Becoming a Model To All Believers
[1st Thessalonians chapter one]
Today we will begin our study and analysis of the First Book of Thessalonians, as we continue our exhaustive study of the apostle Paul’s letters to the early churches. Since chapter one is relatively short while being long on content, that’s all we’ll be doing for today. As we open our study, we immediately find that this was a letter written jointly by Paul, Timothy and Silas, who were also important figures in the early church. Since there is no mention of being imprisoned like there was in other studies, we can conclude, as I do, that these men of God were freely preaching and teaching the Gospel unhindered by the power and ruthlessness of the Roman Empire at the time this was written. And so let’s begin our study with that in mind, starting at verse one.
“Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1st Thessalonians 1, verses 1-5, NIV)
“Grace and peace to you… We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let’s pause here and begin asking ourselves some important questions. Are we “continually remembering” others in church and in God’s army, not to mention the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the sick and the elderly? Is our labor inside and outside of the church done with the love of Christ in mind? Or are we laboring out of selfish ambition, or to somehow take advantage of the needy and the weak? Let’s all be soldiers in God’s army and laborers for the harvest for all the right reasons! Otherwise we are running our race in vain, finishing in first place only to be disqualified for the prize. As for our “endurance inspired by hope in Jesus Christ”, let’s all be extra vigilant in this regard and be sure that we are putting Jesus first in everything we say and do. Pray constantly, or at least as often as possible. Do that and you have already won the battle, and Satan loses another one! Most importantly, “our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” You know what the apostle Paul was talking about here. He was writing about discerning the difference between preachers who use a lot of emotion to invoke an emotional response, and those who preach with the Spirit of the Lord so that the Spirit is clearly present to everyone in the room. Don’t worry about being able to know the difference. All you have to do is listen to them closely and watch how the crowd reacts to their message. The more sensationalized their message is, the more emotionally affected people will be. But if the Holy Spirit is being invoked and prayed to, emotion is replaced by an unmistakable Spirituality that is markedly different than the sensational. Oftentimes when this occurs you will see people being healed of one kind of malady or another, for others there will be many tears, a kind of Spiritual and emotional cleansing that transcends physical healing. Also, there is often a psychological healing that takes place as well, an inexplicable calm within our minds that sets free all who open themselves up to it. There is nothing any of us can compare it to – God’s healing is complete healing, it is genuine, and it lasts indefinitely if we will only commit to practicing our faith the same way. So if you want to heal, taking an active role in the healing of someone else is the first step towards healing yourself. That’s the true nature of the Holy Spirit, and it is a wise individual who puts these things into practice. Having made that point, let’s continue now at the second half of verse 5.
“You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message given to you with the joy of the Holy Spirit. 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 need not 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, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 1, verses 5-10, NIV)
The first three sentences of this passage of Scripture are very similar to my own missionary work in the inner city of Atlanta. I live in and go to church in one of the roughest, meanest and most blighted areas of greater Atlanta. I am currently the only Caucasian man in that particular congregation. I still play keyboards there on Sunday mornings just like I have for the last six years. Martin Luther King once said, “The most segregated place in America is at church on Sunday morning”, and it’s still just as true as it was when he said it back in the 1960’s. So I have taken it upon myself to cross the aisle on behalf of my Black brothers and sisters, because making this gesture makes a statement about who I am and what I stand for. It sends a message that it’s time to embrace change, while simultaneously holding out an olive branch to Atlanta’s black community. If any of them should question my judgment about this, I just quote 1st John chapter 4, verses 20-21 which says, “If anyone says ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother”. It also sends a message to the children in the congregation that says it’s okay to be in church with different kinds of people. I come every Sunday to tell them tolerance is cool, not necessarily with my words, but just by being there. If you want to create and propagate positive change, you start with the kids, pure and simple.
“Your faith in God has become known everywhere…”. Are we living our lives this way? Has our faith in God become known everywhere? It all goes back to the teachings of Jesus Christ, “Love your neighbor as you would yourself”. Treat other people the way you would want them to treat you. For those of you who are not yet doing this, you will be pleasantly surprised at the results, I’m writing/speaking from experience here. Do other people you work with or hang out with know you’re Christian? If not, why haven’t you told them? The very least all of us can do is to live our lives as shining examples for other people to look up to. Leadership by example is often times the most effective kind. Not everyone can be an evangelist, nor a healer, nor a teacher and so on. But each of us has our own special job that we can do for the Lord. It doesn’t matter much what it is, since Christianity and equality go hand in hand anyway (see 2nd Corinth. 8: 13-15, Acts 2: 42-47, etc.). When true believers get to heaven, pastors may well receive the same reward as the janitors for all I know. But all I’m saying here is that we should all be living our lives for Christ without bothering to care who knows about it. Christianity is so much more than a belief system, it is a lifestyle. And living a Christ-like lifestyle is how we make our faith in God become known everywhere to everyone. It’s how we fulfill our calling as ambassadors for Christ, and this is how we let our light shine for Jesus. It’s our moral and social responsibility as well.