"Learning by spending time together"

Assuming that at least some characters in the Bible are presented to us as role models; how might we discern what we should copy and what we shouldn't?

Perhaps we could see how well they are keeping the Law? If their behaviour is obviously contrary to the covenant they were supposed to be living under then that probably isn't supposed to be emulated. How about the way the authors portray them? Again, this might refer us back to the Law, but it might also come across in little comments of evaluation or the "feel" that they author creates around the character. This perhaps starts to move us more towards intuitive methods of learning. It might not be spelled out which laws they are keeping or breaking (maybe in part because they expect people to know or find out?) but their character is shown to us and we are expected somehow to be able to judge that character.

Following on from my article "Copycat discipleship?", I'm wondering what role simply "spending time" with people has in moral, spiritual and ethical (are those really all separate?!) formation. People's behaviour is at least in part conditioned by the community they find themselves in. The example and lifestyle of those around us affects us subconsciously as well as consciously. If we grow up in one sort of community we will take on habits that might differ from those of a different community. One obvious example at the most fundamental level is language, but eating habits, what is considered morally acceptable, etc. can also be influenced by our community.

If this is the case, maybe there is something important to be said for learning to spend time with God's people in order to learn "by osmosis". If we keep reading and hearing the stories of the Scripture, immersing ourself in the community of God's people in that way then maybe we will be picking up subconsciously on habits that are worth cultivating. Reading the Bible somehow enables us to spend time with the characters depicted there and learn from them as an influencing community. Similarly, spending time with Christians around us is likely to be a good idea. That is not to say that we only socialise with Christians or spend our lives sitting in churches. Rather, it perhaps suggests that worshipping together is not really enough. It might be that it would be useful to us to be with Christians in everyday situations. Seeing how other Christians conduct themselves in our workplaces, schools, etc could be a useful addition to our own moral formation. Yes, we should meet and pray together, but perhaps limiting ourselves to merely worship/prayer and nattering over coffee is missing out on something that could really help us.

It is not just people that we need to spend time with, of course. If the Spirit is to be (as Paul asserts) the guiding influence in our lives then we need to find ways of "spending time with" God. This might, for example, mean attempting to be more aware of His presence in our lives and in the lives of those around us and the world at large. It might mean various forms of prayer or Bible reading. If we were to consciously think of God as present with us at all times would we still act the way we sometimes do? Perhaps a sensitivity to and cultivating habits of being in God's presence are also important to our ongoing discipleship.

All this is not to say that morals/ethics are purely learnt passively and that we have no need whatsoever of principles or conscious learning. However, perhaps we might usefully become more aware of the influence that relationships and community have on us and harness them for good. 
©Joe Lenton, Sept 2011