The Power of Example


Elder Delbert L. Stapley

My beloved brothers and sisters and friends: In my heart I am fully convinced that more attention must be given to matching gospel principles, standards, and ideals with Christlike examples in our personal lives if truth and righteousness are to prevail.

The world needs more men and women of good moral and spiritual character who will stand firm, steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of God and be living examples of truth and righteousness.

The power of example exhibits its strength when men and women live the gospel. For such persons, the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ shines forth from their countenance as a beacon light to draw others into virtue’s path.

A wise man, when asked to list three cardinal points that exemplified the lives of the great teachers of all time and that would be a guide to new teachers, said: “First, teach by example. Second, teach by example. Third, teach by example.”

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the greatest example the world has ever known, and his teachings endure throughout the ages because the precepts he taught were emphasized by the example of his own life.

To be an example from a religious point of view, someone or some group must serve as a model and set a pattern of conduct and moral behavior in life that can safely be imitated and followed by others with benefit and blessing to them.

“What you are,” said Emerson, “thunders so loudly in my ears, I cannot hear what you say.”

“Behold,” said Jesus, “I am the light: I have set an example for you.” (3 Ne. 18:16.)

This challenging statement by our Redeemer can be taken at face value with safety and assurance.

The apostle Peter emphasized the truth when he declared: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Pet. 2:21–23.)

The words of our Savior are applicable to the members of the Church today. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16.)

This scripture stresses the importance and value of good example.

We learn in the writings of Nephi that Christ “humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.

“And … it showeth unto the children of men the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.

“And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren,” said Nephi, “can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?”

And, challenged the Christ to all mankind, “follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.” (2 Ne. 31:7, 9–10, 12.)

This admonition was confirmed to Nephi by the voice of God, saying:

“Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.

“And now, my beloved brethren,” said Nephi. “I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.” (2 Ne. 31:15–46.)

These teachings constitute a summons to all men to live righteously. It is the only path that leads one back to the presence of God.

Corianton, son of a Nephite prophet, while engaged in missionary service, foolishly, and to the great sorrow of his father, followed after the harlot Isabel. Alma, disappointed by his son’s actions, reproved him and said:

“… for when they saw your conduct, they would not believe in my words,” (Alma 39:11.)

Truly, example is greater than precept.

President McKay declared: “It is as futile to attempt to teach honesty, and to act dishonestly before a child, as to attempt to heat water in a sieve.” (Pathways to Happiness, p. 307.)

How important it is for parents to live clean lives and obey God’s laws and commandments. To do so will permit them to use the example of their own lives in the teaching of their children. To fail to do so creates personal inhibitions that prevent parents from discussing intimate and delicate questions and problems about life with which their children are deeply concerned.

May I share with you President Brigham Young’s counsel for parents to teach their children by example. Said President Young: “if parents will continually set before their children examples worthy of their imitation and the approval of our Father in heaven, they will turn the current, and the tide of feelings of their children, and they, eventually, will desire righteousness more than evil.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, p. 195.)

“We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate … How often we see parents demand obedience, good behavior, kind words, pleasant looks, a sweet voice and a bright eye from a child or children, when they themselves are full of bitterness and scolding! How inconsistent and unreasonable this is! ” (Ibid., p. 192.)

“Parents should govern their children by faith rather than by the rod, leading them kindly by good example into all truth and holiness.” (JD, Vol. 12, p. 174.)

“Our children will have the love of the truth, if we but live our religion. Parents should take that course that their children can say, ‘I never knew my father to deceive or take advantage of a neighbor; I never knew my father to take to himself that which did not belong to him … but he said, … “be honest, true, virtuous, kind, industrious, prudent and full of good works.’” Such teachings from parents to their children will abide with them forever.” (JD, vol. 14, p. 195.)

Speaking of examples from the scriptures, the apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian saints, admonished:

“Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.

“Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed …

“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

“Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition …

“Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:6, 8–12.)

Those who teach or lead in God’s kingdom must remember that Christ is the great exemplar to them, and rightly so. Therefore, all leaders and teachers called to labor in his vineyard accept a great responsibility when they expect others to live up to gospel principles, standards, and ideals in order to enjoy the privileges and blessings of the gospel, yet fail themselves to maintain these requirements in their own personal lives.

We leaders must be what we ask or require others to be; otherwise, such hypocrisy turns to our condemnation.

The candidate before baptism is required to repent of all his sins. Does it not seem reasonable that the priesthood brethren officiating in this ordinance be equally free from all personal transgressions? This also holds true in the performance of all gospel ordinances.

It is deceitful and dishonorable for one to try to hide his own improper personal conduct and not serve openly and exemplarily according to the spirit of his holy calling.

Our position and responsibility are the same now as Mormon expressed to his son Moroni centuries ago:

“And now, my beloved son,” said Mormon, “notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.” (Moro. 9:6.)

Striving to exert the power of good example by living gospel principles, maintaining proper standards, and holding firm to righteous ideals, while not always easy, will reward us in this life and in the eternal worlds to come.

Someone said: “It is no trick to keep one’s principles on a high level, but it is hard sometimes to stay up there with them.”

“For us, with the rule of right and wrong given us by Christ, there is nothing for which we have no standard …” (Leo Tolstoi, War and Peace.)

Honesty, integrity, uprightness, morality, observance of the Word of Wisdom, and all the revelations concerning ideal behavior should be exemplified in our own lives, and we will then become proper examples for others to follow.

Does our pattern of life incorporate these basic qualities that permit us to say with assurance to our loved ones and friends, and those whom we serve, “Come follow me, and do the things you have seen me do”?

Here is our obligation, duty, and challenge.

May God bless us, brothers and sisters, that we may have the strength and the courage under all conditions to live exemplary lives and to walk uprightly before the Lord and set a good example for all mankind to follow, and particularly to our own children and families, I humbly pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. (Improvement Era, June 1969, pp. 69–72.)