Your life forms the ceiling above which you cannot influence people to grow. Luke records Jesus as saying, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
This is not to say that they cannot grow beyond you. They most certainly can. But you don’t have any influence over that. If students grow beyond you, they are not growing because of you; they are increasing in spite of you. Seldom does the students’ maturity eclipse that of his teachers.
That is one reason why James warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Judged more strictly because of what the teacher teaches and the lives of the people we create. That is what Paul meant when he said, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (2 Cor. 3:2).
The apostle called others to follow his example and imitate him. “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:6). “Brethren, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). There is a correct way (pattern) to live for God that can be seen and followed.
We think it sounds really spiritual to say, “No, no, no, don’t follow my example; follow the example of Jesus. Don’t look to me, look to Christ.” This sounds humble. This sounds spiritual. But this is not how the Bible teaches us to work as teachers. The truth is, students will follow your example whether you like it or not. They will follow your example whether you tell them to or not. They will follow us, so we must follow Christ. This is what Paul said in another place: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
Adapted by Mark Johnson