We are continuing our study of 1 Thessalonians this morning. And I want to talk to you this morning about Modeling Yeshua. Where can people in our culture see Christ? The only place that men today can see Christ is in the Gospels or in the lives of believers who are modeling Christ. And since most people don't ever read a Bible, it's up to believers to show Christ to the world. That is our calling.
One of the unique things about this letter is that nowhere else in Paul's epistles do we find a stronger expression of his love and affection for the saints. As we will see, this was an exceptional church.
We looked last week at verse 4 and the doctrine of election.
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ESV
As I said last week, the foundation of election is God's love for His people. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are "loved by God." "Loved" is a perfect passive participle of the verb agapao, "to love." The perfect focuses on the abiding results, the fixed condition of being the grace recipients of God's love.
This is where it all starts. God loves his elect. This is a very different view than the that which the world held at this time. The relationship people had with the gods of the ancient pagan pantheon was not based on the love the deity demonstrated to them. To the contrary, the primary concern was to placate the gods and to solicit favors without any security concerning whether they would be disposed to a person favorably or otherwise. People believed that a god's influence over a human being could be either positive or negative. But our God, Yahweh, loves His people and always works for their good.
As we come to verse 6 this morning, we see what mature disciples these Thessalonians had become. But most commentators see verses 6 through 10 as a presentation of the evidences of election.
Commenting on this passage, John MacArthur writes, "How can you tell when someone is elect? How can you tell when someone is chosen by God? Or how can you tell when someone is genuinely saved? What are the distinguishing marks of the true brethren, God's true children?"
When we see someone living like the Thessalonians did, we can pretty much be assured that he has been chosen by God because unbelievers don't pattern their lives after Christ. The problem arises when we conclude that people who are not living like these Thessalonians are not believers. It is assumed that since they are not imitating Christ, they must not be saved.
How do we answer MacArthur's questions: "How can you tell when someone is elect? How can you tell when someone is chosen by God? What is the evidence of election?" It is a one-word answer—FAITH. Believing in Christ is the evidence of election. Look with me at 1 John 5.
Everyone who believes that Yeshua is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 1 John 5:1 ESV
The English Standard Version translates this verse correctly: "Everyone who believes that Yeshua is the Christ has been born of God." The tenses are very important. John uses the present tense: "Everyone who believes." It conveys the idea that everyone who is presently believing in Yeshua "has been born of God."
Here the perfect tense is used. As Greek students generally know, this tense refers to an event in past time—the results of which persist to the present time. We have a present tense and we have a perfect tense, and the perfect tense would indicate that that represented by the perfect tense is an event that occurred previous to the other. The tenses make it clear that the divine begetting is the antecedent, not the consequent, of the believing.
"Has been born of God." This a perfect passive indicative conveying a settled condition brought about by an outside agent—Yahweh. Let me state it like this: "Everyone who is presently believing in Christ has been in the past born of God." This verse teaches that faith is the result and evidence of one's being born again and not the reverse. In other words, we are not born again as the result of faith. Birth precedes the believing. And since we know that God only gives life, the new birth, to those who are his elect, we know that everyone who believes in Christ has in eternity past been chosen by God.
All Christians are called to live a life patterned after Christ, but few do. God calls all believers to be disciples, but few are. As I said last week, I see a distinction in the Scriptures between a Christian and a disciple. A Christian is someone who believes in Christ; a disciple is someone who follows Christ. As we will see, the Thessalonians were disciples because they followed Christ, they modeled Christ.
We pick up our study this morning with verse 6.
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, 1 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV
"You." This is an emphatic contrast to the "we" of vv. 2-5. This highlights the shift of emphasis from the apostolic proclamation to the reception of the message by the Thessalonians.
"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord." What higher compliment could have been given to them? The Greek word for "imitators" is mimetes. It is the word from which we get our English word "mimic" (to mimic or to copy something). What it denotes is an actor, an actor who spends time and energy in studying a character with the view to reproducing it. Paul commands the Ephesians and all believers to do what the Thessalonians were doing—imitating the Lord.
Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1 ESV
"Be imitators of God." The word "be" is a present imperative and has the idea "to become." They are to develop continuously into imitators of Yahweh. The Thessalonians were brand-new Christians but they were already doing this. When people see us, they should see Yahweh.
Speaking about the image of God, N.T. Wright states: "It seems to me that God has put humans like an angled mirror in His world so that God can reflect His love and care and stewardship of the world through humans and so that the rest of the world can praise the creator through humans."
Paul knew the importance of example in teaching others. He told the Corinthians that he was their father in the Gospel and then added:
I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 1 Corinthians 4:16 ESV
Why does he want believers to imitate him? It is because he is imitating Christ.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV
Paul was imitating Christ who was the perfect image of Yahweh. Paul was living out this command that he is giving believers. He was imitating Christ. Notice what he told the Philippians.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 ESV
Basically, Paul is saying, "Do what I do." Can you say to others, "Follow me as I follow Christ"? The constant call to the Christian is to be like Yahweh. It is Yahweh's purpose that each of us reflect the image of our Father.
All humans are God's imagers, but since the fall, only believers who have the Spirit can really do this well. This means that we need to be doing a good job at this because lost man totally bears God's name in vain.
What does this look like practically? As Christians, as children of the heavenly Father, we have a duty to imitate Christ. We are to walk like Christ. If He is compassionate, we as His image bearers are to be compassionate. If He is loving, we are to be loving. If He is holy, we are to be holy. If He is kind, we are to be kind. If He is forgiving, we are to be forgiving.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 ESV
Tenderhearted means "to have genuine concern for another person's well-being. It means being sympathetic to the needs of others." It is the opposite of being calloused. We are to display Him in all that we say and do. This is what it means to imitate Yahweh.
"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord." This shows that Paul's message included discipleship. There was a sense in which Paul personally led these Thessalonian Christians in their spiritual life. They could see his life and were invited to learn from his example.
"For you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit." This begins with an adverbial participle and thus shows how they became imitators of the apostles and their Lord. The emphasis here appears to fall on the condition they were in when they received the message "in much affliction."
As I said earlier, this is evidence of their election ("they received the word"). "Receive" is dechomai which means "to readily receive information and to regard it as true—to receive readily, to accept, to believe." They readily received and believed the message (i.e., "the word." This wasn't the written Word of the New Testament which was not yet in existence, but it was the gospel message of the death burial and resurrection of Yeshua, the second member of the Triune God.
They received the word in the midst of "much affliction." The word "affliction" is from the Greek word thlipsis which means, pressure (literally or figuratively: anguish, burdened, persecution, tribulation, trouble). In its use outside the Bible, thlipsis usually denotes literal pressure, and that of a severe kind. The corresponding verb, for example, was used of pressing the grapes in wine-making till they burst open, and so it metaphorically came to mean very great trouble.
The verse doesn't end with affliction but goes on to say "with the joy of the Holy Spirit." This joy given by the Spirit is so encompassing and complete that it is present and sustaining in the midst of great persecution and pain. It is a joy unaffected by circumstances.
When you think of Christian persecution and suffering, what do you think of? Does joy come to your mind? Probably not, but it should. There is an unmistakable connection in the New Testament between persecution and joy. Notice how the apostles responded to persecution.
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Yeshua, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Yeshua. Acts 5:40-42 ESV
They are severely beaten, and their response is to rejoice. What on earth is wrong with them? How do you describe people whose values are so countercultural that they rejoice over the privilege of being beaten in public? Are they sadomasochists? What else would cause this type of response? Why do they seem so different from us?
Not long before coming to Thessalonica, Paul and Silas personally experienced the principle of having the joy of the Holy Spirit even in the presence of much affliction,
The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, Acts 16:22-25 ESV
They beat them and put them in stocks in the inner prison and yet they sing praises to God. Would this be your response to persecution? Many of the early Christians viewed suffering as a gift from God. They expected persecution and regarded it as a badge of honor.
