many of us back to memories of early years. It has been an accepted practice that the teaching of the art of writing can be expedited by the use of underwriting. The pupil is presented with a sheet of paper on which has been written or printed letters or words in perfect style. Between each of these lines there is a blank line on which the pupil must copy what appears above. The purpose is to achieve a degree of proficiency which results in an exact copy as the pupil “writes under” the original. 

Those who have been so taught will well remember what was necessary to reach a satisfactory level of competency. There were three rules to which the scholar must adhere. First and foremost, the original letters must be studied carefully. Second, there must be complete concentration on the task in hand. Interruptions spoil the work! Third, the detail must not be overlooked. One moment of wandering attention or a few seconds of distraction from the task in hand can destroy the copy.

It is remarkable that a fisherman, not a man of letters, would use such a word for “example.” In so doing he has left us a beautiful, but demanding picture of what must mark the character of our lives. The example is the Lord Jesus and it is our responsibility to ensure that what we are “writing” with our lives is as near the original as it is possible to be. We cannot be an exact replica of Him as in His impeccability He stands far apart from and above all others. That is a level of sinlessness and righteousness unique to Him. But what we can do is concentrate our efforts in seeking to be like Him.

It would never be possible to set out words competently if there were no example to follow. The original is vital and a flaw in the original leads to a deficient copy. There is, however, no flaw in the original that we seek to copy and therefore any shortcomings are ours alone. But, does this not stir other thoughts in our minds? Every day we are writing a page in the journal of life and every day there is an example that has to be followed.

In school after the writing exercise was over, there was the review of the work. Each page was examined minutely and every example of shoddy work would be pointed out, every carelessly formed letter noted by our teacher. In like manner there will come a day at the Judgment Seat when the pages we have written will be presented to the Teacher Who is the great Example. He will declare His verdict as He notes when the letters of our life fall short of the original. Although the context of Peter’s words, as has already been noted, refers to sufferings as a Christian, nevertheless the principle is true in the wider sphere of Christian conduct. 

Thus it is necessary to do as the scholar did and to study the original, and give attention to the detail. This we do from the Word of God and come to know what is expected of those who claim to be following His example. The second rule must then be followed, that of careful concentration on making a good copy. Careless words and acts, deeds carried out when self-control has gone, lies told and malicious gossip exchanged, are all “letters” that bear no resemblance to the original. Moments of distraction when our attention is taken by that which does not help our “underwriting” must be avoided.

Let us so live each day, therefore, determined to write a page that commends our Teacher. It requires a disciplined life but what joy it will be if the Master writes over the page His verdict, “Well done!