The Merit of Being a Model (1 Thess 1:7-10)

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Being a model is different than being an imitator. An imitator studies to be like another, a model is something that is set up as an example to be examined. When a new tract of homes is being built, the builder will finish one house first and use it as a “model home.” This means that the people trying to sell houses that are not built yet take people through the house to show them what the rest of the houses are going to look like. A model house has to be perfect, people are going to be examining it closely, looking for faults and potential problems, looking for reasons to either buy the house or reject the house.

The Christian is to be a model, spiritually speaking. The life of a believer is an open book, the non believer looks us over and examines us, sometimes looking for faults and problems, and many times decides to accept or reject Christ based on us. Is this fair? Yes, because we are told in scripture that we are to be an imitator of Christ. The Thessalonian church understood they were a model, even though they were not perfect. Paul commends them for several things they did well:

First, the spread the gospel in their region. This is certainly evangelism, although we are not sure the extent of their evangelism. The regions mentioned are the immediate area around the city of Thessalonica, they may have spread the gospel to their immediate neighbors. Paul says that the Lord’s Message “rang out.” This word is only found here, and has the idea of a ringing sound that goes out all around the source of the noise, a trumpet or thunder strike are examples.

Second, Paul praises the church for their hospitality towards him. You can tell a lot about someone my the kind of welcome they give you when you visit, it can be a warm friendly welcome, or cold and distant. Paul received a warm, inviting welcome, and they treated him with respect and honor. This was not always the case with Paul’s ministry, his reception in Athens, for example, was quite cold, and there were only a few converts there. On his return trip to Corinth we are not told what kind of reception he might have had, but clearly it would have been difficult at best.

Third, they turned from idols to serve God. This line indicates that the readers were Gentiles, since Jews would not have had to turned from idols. The rejection of idolatry would have been a cultural break for the people, in some places Paul founded churches religion was the main industry. The church was a model in their repentance, they accepted Christ and were able to make difficult breaks away from things that were not compatible with a life in Christ.

Last, they were waiting for the return of the Lord. The church was a model in their waiting, meaning that they were eagerly expecting the return of the Lord, and for the most part they were living properly in the light of a soon appearing of Jesus Christ. Even though they are praised at this point, Paul will have to correct several problem ideas that the people developed from emphasizing the return of Jesus a bit too much.

How were they a “model Church?” The Church had a reputation that was known by other churches. This can cut both was, some churches have reputations that are not good, and every knows about “that” church….The Thessalonian’s church had a good reputation, and everyone know about these things Paul has shared.

The Church was a model in their service for the Lord. Both in the doing of evangelism and hospitality towards those that give the Gospel, the church was a model, the other churches should be so interested in the preaching of the gospel as the Thessalonians church.

The Church was a model in their doctrine. There are problems in the church, but compared to the problems in Corinth or the Galatian churched, Thessalonica was a church that held to the teachings of Paul, so much so that Paul has to write them and clarify a few things he taught while he was there.

How is your church doing? What would Paul boast about if he wrote a letter to you?

Imitators of Christ

I am at West Coast Grace Youth Camp, teaching in a college program intended to help people become comfortable with camp ministry. I started by discussing the somewhat obvious fact that the cam counsellor is a model of the faith to younger campers. This is my conclusion from this morning’s session.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 Paul praises his readers because they have become imitators of both Paul and the Lord. Imitation of a model was considered to be a form of flattery in the the Roman world, so it is not surprising that Paul would expect his disciples to imitate him. While most people in contemporary culture would be put off by a teacher offering himself as a model of spirituality to be imitated, this was a normal practice in Paul’s day.

Imitation is important because we are command several times in scripture to imitate a model. Paul praises a church for imitating him in 1 Thess 1:3-5 and in Phil 3:10 he presses on toward the goal of Christ-likeness. The very name “Christian” implies that the follower of Jesus are to be “little Christs.”

Understanding imitation is also important because most people imitate some role model anyway. It is natural for humans to gravitate toward someone they respect and imitate they way they speak or the way they act. Think about someone from the “north” who spends a little time in the “south.” Most people start to pick up the accent, even if they do not notice t until they return home and everyone hears the accent. (You can use whatever country you like here, every part of the world has a South with different accents!)

I think that humans are imitators by nature. Children imitate their parents or older brothers and sisters. Kids imitate their favorite sports stars when the play a sport, Musicians often betray an “influence” (how many “new Bob Dylans” have their been?) If we naturally imitate others, we have to make sue that we are imitating the right model. I think that imitation should be intentional. People ought to choose a proper model and use them as a guide to developing their spiritual life. We do this for learning and instrument or perfecting a sport – why is it that we try and be total individualists when it comes to developing spiritual life?

A third reason that imitation is important is that Christians are also constantly modeling their faith to others. People watch and learn whether you like it or not. This too is a biblical model for discipleship. The disciples of Jesus were to be models for later disciples, Paul appointed Timothy and Titus and expected them to model their fait to the churches where the served. So too then the individual Christian imitates a mature role model and then model their faith to others. This chain of model and imitation creates a chain of tradition, which can be good or bad.

The challenge is to be a model worth following.