And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedo'nia and in Acha'ia. (RSV)
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1 NASB)
It is very natural for people to imitate others. I’ve found myself picking up habits from other people, whether it is a mannerism or the way I talk. Sometimes, I’m very surprised when I notice it, especially when the person I picked it up from is not necessarily a person I admire. If I do this, then I’m fairly confident other do the same. While these mannerisms are usually amoral, I have to be careful that I don’t pick up a sinful habit from someone and even worse, not notice it.
We have all been warned about putting religious leaders on a pedestal because they are likely to fall and bring us down along with them. When Paul says that the Thessalonians became imitators of him and his companions, he wasn’t suggesting that they had put them on a pedestal. Look at what he told the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:1). What they were imitating in Paul was what he imitated in Christ. We can safely imitate Christ. When people’s lives look Christ-like, we can safely imitate them.
If you don’t know what a Christ-like life looks like, then you should read the Gospels. A good idea would be to focus on the Sermon on the Mount and see how Jesus lived it. A key in imitating Jesus would be “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). Rather than being servants, some like to justify their anger by pointing to Jesus’ confrontations with people. Before we excuse our un-Christ-like behavior based on some of Christ’s confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes (Matt 23:13-38) or when He cleansed the temple (John 2:15-17), we need to understand who Jesus is and the sin he confronted. James clarified it for us regarding anger, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (James 1:20 ESV).
I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. (Ps 119:75-76 NIV®)
In my previous blog, I talked about the affliction that comes because the Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers and they react against us because we are the messengers. We live in a sinful world and when we try to live godly lives, we certainly face affliction (2 Tim 3:12). However, affliction doesn’t always come for this reason. Sometimes, when the Word of God comes to us we have to make decisions about our lifestyle, work, hobbies, friends, or attitudes. It isn’t easy to change some of these things. Change often brings afflictions such as loss of income. In some cultures, it may result in threat of death resulting in banishment. Sometimes it results in spousal abandonment. These and many more, sometimes subtle, and sometimes blatant, are not uncommon.
Some of these afflictions are allowed or caused by God for purification to draw us closer to Himself. Look at the way David responded to affliction in his life (Ps 119:75-76). He saw it as God’s faithfulness. How many times have we had a problem and saw it as God being faithful to us? I’m not talking about an accident that destroyed your car but you walked away from it without injury. While we can be thankful for that, I’m talking about still recognizing that God is faithful even when lying in the hospital bed because the accident brought severe injuries and maybe even death of a loved one. Is it possible for us to say with David that it is a result of God’s faithfulness? Some can and some can’t. David didn’t necessarily feel good about his affliction, but he asked for God’s unfailing love to comfort him during the affliction.
Think about the man born blind in John 9. Did he consider his affliction of many years as a show of God’s faithfulness? His affliction had a purpose, “so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 NASU). Like this man, we may not see the purpose behind the affliction until years or even a lifetime later. If we learn to trust the Lord then we can be an imitator of David knowing that our affliction is a demonstration of God’s faithfulness.
For you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. (Heb 10:34 NKJV)
As often as we talk about wanting to see Jesus when we get to heaven, and I’m sure that should be our primary motivation, Jesus often talked about looking forward to other rewards in heaven as well (Matt 6:19-21). Whoever the author of Hebrews was, it is evident from 10:34 that those who assisted him did so at great risk to their own property and possibly their lives. Yet they did it with joy. When we start talking about imitating people, do we include those who have given up treasures on earth to further the Gospel or help others in need? If we are not confident of our rewards in eternity far outweighing our light and momentary troubles (2 Cor 4:16-18), we won’t have joy when we lose what we have on earth. Not only that, because we have held on to the things of this world so strongly, our joy in heaven will not be nearly what it could have been had we been less concerned with our material possessions (1 Cor 3:15).
Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. (1 Tim 4:12 NLT)
When imitating other in good ways, we will become examples for others. That is exactly what happened with the Thessalonians. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he was writing to a young man. It was certain that in his culture, younger people had less of a say and impact on other than did the older citizens. But he emphasize that the way he lived would set an example for others. That example had five point of influence that others will notice.
Our first impression of others is in what they say and how they say it. What comes out of our mouths is what is stored up in our hearts (Matt 15:18). If we speak encouraging word, words with grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6), then our example will be godly because our hearts are in the right place. If we speak with bitterness or vulgarities, the first impression will turn away people. It will be easy for them to recognize that our hearts have a problem.
The second example is how we live. Many people live lives that appear to be very godly on the outside. They make all the outward right choices. They are strict disciplinarians and hold their outward behavior in conformance to the standards they espouse. This is the essence of the Pharisees’ lives described in Matthew 23. Their problem was that the third and fourth example of love and faith were missing. However, we should still make sure that our lives are not filled with “immorality or any impurity or greed … filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting,” things that should not be named among Christians (Eph 5:3-4 NASB).
While we may live exemplary moral lives, we can do it without really loving others. Jesus pointed this out in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus pointed to a priest and a Levite who both refused to help the beaten man, most likely because it would have caused problems with their ritual purity. The story was told to a scribe who knew the two greatest laws, to love God and neighbor (Matt 22:36-40). Even though this scribe knew what was right, his heart was not in the right place because, “desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29 RSV). Our example of moral living must also be accompanied by love for others.
The fourth example we need to provide is a life of faith. What good does it do us or others who are watching us, if we speak well, keep our noses clean, show love and compassion for other, but we don’t have true faith in God? I said the Pharisees were lacking in faith. They rejected Jesus as the Son of God. People who have religion but do not place their faith in Jesus are simply lost. Jesus made it clear, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23 ESV). Our faith must be firmly rooted in the deity of Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection. It must be personal as well (Matt 7:23). We can’t just know about Jesus, we must know Him. Otherwise, we will simply be good people who are going to hell. We can’t be good examples if people don’t know about our faith in Jesus.
Paul singled out purity as an example. The Greek word for purity is hagneia and relates not just to cleanliness but “(specially) chastity.” I thought purity was sufficiently covered under the way we live. Then I realized that people can claim to have all the previous quality and still live impure lives. Today’s culture demonstrates this all too well. Whether it is the massive use of pornography among Christians, couple living together, or whole churches that teach the virtues of homosexuality, sexual purity is an example that is much needed.
The Thessalonians were such good examples to the people around them that believers in neighboring districts to the north and to the south took note of them. I pray that our churches would imitate Jesus and be examples in the same way.
 Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, s.v. “NT: 47”, (Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc. 2006).