Followers of Us
* This teaching is an Advanced study from God’s Magnified Word published by The American Christian Press in 1977.
The Apostle Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians tells a dynamic story. The church at Thessalonica was a living, faithful church, one who stood by Paul and labored lovingly as they waited hopefully for the return of Christ. Because the Thessalonian church believed God's Word as it was taught to them by Paul and remained faithful to it, this church became an example to other churches in that region of Asia Minor. What did the believers in Thessalonica do to become an example for others to model themselves after? The founding of the Thessalonian church is told in Acts 17.
Now when they [Paul and Silas] had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures. -- Acts 17: 1 and 2
Paul's manner gave his listeners time to consider his words for he spent three Sabbaths in the synagogue reasoning with them from the Scriptures. Have you ever done a job and you were in a hurry? Nine out of ten times, when you rush a job, you screw it up. It’s happened to me time and time again. Consider what you are doing and take your time. Paul did this as he taught the Word of God as in Thessalonica and everywhere he taught. He gave the believers 3 days to absorb what he was teaching. It’s tremendous.
Acts 17: 3-6:
Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you is Christ.
And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also. -- Acts 17: 3-6
This scripture about turning the world upside down is one I always have in my mind when I talk about God's Word turning the world right side up. The world was already upside down and topsy-turvy when Paul came with the greatness of God's Word to Thessalonica. He turned it upside down, which simply means he got it right side up as it ought to have been. We can do the same.
Acts 17: 7-11:
[Paul and Silas] Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.
And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. -- Acts 17: 7-11
When men of God such as Paul and Silas ran into trouble with people who were not appreciating God's Word, they simply moved on to another area, always looking for people who would receive the Word of God with all readiness of mind and study the Word to make sure they were being taught God's truth. This is a lesson for all of us. Share the Word with people who are receiving. If the person doesn’t turn on, politely excuse yourself and move on. Don’t waste your time with the goats.
Acts 17: 12-15:
Therefore many of them [of Berea] believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.
And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed. – Acts 17: 12-15
With all the havoc that the Jews at Thessalonica were stirring up, it shows how steadfast and convinced the believers in that place had to have been. When we understand these circumstances and activities of the unbelievers in Thessalonica, we can more fully appreciate the context in which Paul wrote to the church there. Look now at the beginning of the letter to the church at Thessalonica.
I Thessalonians 1: 1
Paul, and Silvanus [Silas], and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This salutation in itself is filled with wonderful truths. The word "in" after “Thessalonians" is the Greek word en, which here should be translated "by." The only way you ever have a church in Thessalonica or any other place is by God the Father, by what God does in the lives of people. The Church then and now is by God the Father because we are His sons. We are also by the Lord Jesus Christ because it is by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and confessing with our mouth Jesus as Lord and believing that God raised him from the dead, that we are born again. What a tremendous greeting to the church of Thessalonica.
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. -- Romans 10: 9 and 10
The salutation continues, " ... Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." The first thing Paul tells the church is that it is an age of grace, not good works, but grace. The grace, divine favor, charis, is what gives us the peace spoken of in I Thessalonians 1: 1. People who try to work for salvation are never peaceful; they are miserable. There is nothing more wonderful than to have God's grace and be at peace within yourself: you're not disturbed on the inside; you just know that you know that you know that you are at peace with God. That's what the Word says and that's what it means and that's what gives us peace.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers. – I Thessalonians 1: 2
Paul gave thanks to God because he knew that it was by God's grace that there was a church in Thessalonica. Giving "thanks to God always" does not mean he was praying one hundred percent of the time; it simply means that every time they (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) thought of the Thessalonians, they thanked God for them. The word "for" in this verse is the word para which means to give thanks to God "along with" you; in other words "I give thanks to God," Paul says, "while you are thanking God, too, in Thessalonica."
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith [believing], and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father. – I Thessalonians 1: 3
The words "without ceasing" in this verse are literally "with careful attention and perseverance." Obviously, the expression "without ceasing" cannot mean "all the time without stopping." We have to sleep and eat sometimes, and take care of other matters. Paul is telling the church at Thessalonica that he is remembering with careful attention, with perseverance, "your work of [genitive of origin, 'proceeding from'] faith [pistis, believing] .... " Paul looked at the church in Thessalonica and he could see the work that was being accomplished as a result of their believing. That's why he prayed for them with careful attention and perseverance.
"Labour of love, and patience of hope" literally is "loving labor and hopeful patience of our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is talking about their work proceeding from believing and their loving labor and hopeful patience waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ. The hope relates itself to something that could not be had then, but which they were looking forward to in the future, as recorded later in this epistle.
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? -- I Thessalonians 2: 19
They looked for Christ's return, just as we do. This is acting out of hope, anticipating that which has not yet occurred.
That is why Paul calls the labor of the Thessalonian church "loving
labor with hopeful patience." They
labored lovingly, holding forth God's Word proceeding from their believing,
hoping for the return of Christ. This is
exactly what we do today. This record is
as timely as if it had been written today.
Immediately upon this reference to the
hope, Paul reminds them of their sonship.
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. -- I Thessalonians 1: 4
Why are they beloved? Because they have grace, they have been begotten of God, they are His children and therefore are beloved. The word "election" simply means "chosen." Colossians 3: 12 tells us “Put on therefore, as the elect of God [the chosen of God] .... " God called us and in His foreknowledge He knew who would hear and accept. We were chosen by God Almighty who created the heavens and the earth; who set the stars in their courses; who chose us before the foundation of the world. When we fully realize the greatness of being the elect, the called, the chosen of God, we readily accept what God says we are in Him.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also [kai] in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. – I Thessalonians 1: 5
Greek always places the word "also," koi, before the word it emphasizes. A consistent English translation would place it after the word it emphasizes, so this verse actually reads, "Our gospel came to you not only in Word, but in power also and in the holy spirit." The gospel came unto them not only in word, but also in power, because the power was in the pneuma hagion, the holy spirit, God's gift in manifestation.
Anybody can talk about the gospel, but that is not the criterion for the truth of God's Word. There must be signs, miracles, and wonders along with the spoken Word or the talk is just talk. An example of what happens when the Word is preached is recorded in Acts 8.
Acts 8: 5 and 6
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
The people in Samaria believed Philip's teaching, because they heard and saw the miracles which Philip did. In I Thessalonians Paul talked about these same kinds of signs, miracles, and wonders when he says, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance .... " The assurance that Paul gave them in this verse is the full assurance of the understanding to the end that they acknowledged the mystery.
That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ. -- Colossians 2: 2
That assurance is the full assurance of the mystery: God in Christ in you, the fullness of the gift of holy spirit.
In I Thessalonians chapter I Paul continues reminding the Thessalonians of how they had accepted God's Word.
And ye became followers [mimetes, imitators] of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction [in the midst of much affliction] with joy of the Holy Ghost. – I Thessonians 1: 6
The word "followers" is the Greek word mimetes from which we get the word "mimic" in English. It means "imitators." Of course, here it is used in a very positive sense of copying or modeling oneself after someone else. Be careful doing this.
The people became imitators of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and thus of the Lord. Why? Because that is a human reaction. People watch and imitate people. They look at us and how we present ourselves, how we act, what we say, how we dress. If you are going to catch fish, put good bait on the hook; if you are going to hold forth the Word of God, put on and act the Word. People have to see it in your face, your walk, your whole manner. You can't tell them, "Don't look at us; look at the Lord Jesus Christ." They can't see the Lord Jesus Christ, but they can see you. When Peter and John were going to the temple, according to Acts 3, and they had the revelation to deliver the cripple at the Gate Beautiful, the first thing Peter said to the man was, "Look on us." They first had to get the man's attention, just as we have to get people's attention by holding forth the greatness of God's Word with all our personality, our drive, our conviction, and our distinctive appeal to make the beauty of that Word live.
As people get into the truth of God's Word, it takes time for them to jell its greatness to the point that they walk on it. They need time to mature in God's household and in the knowledge of His Word. In doing this they are to imitate the examples set by the men and women of God who are responsible to lead them. This does not mean that we take on our leaders' idiosyncrasies and faults. It means that as we learn principles in God's Word, we imitate those men and women as we see them practice the truth. It is a family learning situation, a growing experience. We learn from those who have been practicing the principles of God's Word longer than we have. In doing this we become more and more perfected in His Word. We become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. In turn, as God's children, we become more and more like our Heavenly Father, for we are learning to walk in the perfection to which He has called us. That is the pattern. We imitate the lives of those whom God has set in His household as leaders and overseers. They then imitate the Lord Jesus Christ by walking faithfully on God's Word. As all of us do this, we are imitating the source of that Word, God. Paul sets this pattern of imitation very clearly in the first letter to the Corinthians.
I Corinthians 4: 15-17:
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers [mimetes, imitators] of me.
For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church. -- I Corinthians 4: 15-17
As the man of God, Paul had fathered the Corinthians in the Word. He had taught them the Word and was their example. Therefore they were to imitate him. They could do this as Timothy, who was faithful in the Lord, brought to their remembrance Paul's ways in Christ. It was those ways in Christ that they were to imitate. Paul mentions their
imitating him again later in I Corinthians.
Be ye followers [mimetes, imitators] of me, even as I also am of Christ. -- I Corinthians 11: 1
Paul imitated Christ as he walked steadfastly on God's Word. Because of his walk and his ministry, Paul was able to crystallize these great truths in Philippians.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. -- Philippians 4: 9
As more and more people grew up to serve in positions of leadership in spreading God's truth, they also were acknowledged as great examples of the Word. They were faithful to God's Word; they imitated Paul as well as others who were living God's Word, then they in turn became examples to the Church.
In speaking of following other people's examples, there is a record in God's Word where an entire church in one area was told to imitate the churches in another area.
For ye, brethren, became followers [mimetes, imitators] of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus .... -- I Thessalonians 2: 14a
Why did the church in Thessalonica imitate the churches in Judea? Because in both places the churches had undergone similar experiences of persecution, and both were "in Christ Jesus." Yet it was the churches in Judea, which had lived God’s Word for a longer period of time and that set the example.
All of these great principles are pointed to one goal: that we, by living God's Word faithfully, will be imitators of God.
Be ye therefore followers [mimetes, imitators] of God, as dear children. -- Ephesians 5: 1
What a wonderful truth! In an earthly family the children imitate the ways of their parents. As God's children we are to imitate Him. Because God is Spirit and cannot be seen, we can only do this by living the greatness of His Word. Only one person has ever done this perfectly, and that was the Lord Jesus Christ. He imitated God by perfectly carrying out God's Word. More and more we too can learn to walk that same way. God has given us a tremendous family in which to do it. We imitate those followers of Christ who are maturely applying and living this walk. While doing this, we continually study God's Word, put it on in our minds, and live it. As the Word prevails in our lives, we walk in unity in the abundance of His Word as "imitators of God" our Father.
According to I Thessalonians 1: 6, the church in Thessalonica had received God's Word in spite of the many afflictions that we read about in Acts 17. They remained faithful to the truth they had been taught by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Now watch what happened.
So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
For from you sounded out [echoed] the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith [believing] to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. -- I Thessalonians 1: 7 and 8
Paul said there was no need to say anything further about their believing because everyone knew that they were examples. Because of the example of their believing, they sounded forth the Word of the Lord in every place. It was spread abroad. Certainly, there was some persecution, some affliction, but the Word was spread abroad because the people in Thessalonica believed and held it forth. Thessalonican believers had matured and therefore Thessalonica had become a major center for the Church.
For they [those places which heard God's Word because of the Thessalonian church] themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. – I Thessalonians 1: 9
Paul and his helpers had turned the Thessalonians from idols to serve the living and true God. Anything we put before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is an idol. Only holding forth the greatness of God's Word will turn people from their idols "to serve the living and true God."
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. – I Thessalonians 1: 10
Even with all the believing that turns people from their idols to the true God, we still wait with hope, waiting for His son from heaven whom He raised from the dead. As great as life is when we believe God's Word now; it will be even greater when Christ returns to gather us.
Some people propound that we have to go through the Revelation Period with all of the tribulation and wrath of that time before Christ will return. But verse 10 plainly tells us that we are delivered from the wrath to come. That is God's unchangeable truth. Even Christians who say they are going through the tribulations and destruction of the Revelation Period are not going through it because the Word says they have already been delivered from it. The light afflictions of our time don't even slow us down because we are delivered and because we have joy in the holy spirit. We have the "sure" hope.
The church in Thessalonica stood strong. And as they stood strong, their influence reached out over that whole section of Asia Minor. They became rooted in this wonderful Word; they declared it with boldness, with loving labor, and with hopeful patience as they waited for the return of the Lord.
We can live victoriously when we become imitators of the Lord Jesus
Christ and imitators of men and women of God who both talk and live the
greatness of God's wonderful Word. We
are followers of the one true way. As we
look for the Lord Jesus Christ and wait for his return, the glory of the Lord
will become written on our faces, our
souls, our whole lives. He will become reflected by our entire, dynamic beings.