We have very few good examples these days. We have all heard sports stars say they do not even desire to be role models: and it shows. Even in the church, some examples are better not followed. Is there anything we can do? Oddly enough, we can be the example, and we can be the best kind of example by inculcating four basic activities into our lives.
First, we can be an example to others by spreading the word of God. Paul noted that the ordinary believers at Thessalonica were examples to others (1 Thes. 1:7). He explains, "For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place (v. 8)."
From the Thessalonians, the gospel spread not only to Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Paul does not mean that they had been to every place in the world. Nor does he mean that the gospel had spread from them to every place in the world. He means that the gospel had spread far and wide as a result of their faithful witness. No doubt some of that gospel advance had to do with missionary endeavor to foreign places. At the same time, much of the advance resulted from the natural spread of the gospel as one person told another person.
Note that if we are going to be examples, we must and can take the word to those who are near, that is, to our Macedonia and Achaia. Moreover, we must and can take the word to those who are far, as Paul says, also in every place. We are evangelists and missionaries. We must somehow take personal responsibility for taking the gospel to the unreached people groups of the world even as we must share across the fences in our backyards.
Second, we can be an example to others by living our faith in God. Paul goes on to say, "Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything (v. 8)." It was from them that the word of the Lord, that is, the gospel, had sounded forth. In other words, they had been bold witnesses so that the gospel had spread as the result. That is part of what Paul means by this phrase as he continues his previous thought.
Further, the fact that they had faith in God had been spread abroad as well. Again, it was the change that had been wrought in their lives that so amazed others that they could not help but speak of that change and give glory to God. Indeed, they had received the word with power and others had noted well that receipt and its corresponding result.
Don't overlook the little phrase "toward God." So often today we are told to simply have faith. We are encouraged to have faith in whatever we want and that encouragement often comes from Christian teachers! Paul makes it plain that our faith is toward God and not some feeling or desire. We do not simply have faith in faith. We have faith in the true and living God.
Because their faith was well known among others, Paul had no "need to say anything." Remember, there were those who attempted to undermine the credibility of Paul's message, the faith of the Thessalonians, and the ministry that Paul had among them. False teachers constantly plagued Paul's ministry. At times he defended himself and his message. Here he simply points to the change wrought in the lives of the believers at Thessalonica as his defense. His gospel was indeed effective. It was the gospel of God.
We conclude then that our faith should be such that it causes great notice. Further, it should be such that it needs no defense.
Third, we can be an example to others by turning from idols to God. People should be able to observe the change wrought in us by salvation. We have turned to God from idols, that is, from all the things we loved more than Christ. Further, as time goes by, people should be able to observe the change wrought in us by sanctification. We must continue to deal with idols in our hearts and we must constantly serve the one true and living God. These things Paul explains in regard to the saints.
Notice that Paul is pointed about the change that had been wrought in the Thessalonian converts. He stated, "For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (v. 9)." When Paul says "for they themselves," he refers to believers in Macedonia, Achaia, and elsewhere who knew of the Thessalonians' dramatic change.
Those individuals told Paul about what they had seen and heard in their lives. In so doing, they actually confirmed the type of ministry Paul and his fellow-laborers (Silas and Timothy) had among them. The change in their lives testified of the type of entry and ministry Paul had there.
The change there was so complete that they "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." They repented, that is turned, in their minds, hearts, and wills from idols. They turned from dead nothings that cannot speak, see, hear, or act. Those idols are contrasted to the God of the Bible. He is the living and true God. He is not dead like they are. He is living. He is not false like they are. He is true, real and faithful.
They turned to serve this living and true God. They were no longer slaves to sin, Satan, and death. They had become slaves to God. As such, they proclaimed His gospel with great joy to all who would listen.
Fourth, we can be an example to others by waiting for the Son of God. An activity occupied the believers' time and effort as they served the living and true God. At the same time they were committed to His service, they were also committed "to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (10)."
The fact that they were to wait and were waiting for God's Son from heaven is no passive dynamic. This waiting refers to anticipation and expectancy. It refers to peace and hope. It refers to a certain knowledge that Christ is coming again. As He is coming, we have the assurance and confidence we need to carry forward with gospel advance. This world may not be very friendly toward Christians. But, Christ is coming and we wait for Him.
Of course, this waiting for Christ to come again is a major theme of the book and part of the reason Paul wrote. There was some misunderstanding of Christ's coming along with some faulty application. But, on the positive side of the equation, they were convinced of His coming and eagerly awaited it. We could take a lesson from them. Part of what it means to be saved is to eagerly anticipate Christ's return not only for His saints, but for the consummation of His kingdom and the destruction of His enemies.
Let us be an example to others by spreading the word, living our faith, turning from idols, and waiting for Christ. That is the best kind of example.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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