Examples in the Word of God illustrate and demonstrate principles. When Jesus washed his disciplesí feet (John 13), He illustrated the principles of love and service. Jesus said "I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15). We recognize that the example was not of foot washing, but rather of service. Therefore we do not bind foot washing on each other. The principle is the important thing; the example serves to illustrate the principle.
An example separated from principle has little value. Paul wrote, "If I speak with tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass or a clanging symbol" (I Cop. 13:1). Paul went on to say that without love, prophecy, knowledge, the gift of understanding mysteries, faith, giving to the poor or even dying the death of a martyr in fire "profiteth me nothing" (I Cor. 13:3) if done without love. These wonderful examples are empty when separated from the principle of love.
If an example without the proper principle "profiteth me nothing," then the principle is where our emphasis should be concentrated. Jesus used the example of foot washing, not to bind a ritual, but to teach the principles of love and service. If I follow Jesusí example, I will love and serve my fellow man in any way possible. I am not limited to foot washing.
Do we view these examples as God intended? Or instead do we look to examples only as one of three or four ways of establishing "Biblical Authority"? If we determine an example is "properly approved," then do we proceed as though we have "Biblical Authority" (God's OK) to do a specific act in a very specific way? Do we start with the example and attempt to arrive at the principle?
Paul states that James, Peter and John asked him to "remember the poor". These were poor Christians in Judea. A careful examination of this statement and other examples has led many to conclude that churches can only help the poor who are Christians. The reason for the conclusion is that they find no specific, "approved example" of churches helping the poor or needy who were not Christians. The emphasis in this kind of thinking is on the example; not the principle! We then analyze any action out of the example! We won't help poor or needy non-Christians. We will not sell our "possessions and goods" as the disciples did in Acts 2 because that example is a "special case"; we will not help needy Christians if they can obtain "government help" or if they have "Family living t
When our analysis is complete we've narrowed the poor who qualify down to almost none. For instance, one congregation gave less than one percent of their contribution to the poor in 1985! This is not remembering the poor because of our view of examples vs. principles.
Jesus' teaching on this subject began with the principle of love. A lawyer asked how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him "What is written in the law?" The lawyer answered correctly "love the Lord thy God...and thy neighbor." Jesus replied, "This do and thou shalt live" (Luke 10:28). The lawyer was not satisfied with the principle of love. He was intent on knowing specifically who was his neighbor. The lawyer was looking for a limited theological definition. He did not understand principles like love and mercy. Jesus told his parable of a Jew beaten almost to death. Neither a Levite nor a Priest would help. These religious folk were without principle. The help came from a man not familiar with the precepts of Jewish law. Indeed no good Jew would even eat with the Samaritan. Jews considered Samaritans ignorant "heretics." This Samaritan, though an ignorant heretic, understood something more important than the Jewish law. "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was; and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion..." (Luke 10:33). The Samaritan understood the principles of mercy and compassion. Helping the poor demonstrated principles of mercy and love. When we argue that a church cannot take money from its Treasury to help the poor and needy who are not Christians, what principle are we demonstrating? The love of the Samaritan or the religious ritualism of the Levite and the Priest? How does not giving money to the poor and needy non-Christians illustrate the principle of love?
We should worry less about whether a specific example applies to us today and more about the principle. For example, if I love my brother and he is in need, will I worry about whether Acts 2 (disciples selling their possessions) is binding, or will my love cause me to "go and do likewise"? We do not hesitate to sell possessions to help our children. Why? We love our children. Would any parent with a child in need and the ability to help ask if Acts 2 is a "binding, approved example"? Love causes the parent to show compassion. Love is demonstrated by parents for their children.
A New Commandment
Jesus put it this way: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35). John said, "He that 1oveth not abideth in death" (I John 3:14). Practice love, abide in life and questions about when examples are "approved" and "binding" will be replaced with acts of love and compassion from pure hearts.