The theme of "joy in suffering" appears in Jewish literature (2 Bar. 52:6), but the source of this teaching in the New Testament is the Lord himself. Yeshua had prepared His disciples for hardship and persecution when he said:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 ESV
The word "persecuted" appears three times in this section which means that Yeshua was putting great emphasis upon it. The Greek word translated "persecuted" in these verses comes from dioko which means "to pursue" or "chase away." Over time it came to mean "to harass" or "to treat in an evil manner." In the New Testament, it is used of "inflicting suffering on people who hold beliefs that the establishment frowns on," and it is this kind of persecution of which Yeshua speaks here.
The Greek text contains a perfect passive participle. Yeshua’s words could be translated as follows: "Blessed are they who have been willing and continue to be willing to allow themselves to be persecuted." The perfect tense indicates an ongoing attitude; the passive voice speaks of being willing to accept whatever comes as a result of living out Christ's commands.
When Paul led people to Christ, he followed up by encouraging them.
strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:22 ESV
Speaking of his own trials Paul wrote that
. . . we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5 ESV
James encouraged his audience to
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 ESV
Peter wrote to believers suffering horrible persecution under Nero:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV
Now you may be thinking that this persecution was just something that the early church went through, but the joy of these saints in the midst of their tribulations is the same joy that we hear about every Sunday from the persecuted church. Notice what Paul said to Timothy.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Yeshua will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12 ESV
This verse doesn't state that all Christians can expect persecution. What does it say? "All who desire to live godly in Christ Yeshua will be persecuted." It is godliness that brings suffering. When you stand with God and speak out against sins such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriages, and immorality, you are going to suffer for it. Expect it!
Paul assumes that suffering persecution is an essential part of discipleship. It is the consistent emphasis of Scripture that hardships, trials, difficulties, conflicts, and pain are inseparably joined to discipleship. But in the midst of pain, these believers had had great joy. How did they do this? Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so when you are controlled by the Spirit, you will have joy. But the Spirit uses the Word, so we must understand what the Spirit teaches about suffering. This may be hard to grasp, but the Bible teaches that suffering is a gift of God’s grace. Think about that.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, Philippians 1:29 ESV
The verse says, "It has been granted." That is the Greek verb charizomai. It comes from charis which means "grace." So charizomai is grace. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says "Charizomai primarily denotes to show favor or kindness as in Galatians 3:18; to give freely, bestow graciously." Paul is saying that suffering is a gift of God's grace. Do you think of your times of trouble as a "gift" of God's grace? Not likely. And that's our problem—we don't understand that suffering is a gift. God says that it is. Do you believe Him?
"To you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." Paul compares suffering with salvation. Both are grace gifts. Salvation is a gift, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, and so also is suffering. He doesn't say that suffering is punishment or that it is something that has happened to you by chance. God gives suffering as graciously and lovingly as He gives you the faith to believe in His Son.
Suffering is a gift, a privilege. What is a gift? It is something that reveals the giver's love for you; a gift is undeserved, not earned; a gift should cause thankfulness and gratitude. When is the last time you thanked God when you were suffering?
If this is the nature of a gift? How can Paul say that suffering is a gift of God? God’s giving suffering as a gracious gift doesn't make any sense to us. That we should be grateful for it, that it should make us feel honored and blessed, and that we should see it as a manifestation of God's love just doesn't make sense to us. But that is what the Scriptures teach—suffering is a gift of God's grace.
Notice carefully what Paul says 2 Corinthians 1.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV
The word "that" is the Greek word hina. This verse could be translated as "in order that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God." It's a purpose clause. It is during the times of suffering and persecution that we learn to trust in God.
Trials and trouble help us grow because they cause us to turn to God, to trust in Him. All of our problems help us to learn to trust in God. Just as an athlete strengthens his muscles by pushing them to their limits, so God strengthens our faith by pushing its limits. Only trials can do this. Pain has a way of forcing us to clarify where our trust is, doesn't it?
