People imitated Paul because Paul imitated Christ Jesus. There is no doubt that we must put our trust only on God. But as we live in this wilderness, we come across true men of God who follow the Way of Christ. Since we see such men of God, we can imitate their way of life because they imitate Christ. But we must know the Way of Christ first. Only then can we identify rightly the true men of God and imitate them, or else there is always a chance that we might follow a way which is not Christ’s way. Let us turn our attention to the epistle of 1 Thessalonians 1:6, ‘and you became imitators of us and of the Lord.’ Paul and his fellow workers did not preach the Gospel in mere words, but also demonstrated it with power of the Holy Spirit with full confidence. That’s why we see transformation in the lives of the people in Thessalonians. In the midst of many afflictions, they embraced Gospel, turned from Idols and started serving living and true God. These gentiles became the imitators of Paul and his companions. What was that good quality which inspired these new-comers? For that, let us read 1 Thess 1:3, ‘remembering before our God and Father your WORK OF FAITH and LABOR OF LOVE and PATIENCE OF HOPE.’ They imitated mainly three things : working in faith, laboring out of love and staying in patience of hope. Let us go through these points, one by one and see whether we can also imitate these good qualities.
WORK OF FAITH:
1 Thess. 2:2, ‘ But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.’
The first thing they learned from Paul and companions is their work of faith. Though they suffered mentally and physically in Philippi, their faith in God took them to Thessalonica. They did not turn back, but declared the Gospel of God with power, in the Holy Spirit and with complete knowledge. That’s why their effort did not go in vain. Gospel of Jesus Christ transformed many Idol worshippers to God worshippers. Thessalonians saw the work of faith in Paul and companions. They could work because of their faith in God. In other words, if they had no faith in God, they could not have worked. So it was their confidence in God that made them to work in the midst of much conflict. Verse 9 clears this, my dear friends; ‘you surely haven’t forgotten our hard work and hardships. You remember how night and day we struggled to make a living, so we could tell you God’s message without being a burden to anyone.’ God’s message was more important than getting extra penny. They did not want to hinder the message of God among people. That’s why they did not demand any help, although they had all the right to do that as the Apostles of Christ. Paul tells this in verse 7. He could have demanded help but again, we see their faith in Him who had sent them to do the work. They didn’t have any hidden motives. They did not try to fool or trick anyone. They didn’t speak to please people but to please God, who knew their motives. Their motive was to win souls for Christ. So they worked hard without expecting anything from the people. They lived by faith in God. Dear brethren, if you are a true child of God, there will be conflicts and loneliness. But it is our trust in God that helps you and me to carry out the work of God. It is hard to work in the midst of conflicts, when things around you frustrate you. But at the end, when we lean on Him, we will get great strength to carry out His work…work done by faith in God. When our faith increases, our work out of faith in Him also increases. What a lesson to follow…. right? He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it. Work without faith is as dead as faith without work . Faith is the base that gives power to work. The believers of Thessalonica followed Paul and the Lord. They become an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia by spreading the Gospel throughout Greece and beyond. In fact their faith in God become known everywhere. It is one thing to follow God but it is another thing that others should also follow. If we are true followers of God, then we should encourage others to follow us just like we follow God.
LABOR OF LOVE:
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, ‘But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our ourselves because you have become very dear to us.’
Thessalonians learned from Paul and his companions that the preaching of gospel was not just some target that they needed to accomplish, but it was their way of love. Paul did not just preach the Gospel and travel to a different city. Instead, he gave himself to the work wholly. He labored hard, fought with the beasts, endured shame, encouraged and exhorted them, cried and prayed for them, taught them etc. If we ask Paul why he labored in such a way, he would say that it was the love of Christ that compelled him to labor. When love for our Lord increases, our labour also increases. Jesus had compassion on people. Paul loved people. If we love God, then only we can labor for him and if we love people, then only we can labor for them. There is a difference between a mother and caretaker. A mother will take care of her child out of love, but caretakers do it because they get salary. A mother can even go hungry to feed her child. She can spend sleepless nights, take pain and labor with patience out of love because she bore her children. Paul was the spiritual father of Thessalonians. So he exhorted, encouraged and charged each one of them to walk in a manner worthy of God. Love is the base that helps you and me to labor for Christ. Thessalonians not only learned to labor out of love, but they also practiced it. 1 Thess 4:10,..’ and you have shown your love for all his people in Macedonia, but my dear friends, we ask you to do even more.’
PATIENCE OF HOPE:
Paul not only preached the crucifixion of Christ, but also spoke about His resurrection. That’s why in the midst of great affliction and rejection, he could wait and not drift away from what he had received. He had kept his hope on Jesus Christ. This was imitated by the Thessalonians. Hope is the base that helps us to stay in power. We wait for a person whom we know. Our patience to wait for that person is based on this knowledge. Paul and his companions had kept their hope in Jesus. Their hope was that Christ would come back and their afflictions would end. If Christ had not resurrected, our faith and labor would be useless. Christ was resurrected. This confirms our resurrection. They had put their hope in crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. Thessalonians learnt the reason behind why Paul and companions were working and laboring without expecting anything from them. It was because of their hope in Christ Jesus. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of archangel and the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Let us work with faith, labor with love and wait patiently with hope of coming of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. God bless you.