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Imitator of Christ

1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV) … “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit…”

In December 2007 Tom Brady was featured on a CBS 60 Minutes interview. At the time, Brady was the quarterback of the New England Patriots, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and he had a contract worth millions of dollars a year. By our cultural standards, he had everything. But in the interview, he said,

Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, “God, it’s got to be more than this.” I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.

Brady has reached his dream, a dream many of us share, whether we are talking about fame or fortune. But he says, “God, it’s got to be more than this.” The idea that if men imitate the athletes or women imitate the models, they will be happy and fulfilled is a lie that is being fed to us, and we know it. In our most honest moments, we would confess what Tom Brady confessed. As Christians we should be much more cautious about the message of our culture because it is at odds with the gospel. Only as we follow the message of the gospel and hope in Christ will we be content in our circumstances.[1]

Jesus showed Paul how to live, and even personally instructed him (Gal. 1:12). Paul lived, led, and taught by the example he had received from Christ. In the same manner, the people Paul taught along the way—those in the churches he planted—got their signals from him. He became the model to others, just as Christ was the model to him.

In their letter to the Thessalonians Paul, Silas, and Timothy appealed to the Thessalonians memory, drawing them back to the lifestyle of the three men when they lived in Thessalonica: You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord. This pattern forms a great circle of discipleship and leadership which still applies today.

Leaders and teachers in the church are to follow Christ; those in the leader’s care follow after his example; they, in turn, become models of Christlikeness to people outside the church. It was the manner of Christ in Paul, Silas, and Timothy which helped inspire the Thessalonians to follow Christ.

It is a reminder to all of us that it is the image of Jesus in us—the way we model him—that attracts people to become like Christ.

Furthermore, the Thessalonians followed Paul and Christ with determination, in spite of severe suffering. Paul and Silas’s stay in Thessalonica was shorter than planned due to a riot which the Jews staged (Acts 17:5–10). Friends were arrested, the community shouted accusations, government officials became uneasy, and Paul and Silas escaped to the neighboring town of Berea under cover of darkness. With this background, the church in Thessalonica undoubtedly suffered under suspicion and community unrest. But the Holy Spirit gave them the joy and ability to receive the full message of Christ and to follow him.

Suffering and joy are almost always linked. It is the confirmation of John 15:18–21, that those who follow Christ will suffer as Christ did. As Paul later wrote in his letter to the Philippians, there is fellowship in suffering for Christ, a fellowship with Christ himself (Phil. 3:10). This brings a joy sustained by the Holy Spirit.[2]

[1] Grant, J. H., Jr. (2011). 1 & 2 Thessalonians: The Hope of Salvation. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 44). Wheaton, IL: Crossway. [2] Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 9). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


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