Lesson 3: Part 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Thessalonians)
by John Lowe
6 YOU BECAME IMITATORS OF US AND OF THE LORD, FOR YOU WELCOMED THE MESSAGE IN THE MIDST OF SEVERE SUFFERING WITH THE JOY GIVEN BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
In the true sense of the word, one who is an “imitator” not only embraces the teaching of the one imitated, but also copies his example. In the case of the Thessalonians, this imitation consisted in the joyful and untiring endurance of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. (Read 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 14, 15a.) Not only did they imitate Paul in suffering; they also imitated his zeal, his vigor, and his untiring labor. In John 17:8a Jesus said, “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me.” In John 16:33 Jesus told His disciples, “In the world, ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” He did not promise them a flowery bed of ease nor a ministry without persecution; but He did promise grace sufficient for all occasions and circumstances. Read John 17:8 and John 15:20.
It must have been encouraging and inspiring to the believers at Thessalonica when they read the words of their beloved Apostle: “Ye became followers of us and of the Lord. You are walking in the very steps of Jesus.” To walk in His steps makes toil and labor welcome. To walk in His steps makes reprimand and shame a glorious privilege.
This “severe suffering” (tribulation) is described in Acts 17:5-9, and in his epistles, Paul frequently refers to this great affliction. Severe persecution marked the path the Thessalonians were called to follow as they walked with Christ. Following in His footsteps in persecution and great affliction gave them opportunity to prove the genuineness of their faith. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will deny us.
In Philippians 1:29 Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Paul was an example of true suffering; he did not become discouraged by suffering or persecution. In 2 Corinthians 6:10 he said, “. . . Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing!” When we rejoice in persecution and great affliction for the sake of the Gospel and a true Christian testimony, we know that such joy comes from the Holy Spirit and is a positive sign of true conversion. A true believer is the only person who can rejoice in sorrow and smile through a veil of tears. The early Christians not only expected persecution as the inevitable accompaniment of genuine discipleship, they also received it as a badge of honor with spirit-inspired joy⸺“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
The Holy Spirit enabled Paul to preach with power, and the same Holy Spirit enabled the Thessalonians to receive his message and believe with joy, even though they suffered great affliction and much persecution. In verses 5 and 6 of this chapter Paul introduces the Holy Spirit without hesitation, knowing that the Thessalonians knew the true teaching concerning Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and in the first six verses of this—the first of Paul’s epistles—we have the clear and unmistakable doctrine of the
Trinity (See verses 1, 5, 6.).
This verse shows that the confidence of the preachers was confirmed by the lifestyle changes in their hearers; their changed lives gave visible evidence of their election. The example of Christ’s witnesses is placed first because the Thessalonians came into contact with the model, Christ, and through the model copies of Christ, Paul, and his companions. If they had not been attracted by the latter they could not have known the former, the chief attraction. So it is the reflection of Christ in us that today induces others to become Christ-like.a
“But after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men,” (1 Thessalonians 2:2, 14, 15)
7 AND SO YOU BECAME A MODEL TO ALL THE BELIEVERS IN MACEDONIA AND ACHAIA.
The expression “all the believers” refers to those who believe in God (in Christ), and it is frequently used by Paul when referring to Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:10-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10). Faith is the very heart and essence of all that makes a man a true Christian. God’s grace saves us, but that grace becomes ours by faith. To the Hebrews, Paul said, “Without faith, it is impossible to please (God): for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
At the time of the writing of the Epistle, Paul was in Corinth—the capital of Achaia, a Roman province—and he had witnessed the effect of the believers in Thessalonica on the church in that particular district.
The Apostle Paul patterned his life after Christ; the believers followed in his footsteps, thus following in the footsteps of their Lord; the neighboring Christians then patterned their lives after the pattern set by Paul and the Thessalonian believers. In this manner these devout, conscientious Christians had set the example for many believers throughout that part of the world; but especially in the provinces of Macedonia and Acadia. News of their faithful witness in the face of heavy trials had radiated from this important center to encourage believers throughout both provinces to stand firm in their faith. Thus an impressive proof of the power of a living faith in Christ was furnished by the fact that the imitators were now the imitated!
People today, who are so at ease with their own sin, would say “Don’t copy us, copy Christ.” But how else could these Thessalonian Christians know what Jesus was like, without Paul’s example? They had no New Testament. Thus, they were forced to depend on reliable examples. Later Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, “Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ Himself” (1 Corinthians 11:1). The Thessalonian believers listened and learned from Paul as he preached Christ. They watched and mimicked as Paul lived “in Christ.”