“You kids need to behave! What kind of example do you think you’re setting for the younger children?” I’m sure we’ve all heard such words at one time or another, either from our parents or our teachers in school. We try to imitate those we look up to and admire. If our hero is a sports figure, we may try to dress, talk like, or even play the game like that athlete. Maybe your hero is a singer or a movie star. You’re going to try to behave just like your hero.
Unfortunately, a lot of our heroes today don’t live the kind of lives we would want to imitate. Just think of the promiscuous lives many athletes live. Nor do we really want our loved ones emulating the immoral personal lives of famous people in the movies.
But in spite of all the bad examples, we do have some truly wonderful examples to follow. We find such examples in the Bible and even in our personal lives. Thank God for Good Examples!
The first good example we’d like to consider is the apostle Paul.
The church in Thessalonica was one of the first Paul started on the European continent. After he had been away for a while, Paul heard reports of the persecution these new Christians were experiencing because of their faith in Jesus. In response, he wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians. After his introductory words, Paul wrote: You know how we lived among you for your sake. Throughout this post we’ll be considering 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10.
In the Roman world of Paul’s time, there were lots of traveling religious quacks. They would travel from town to town peddling the newest man-made religious ideas. The goal of these traveling religious preachers was to actually accumulate a lot of money for themselves. They would travel on the main highways leading to Rome, stopping at this town and that town, lining their own pockets until they could live the good life in the capital city when they reached it. They might remind you of the snake-oil salesmen of the American Wild West. They might also remind you of religious preachers we have seen on cable TV late at night, trying to send you a “free” something or other for just a small donation of $50!
But Paul was different. He lived a short time in Thessalonica for their sakes and not for his own benefit. He was not a burden to them, but the apostle brought the gift of the gospel.
So Paul continued: You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. It’s from the original Greek word for imitators we have here that we derive our English words mimic and mime. Just as the apostles suffered persecution, so did the Thessalonians. This suffering consisted of a pressure that came at them from all directions. And just as the apostles rejoiced in the good news that Jesus is our Savior, so the Thessalonians also had this joy that came from the Holy Spirit.
When I was a child I used to tease my brothers and sisters by copying everything they would do or say. If my sister scratched her nose, so would I in the same way. If my brother yawned, I would pretend to yawn, too. If they would say, “stop copying me!” I would repeat the same words, “stop copying me!” If they would complain to mom or dad that I was being a copycat, I would complain they were being copycats. It was at that point that I would probably get in trouble and be sent to my room.
It’s a good thing, however, to copycat the apostle Paul. As he served the Thessalonians with the gospel—not for his own benefit but their eternal welfare—so we should serve. We should search out people we can serve with God’s Word. And when we experience the pressure of the world around us because of our beliefs, we can learn from Paul to rejoice in Spirit-created faith.
Thank God for Good Examples! The second example is that of our fellow believers.
Paul continued: And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
The Thessalonians became a model for the other believers on the Greek peninsula. The Greek word for “model” here in our text reminds us of a stamp that was used to imprint images on ancient coins. An image of the emperor and his inscription would be pounded with a metal stamp on one gold coin after another. Another example of what the word model refers to is that of the metal type on an old-fashioned typewriter. You could hit the letter “a” for example, over and over again, and it would make the same imprint on the paper over and over again.
In a similar way, the attitude of the Thessalonians was impressed and imprinted upon all the Christians in the area. Everyone knew about the faith of the Thessalonians, and how they received the apostles and turned to the only true and living God after the false idols of Greek and Roman mythology.
The Thessalonians set a lot of examples. They set an example by overcoming afflictions and experiencing the joy of faith in Jesus as given by the Holy Spirit. They set the example of confessing their faith publicly and living lives consistent with that faith. They set an example in their Christian giving, by collecting a large offering for the poor believers in Jerusalem. All this news about the Thessalonians rang out like the peal of a large bell or the rumble of thunder. The conversion of the Thessalonian believers was especially noteworthy since they lived almost in the shadow of Mount Olympus, where the false gods and goddesses of the Greeks supposedly lived.
We are also to serve as models to one another. We learn from the faithful Christians who attend church every Sunday to hear God’s Word and to sing his praises. We learn from the Christians who attend every Bible class they can, because they want to increase their knowledge of the gospel and be strengthened and nourished in their faith. We have the example of the courageous Christian who in quiet confidence faces sickness and disease. We can learn from the generous believer who surprises us with his generosity.
We also need to be careful what kinds of examples we set, especially when we’re people others look up to and admire. We need to be careful that we don’t set a bad example with sinful behavior—by living lives or holding opinions that are clearly contrary to the Bible. If we find ourselves setting such poor examples—which we all do, by the way—then we need to flee to the foot of our Savior’s cross where there’s forgiveness for everyone.
Thank God for Good Examples! Our greatest and best example is the Lord Jesus himself.
Maybe you’ve seen it on one of the late night talk shows. The TV personality sticks a microphone in someone’s face and asks: “Who’s your hero?” Some may say their mom or dad. Others may mention a famous sports personality. Some might even mention a political leader. But I never hear anyone mention the name of Jesus Christ as their hero! As Christians, shouldn’t that be our response? Paul wrote: You became imitators of us and of the Lord. He also went on to say that the Thessalonians turned to the true God to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
The exemplary life of the Christian, as we endeavor to follow the good examples of the apostles, our fellow believers, and Jesus himself, could be summarized as a life of waiting. Our lives are grounded on the truth that God’s own Son came down from heaven, suffered the punishment of God we deserve, and died in our place as our Substitute. He rose from the dead to prove we are reconciled to our heavenly Father. We now wait for him to return to take us home, for he has rescued us from eternal condemnation.
As we wait, it may seem like an impossible task to follow the example of our Lord Jesus himself. To follow Christ’s example seems way beyond us sinners. But children of God will find comfort and instruction in our suffering when we remember how God’s Son suffered. Peter wrote in his first epistle (2:21): “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” We find courage in the face of death by remembering his death and resurrection. We have patience and courage to face the future in the sure hope our Savior will return as our Redeemer.
May we all thank God for good examples! We have the example of the selfless apostle Paul, who expended his life for the eternal welfare of others. We have the example of our fellow believers today, who serve as quiet and humble models of living Christian lives. Finally, we have the example of our Lord Jesus himself, who comforts our hearts with the message of his death and resurrection as we await his second coming!
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