During his relatively short time in Thessalonica, Paul had taught these new believers to expect afflictions because they had been destined for this. He taught
that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 ESV
In light of Scripture, we need to reject the heresy that the gospel brings health and wealth to those who have enough faith. This idea of financial prosperity and miraculous healing from every illness is a false gospel, and those who are duped by it are often unprepared and disappointed when trials hit. They conclude that Christianity must not be true. But Christ’s disciples are to experience the joy of the Holy Spirit as they encounter difficult trials and persecution.
Let’s move on. Verse 7 flows out of the statement of verse 6 as evident in the word, "So that" (hoste points here to an actual result). The result was that they became an example.
so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1 Thessalonians 1:7 ESV
This is the only verse in the New Testament where a congregation is viewed as a model for other churches. This was an exceptional church in the way they responded to persecution. Molded by the example of the Lord, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, they themselves had become a model for others.
"So that you became an example." By responding to the gospel in the midst of persecution as they did, these Thessalonian saints became an example to all believers. Often a believer’s most powerful testimony is evident during times of trial, pain, and persecution. When others see us being crushed under the circumstances of life and see us with an attitude of joy and peace as we trust our Lord, we make an impact on them. People want this kind of peace and joy in life. A Christlike reaction to trials is a powerful factor influencing others to be attracted to Christ himself.
The word "example" here is from the Greek word tupos which means "example or pattern." Its original usage had reference to an impression or mark made by a blow.
This word can sometimes be rendered as "mold." It conveys a pattern of something that has the purpose of reproducing more identical patterns (like a Christmas tree cookie mold is designed to reproduce many Christmas-tree-shaped cookies). Our lives have a purpose beyond ourselves, beyond our own holiness and well-being. We are to become "molds" for others who are not Christians or who are younger Christians than we are. The essence of discipleship is imitation. Unless we are imitators of Christ, we leave false impressions with others as to what Christianity really is. Every one of us is to be an example to others.
The church in Thessalonica was a model Christian community for other congregations.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 ESV
"to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia." Macedonia and Achaia were Roman provinces. Achaia is located within modern Greece; Macedonia is a political state independent of Greece, though they are culturally and economically related.
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV
This verse is an explanation of how the Thessalonians became examples to such a large area. "From you" does not mean "by you." This didn’t happen by their becoming foreign missionaries. Rather, it came by means of their preaching the gospel to sailors and travelers who came in large numbers to their city.
"For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia." The words "sounded forth" is from the Greek word exēcheomai which occurs nowhere else in biblical literature. But its related form, echeō, carries connotations of a loud, resounding noise, whether of ocean waves, howling dogs, the uproar of a crowd or the repeated blowing of trumpets. Stott, notes that echeō can refer also to rolling thunder and to a resounding gong (1 Cor 13:1). It explains that the good news announced by Paul's readers was like "a loud noise, which seemed to reverberate through the hills and valleys of Greece."
"Sounded forth" is a perfect passive indicative which implies that through their joy amidst trials, the gospel "sounded forth and still sounds."
"But your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything." It seems as though Paul saw the Thessalonians as amplifiers who first received the gospel message but then sent it reverberating on its way with increased power and scope, much like an echo in the mountains.
No doubt the wide circulation of their faith was facilitated by Thessalonica's possession of a significant Mediterranean seaport and by its location on the Egnatian Highway, the main road from Rome to the eastern part of the empire. People were going east on the Egnatian Highway to the Orient. They also traveled west on the Egnatian Highway and north from out of the Aegean Sea, bringing their boat in at port there at Thessalonica on their way up into Europe. They were taking ships out of there and going all over the Mediterranean.
"Your faith in God has gone forth everywhere." This is a metaphorical exaggeration or hyperbole. The Bible, being an eastern book, often uses figurative language. We need to be careful of western literalism.
I think that the point is that the gospel went forth from the Thessalonians, not only into Macedonia and Achaia everywhere.
"So that we need not say anything." People were telling Paul how effective the Thessalonians had become at spreading the gospel ever since they had heard it from him. They were so effective at this that Paul felt his ministry of pioneer evangelism was no longer necessary in that area.
When a group of Christians faces trials with joyous faith, unbelievers take notice because it is an amazing exception to the way the unbelieving world faces suffering.