Models: Good And Bad

It is human nature to model our lives after the people we admire. Some people model their lives after sports figures, or media figures, or in some sad cases some model their lives after criminal figures. You will see people adopt certain mannerisms, catch phrases, and attitudes of their models.

The right role model can spur us on in our lives. I have benefited greatly from various role models. There are preachers whose style has impacted my own. There are scholars who have changed my way of thinking. There are writers who have spurred me on in my own writing. There are Pastors who have influenced the way I serve. Role models can lead us forward. But they can also drag us down if we choose the wrong models.

Paul understood this. As he wrote to the Philippians he understood that the people they chose to follow would impact the growth that they experienced. There are generally two kinds of people in any church.  There are those who imitate the Savior and those who imitate the world. Paul encourages the Philippians to “mark” or “observe with a view to imitate” those who lived godly lives.

In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul quotes a Greek poet when he said, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” If you have bad models you will move in the wrong direction in your Christian life. So, this morning we want to examine this issue further.  What should we be looking for? What are the characteristics of good models and bad models.  We’ll start with the negative.  


For, as I have often told you before  and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of  Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their  glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (3:18,19)

There are five characteristics we can discern in these words.

Are enemies of the cross

Bad models are enemies of the cross because they diminish what Christ did on the cross. They preach a false way of salvation. They either minimize his work and emphasize our own efforts (the sin of the Judaizers) or they use the cross as a license for sin.  They say, “since Christ has saved us, it doesn’t matter how we live our lives.  It doesn’t matter what we do. We can sin all we want and still go to Heaven.”  In other words they make the cross the doorway to corruption. 

These two groups still exist in the church today. There will always be those who urge us to try to earn a salvation that has already been accomplished. They exalt man and diminish grace. They don’t see the horrible and destructive nature of sin.  In their mind we simply need a little encouragement and then we can live the way we should.  The gospel, however, says we need to be reborn.  We need God’s work inside of us and on our behalf before we have any hope of salvation.  Paul reminds us that we are saved because of the work of Christ.  HE began the good work and HE will bring it to completion.

The other group takes freedom to an extreme. It is certainly true that we can do nothing to effect our own salvation. But that doesn’t mean that we should discount God’s commands.  There will always be those who justify their sin.  There will always be those who feel that all they need to do is say, “Oops, sorry God!” and they will be forgiven. The true believer recognizes the destructive power of sin and will never take it lightly.  They understand that grace is an awesome gift that should be treasured and not presumed upon.

Are Ruled by their Appetites

Poor models let their appetites determine their values rather than the other way around.  They justify the way they behave by telling you that it makes them happy, or it “feels right”, or “it is satisfying” or “it works”. In each of these cases the standard is not the objective truth of scripture, it is the subjective truth of their feelings. In each case God’s will is subject to the whims of man rather than the other way around.

If you have ever tried to diet you know what it is like to be ruled by your appetite. Your intention is to eat sensibly and to cut out the junk food so you can maintain better health and be more productive in life. Your intentions are good until your stomach starts grumbling. Many people start a diet right after a big meal and give it up as soon as they get hungry again.

The same is true in the spiritual life of many.  They talk about obeying and loving the Lord but as soon as a strong desire for something sinful envelopes them they give in.  Let me give you some examples of those who are governed by their passions,

  • those who refrain from calling wrong behavior sin because they don’t want to alienate anyone.
  • those who spend money they don’t have for things they don’t need (but they think they need them)
  • those who justify their immorality
  • those given to gluttony
  • those who are prone to laziness
  • those prone to fits of anger
  • those who are constantly jumping from church to church every couple of years because their “needs are not getting met.”

Obviously, the list could go on and on but I hope you get the idea. Now please understand that we all give in to our appetite’s on occasion but hopefully we are repentant when we do so.  We don’t want to model our lives after a person who is governed by their appetite over the course of their life. The spiritual lives of these people have a tendency to swing one way or another depending on their feelings at any particular time. They are unreliable guides, just like our feelings.

They Are Proud of What They Should be Ashamed Of

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul writes to the Corinthians,

 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Cor. 5:1-2)

Here’s the situation: There was a man that was committing adultery with his step-mother! Rather than the church being horrified they were proud of their tolerance and open-mindedness!  They may have been proud of the fact that they “didn’t judge” these folks. Paul condemned them. Sin is destructive to the people engaged in it (it deadens their conscience and causes them to drift away from the Lord) and it is destructive to the people around it. Being proud of our sinful behavior is a sign of our depravity and not our maturity.

We still see this kind of thing in the church. Immorality is approved of because it is “just the way things are.”  Practicing homosexuals are ordained or married in the church because people “can’t help” the way God made them. Ethically and theologically empty techniques are used to build a crowd . . . and these things are celebrated as resourcefulness!  We adopt ethically questionable techniques and call it business savvy.

We have seen this in the highest office in our land. A President engaged in immoral and unethical behavior and yet his approval rating went up. It seemed that people admired the man’s ability to “get away with it.” These are the kinds of bad models Paul is talking about. A person who celebrates evil will continue to plunge deeper into it.  Their conscience will get more and more calloused. This people will lead those who follow them away from God.

Are Focused on Earthly Things 

Bad models are looking to the wrong ends. Their goals are skewed. They are concerned about how they can make a name for themselves, how they can amass material things, how they can be “better than others”. They are looking to earthly applause rather than heavenly approval. They want present satisfaction rather than heavenly joy. They want to preserve this life at any cost . . . even the denial of faith. They are building a kingdom on earth rather than in Heaven. 

