“And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit…”
Paul first shows God’s work among the Thessalonians by describing the integrity with which the gospel team came to Thessalonica. Now he turns to verifying God’s work among the Thessalonians themselves.
And you became followers of us
The first evidence of God’s work among the Thessalonians as new believers is that they imitated their spiritual fathers. They even went beyond that in imitating the Lord (1 Peter 2:21).
The word “followers” means imitators, emulators. This emulation goes beyond mechanically imitating the gospel team. These new Christians saw the essence of this gospel team in how they lived under the power of God and the dynamics of the Holy Spirit (v.5). The Thessalonians followed the character and commitment of the gospel team, not their personalities or charisma.
The example of the gospel team made a powerful impression on the church at Thessalonica. This new church watched the team as they confronted opposition under the power of the Holy Spirit.
“For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17).
Paul did not want the Thessalonians or any other group he started to imitate him without qualification. He wanted them to imitate him to the extent that he followed Christ.
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
”And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11-12).
There is great power in imitating godly and great leaders.
There are outstanding leaders among evangelicals today who have great track records of evangelism. Do we follow those who are successful in evangelism or do we follow those who merely know how to talk about evangelism?
Examples produce paradigms to follow. Followers can become leaders. They can become leaders by following examples that produce paradigms for ministry. They can do what they see modeled and by that become models themselves.
Churches seeking to make greater impact evangelistically should also imitate churches with successful records of evangelism.
“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).
There is a qualification to imitating other churches. Churches often make the mistake of following the raw program of another church. Churches that commit this fault do not take into consideration their own situation, the mores of their community, the history of their own church and other important issues. Each church has its own personality; the leadership must work with that personality when it launches new ministries.
That said, however, there are important lessons we can learn from churches that fruitfully reach the lost.