You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 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, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 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. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-10
In the passage above, the believers in Thessalonica are being commended for their faith in responding to the word that was preached with power, the Spirit, and conviction (1:5a). The theme of this section is that the consequences of their faith had reverberating effects locally, nationally, and internationally. Not only was their faith not kept in isolation, it wasn’t unique to them, rather it followed a pattern set down by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. By following the example set before them, they became a pattern in and of themselves for others to follow. At its heart, this replicating effect of the gospel is the nature of discipleship.
Writing under divine inspiration, Paul begins his commendation of the Thessalonians by highlighting the fact of their imitation of him, his fellow gospel ministers, and more importantly, the Lord. This pattern is alluded to in verse 5b, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” where the character of the messengers validated the quality of the message. The godly character displayed to the Thessalonians in the face of affliction over the course of the trio’s several month ministry served to establish a pattern of faith, obedience, and holiness for them to imitate and they did just that, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” The idea of imitation is literally to mimic, or to copy. We might say they were gospel copycats of the pattern that was shown to them. The foundation for this pattern of both Paul, his co-laborers, as well as the Thessalonians was the Lord Himself. His obedience unto death blazes the trail and establishes the pattern for all those who would take His yoke upon them and learn from Him. Practically, the Thessalonians were spiritually downstream of the men who had preached the gospel to them and patterned a life of godliness, but these men were themselves simply downstream of the Lord. The headwaters for the pattern of faith, and faith itself, is The Founder and Perfecter of our faith, The Apostle and High Priest, The Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-3; .
This pattern of follow the leader is not unique to this letter, rather the Apostle Paul elsewhere makes a similar exhortation for believers to follow him, in so far as he is following Christ:
- 1 Cor. 4:16
- 1 Cor. 11:1
- Eph. 5:1
- 1 Thess. 2:14
- Heb. 6:12
Part of the pattern, specific to the Thessalonians, was the reception of the gospel with joy, in spite of the circumstances of affliction. Certainly Paul, Silas, and Timothy provided an example for both gospel proclamation and gospel obedience, but in addition to that, they modeled how to live a God-honoring life in the face of persecution. Recall that in Acts 17, the trio were in Thessalonica preaching the gospel, resulting in the conversion of a “great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” But this caused the Jews to be jealous and incite a riot, a riot which led to the incarceration of Jason and the exile of Paul and Silas to Berea. It is therefore within reason that since one of their own, Jason, as well as Paul, Silas and Timothy, were persecuted for the Gospel, those who remained in Thessalonica who had embraced the message of the gospel, likewise had been afflicted by persecution. This pattern of imitating the reception of the gospel with joy in the face of affliction is further emphasized in 1 Thessalonians 2:14,
“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews….”
Often, in various ways, shapes, and forms, the gospel is accompanied by affliction (Acts 9:16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”). But the Thessalonians were more than just imitators, they were replicators, “so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” Expanding on this, in verse 8 we read
“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.”
Not only did those who believed in Thessalonica become imitators of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and our Lord, but they became examples themselves. Their embrace of the gospel became a pattern for others. Additionally, the “word of the Lord” literally echoed or reverberated from them first locally, then nationally, then internationally. In summation, this is the pattern of discipleship. Let’s review it for the sake of clarity.
The gospel was preached by our Lord, fulfilled by His coming, and ratified by His death, resurrection, and ascension. Paul had heard of it first hand from our Lord. Presumably Silas and Timothy had heard it second hand, but all three were witnesses to its truthfulness. More than that, they followed the pattern given them, whether from Christ directly as in Paul’s case, or from others who ministered the gospel to them. Further, they became examples for others to follow, in so far as they were following the example of Christ. The Thessalonians likewise embraced Christ and began sharing His gospel through proclamation and their life that accompanied it. In turn, they became a pattern to those in Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond. This. Is. Discipleship. It is the pattern of faith that must be replicated if the gospel is to spread locally, in our own neighborhoods and cities, to nationally, and internationally. It began with Christ, continued with 3 men, spread nationally, then internationally. This is how the whole world gets turned upside down (Acts 17:6).