Are Heading for Destruction

These bad models may seem to be having a good time. They are laughing.  They look like they are enjoying  themselves.  The world may call them prosperous.  But they are enjoying themselves because of their  ignorance.  They are heading to heartache.  Jesus said, “What  will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but still loses his  soul.” Bad models haven’t thought that far ahead.


All of us who are mature should take such a  view of things. And if on some  point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only  let us live  up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my  example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we  gave you. (15-17)

They Hunger to Know Christ Better

The first thing that Paul says about the good models is that they have the same attitude that he has.  At first, this sounds terribly arrogant. But think about what Paul was telling us,

  • He recognized that he was in the process of growth
  • He was constantly in search of a more complete and vital relationship with Christ
  • His focus was on God’s grace not his goodness

A good model is one that desires a vital relationship with Christ in the present and is not content with past accomplishments. The kind of model we should mark is the one who is constantly striving to honor and serve the Lord in their lives. They aren’t just seeking more information . . .they want to know Jesus and honor Him with every breath of their life.

They have a Teachable Spirit

Paul tells the Philippians that if they don’t agree with him, the Lord will make it plain to them.  When I first read this I reacted negatively to it. I have had people speak to me in a condescending way when I was first in the ministry. They would smile, pat my head, and dismiss me with the words, “Oh, someday you’ll understand.” I hated that attitude.

But that is what Paul is doing here. Paul understands that we grow at different rates.  He knows that others may need time to understand what he has come to understand. Paul is confident that God will make His will clear.

Do you know that the greatest hindrance to finding God’s will for our life is our unwillingness to learn God’s will for our life? Hear that again . . .the greatest hindrance to finding God’s will for our life is our unwillingness to learn God’s will for our lives. Many of us who struggle with what God wants us to do aren’t really struggling with what God wants us to do but are instead struggling to figure out how to get God to approve of what WE want to do.  If you want to know God’s will for your life you have to be teachable. You need to be open and attentive.

Such is the case with a good model. . . they are teachable. A coach or a teacher can tell you that desire and teachability are not the same thing. A person can have all kinds of talent but if they aren’t willing to learn from someone else they are severely limited in what they can do. The greatest musicians, the greatest athletes, the greatest business minds all have one thing in common . . . they are eager to learn anything that will help them improve.  They ask questions.  They listen. They are receptive.

These kind of models are the ones who keep their heads when there are disagreements in the church. These people will not compromise on core beliefs but they also aren’t willing to be dogmatic on issues that aren’t core issues.  They are willing for the Lord to “make it clear to them.”  These folks are open to honest correction and willing to learn from anyone who can teach them. Their ego does not hinder their growth.

They Act on What They Say They Believe 

Paul said, “Only  let us live  up to what we have already attained”.  What simple wisdom this is! Rather than spend all our time arguing over our differences and debating about what we don’t understand, how much better if we acted on what we DO understand?

In fact, let me take this a little further. Paul is able to tell the Philippians to follow his example because he has worked to live consistently. These are the people you want for your models . . .those who live consistently with what they say they believe. Jesus gave us similar advice.  In Matthew 7 when he warned of false teachers he told us that we would recognize them “by their fruit”.  In other words, we could tell by the way they live their lives.  Warren Wiersbe writes,

In the summer of 1805 a number of Indian chiefs and  warriors met in council at Buffalo Creek, New York, to hear a presentation of  the Christian message by a Mr. Cram from the Boston Missionary Society. After  the sermon a response was given by Red Jacket, one of the leading  chiefs.  Among other things, the chief said:

Brother, you say that there is but one way to worship  and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white  people differ so much about it? Why don’t you all agree, as you can all read  the same book?

Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to  the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors.  We are  acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your  preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and  less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said. [Be Hopeful]

These are the kinds of persons we are to “mark”, those who act on what they say they believe. These people will,

  • glorify God at every opportunity
  • they seek to align their lives by Scripture and not the other way around
  • they live the same at church and at home; in public and in private
  • they reveal their sincerity by the way they give of their time, their resources and their heart to those around them.
  • they show love toward others in the way they talk, the forgiveness they extend, and the consideration they show.

When you find a person that fulfills these characteristics . . . learn from them!


Admittedly, there are a few things we must remember when we select models for our lives,

  1. The only model who is perfect is Jesus.  Every model has weaknesses. Don’t make your models into something they are not. Be aware of the weaknesses. 
  2. The best model is one who has been consistent over the “long haul”.  Anyone can look good for a little while.  Some have said that the best models are those who have been dead for 100 years or so. That’s good wisdom.
  3. Never put a model above the Bible.  If your mentor does something contrary to scripture . . .think about getting another mentor.

Something else it is important that you realize. The good models that Paul pointed to were people of character. A good model doesn’t have to have rich talent, possess great knowledge, or have a faithful following.  A good model is a person who has a heart for God. We must look past the surface things of life and look at a person’s heart if we want to find models worth following.

Where do you find these good models? Let me give you some suggestions,

  • Study the life of Jesus and the apostles
  • Read biographies of those who have impacted the world for Christ (Billy Graham, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John Knox and many others)
  • Don’t overlook the good models you may have in your parents, grandparents, or siblings. Thank God if you have been blessed in such a way.
  • Look around at your fellow church members and note those who seem to live well for Christ. Get to know them and learn from their example.

Learn from your models and let them lead you to a deeper relationship with Christ. And as you live out your Christian lives do so carefully. Because you never know, someone may be watching you.

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