How did a first century Christian grow in her faith? How were new converts taught to obey Jesus? Consider that they had no printed Bibles. The New Testament was still being written. There were no Operation Timothy workbooks or Navigator’s manuals. No one had yet thought of a plan to read the Bible in a year. It wouldn’t have mattered, most early Christians couldn’t read!
Apparently, there was a proven ancient method of discipleship: imitation and its corollary, example setting. It is the third of our three marks of a model church from I Thessalonians. Paul says of this model church, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (I Thess. 1:6-7).
It’s like a great chain. When those who mimic are then mimicked, links are added reaching across the centuries! Who do you follow and who is following you?
Specifically, their imitation was ultimately of Jesus’ joyful endurance in midst of persecution. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.
There was nothing easy about Jesus’ life or public ministry. Yet Jesus walked in joy of the Holy Spirit, regularly worshipped God, rejoiced without ceasing, prayed with thanksgiving, endured ridicule and learned obedience from the things which He suffered. Here is our example without peer.
The Apostles followed His example and now these Thessalonica believers had become Immanuel imitators and Messiah mimics! Like many around the world today, they had to endure abuse and ridicule simply because of their belief in Christ as Lord and Savior. Are we willing to endure ridicule and abuse for our faith in Jesus?
In many church circles, the normal pat answer to suffering is “pray, read your Bible, go to church, count it all joy.” But what about “imitate Jim.” Or “you need to watch Sarah and do what she does.” Every believer needs to find a joyful believer in the midst of suffering and get to know him or her for the purpose of imitation. This is “life on life” discipleship at its best.
With proper imitation happening, we simultaneously set an example for others to follow, knowing that example is a powerful teacher and motivator. The word for example in v.7 means an impression or stamp made by a die, a pattern or a model. These new believers in Thessalonica left a permanent spiritual mark on the churches in their region, in places like Philippi, Berea and Corinth. Their singular mark was one of enthusiastic and explosive evangelism (v.8).
There they were, strategically located on the Egnatian Way, a port city to the Aegean Sea and beyond. At the cross roads of life, business and commerce, these folks sounded forth like a trumpet blast or peal of thunder with the gospel, causing it to reverberate near and far, loud and clear.
So much so that Paul, using some hyperbole to make his point, says “I’m out of work here!” In an area the size of about one third of Texas, the gospel had penetrated to such an extent that Paul can check this region off the list and move on to other unreached peoples.
How was this possible? They had no Jesus film. No mass crusades. There’s no mention of an evangelism class, program, or organized campaign. No tracts, radio, TV, or social media. No Sunday school, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or prison ministries. All of the necessary means and programs we think today are essential to evangelism were utterly lacking.
So what did they have? A mouth attached to a saved heart! They were just joyful new Christians telling everyone about Jesus! Jesus had changed them and you could not shut them up. There really isn’t anyone like a newly saved person to tell the gospel with enthusiasm.
Our churches may be missions minded, but are the people in the pews personally evangelistic? Our churches may have programs galore, but when is the last time you were able to give the gospel to another person?
If your church is like mine, you are good at wiring funds, having meetings, studying the Bible, and gathering in worship. All great things that glorify God when done right, but how many of us are actively sharing our faith with unbelievers? Everyone has this job, not just pastors or missionaries or evangelists.
Many of us imitate the Lord in bearing up under trials well enough. Many do stuff to be good Christians. But too often, we have exponential excuses instead of enthusiastic evangelism.
What did these early believers have that we don’t?
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight