This is the second post in a series going through the book of 1 Thessalonians. See the first post here.
" 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, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 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. 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, 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 1:6-10
Happy Sunday everyone!
As I said last week this week's reading is elaborating on the last phrase of last's weeks verses "You know kind of men we have been proved to be for your sake." The next phrase picks this up saying "and you became imitators of us and the Lord." I admit when I read passages in Epistles where Paul says to imitate him I feel a little uncomfortable mainly because I can't ever imagine saying that about myself, commending people to imitate me. At the same time, I have imitated Christ-like love and behavior I've seen emanating from others and I have also been very pleased when people have said something along the lines of having seen Christ in me and therefore following my example. So I suppose it's not that different and perhaps as we all get farther along in our faith we might feel comfortable saying such a phrase to a baby Christian? At the same time as I looked over this passage with the idea of presenting it to you, I also think how in a way it's a humble phrase in that the men were saying that the Thessalonians know what kind of men they have proved to be, and then say that the Thessalonians have been imitators of them. In this way any positive phrase or thought the Thessalonians may be attributing to Paul, Silvanus and Timothy when they heard the previous phrase has now been turned and applied to the Thessalonians again.
And of course I do not mean to diminish or forget the ever important addition of "and the Lord." Imitating the Lord, however, is not a phrase that makes me uncomfortable so I feel it needed less elaboration, though it can be hard to execute of course and it is our lifelong journey.
So what does this imitation look like? "for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit" Honestly that's the wowser for a lot of modern Christians, if you really think this through. These scripture authors and godly men are telling us that imitating them and the Lord looks like receiving the word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit. That is joyful suffering for the gospel is what they recognize as following Christ. This makes me ask myself and ask you, when did you last have affliction for the word? And did you receive that affliction with joy, or did your Self groan and complain? I know the convicting answer for myself is all too often the latter. I have a lot of maturing to do.
I'll take the next bit together, as I think they very much build on each other. "so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 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" When these Thessalonians became suffered joyfully for the word they came an example not only in Thessalonia, but throughout their region, and even "sounded forth" everywhere. I do not know for sure if they mean everywhere as in the known inhabited world of the time, the known Church, or even if Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy were referring to a spiritual awareness that their faith's effects were rebounding through eternity and heavenly places. Due to them specifying the geographical locations of Macedonia and Achaia I think it's quite possible to be both interpretations, that is, that it spread both geographically within the specified region, and spiritually had much father scope.
I actually started the last paragraph including this last phrase with the previous, but was struck as I read it with thoughts that made me want to give it its own space for reflection. "so that we need not say anything" I know this is something I struggle with and something God and I are working on. Too often we elaborate or try to add on to something God is saying through us or others in their works and witnessing, when really we need to let that speak for itself so the Spirit's voice can be loudest in people's hearts.
"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, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." I imagine the Church in Thessalonica being read these phrases and smiling shyly to themselves to know that their neighbors are praising them. How joyful and humbling to know that you're known for turning from idols and waiting on the Lord! I'm guessing the churches in Macedonia and Achaia probably aren't telling them this directly, or even if they are they probably didn't realize that it was being spread far and wide enough that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy would have gotten wind of it.
This is all still part of the intro, but it's transitioning into more of the bulk of the letter...
The next part, week three, can be found here.
Linking up with Living Proverbs 31, Fellowship Fridays.