During a recent YZ DG session, I asked the youths “who is someone whom they look up to or aspire to be”. I was heartened when one of them readily shared that she looked up to her mother who has been juggling between hospital visits to her ailing grandfather as well as caring for her and her sibling. As a pastor, it is brings me joy whenever I hear of how a parent has made a positive impact upon his or her child and when the children gladly acknowledge their parent’s labour of love and faith.
Sometimes, I wonder if “familiarity breeds contempt” and thus it is far easier for us to spot the warts and all of someone whom we are in regular contact with. It could be our parents, a Christian colleague or DGL. We may find it difficult to think of them as being an example to us not because they have nothing we can learn from but because we think that role models must be the epitome of excellence in everything. Thus, while we may eagerly lap up every word by a best-selling Christian author or be inspired by the passion of a social-justice activist, all that we pick up are the grammatical errors or idiosyncrasies of those whom we know face to face. Indeed, if there is one thing Christians can do more of, it would be to learn to give encouragement and affirm those who have been faithfully (and often quietly behind the scenes) pouring into our lives.
In his letter to the Thessalonian Church, the Apostle Paul commended them as being “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:8). Even though they were a relatively young church, Paul who is more mature in his faith spoke well of them and shared that “in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith” (1 Thess 2:7). Instead of only focusing on the areas that they needed to work on, Paul also highlighted specific areas that they were exemplary in.
Firstly, we recall that while they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (v.9), it was not a bed of roses for them. In Acts 17, it was recorded that there were Jewish people who sought to agitate and stir up the crowds against Paul and Silas as they went about proclaiming the Gospel. Nevertheless, we hear from Paul that these Thessalonian Christians had “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). In other words, even though there was a price to pay for their conversion to Christianity, they gladly did so after they carefully considered what the apostles preached (Acts 17:11-12).
Here we learn that an aspect of becoming an example worthy of imitation is how Christians treat God’s Word and respond to trials in the midst of following Christ. While it is easy to have faith when everything is going well, trials have a way of testing and stretching a believer. Yet, whenever one learns to face adversity as a result of their faith and glad-hearted dependence upon God, we know that God is honoured. In addition, we trust that God can use their example to encourage other believers when the latter are going through challenging moments themselves. As you look around you, are there believers whom you can imitate in this area of displaying faithfulness to God in the midst of their afflictions even if they have some other traits which may not agree with you?
Secondly, we learn that the “word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia” (I Thess 1:8). For the Thessalonian Christians, their faith did just remain a private and personal matter. In an age where a monotheistic religion would be socially marginalised and deemed as unacceptably exclusive, these believers were not ashamed to live out their faith as they continued to interact with their pagan neighbours. If anything, it would seem that their lives have made such a positive impact beyond their local community that Paul would say that their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thess 1:8).
Judging from what Paul commended the Thessalonian Church for, one could easily summarise it as they were exemplary in their Worship unto God, their Witness to the world through their good Works unto God and man. Whether it was in the first century or today, we thank God that there is certainly many examples of such churches throughout the ages. Their encouraging testimony is a powerful demonstration of what can happen when God’s people who are work-in-progress give of themselves unto Jesus and imitate other godly Christians.
Undoubtedly, the need for such churches is still great today. However, instead of losing heart and feeling stumbled by other Christians, let us be more intentional about encouraging one another in the areas where the person is beginning to show growth. Even as we wait for Christ’s return, there will always be those in our midst who may be “idle, fainthearted or weak” and really test our patience (1 Thess 5:14). Nevertheless, we know that God is still able to use them as those belonging to the Thessalonian Church to be an example to others. If this is so, let us take heart that as we rely on God’s grace and press on in our call to love God and make disciples, we too can be a model to one another.
Rev Edwin Wong
July 28, 2019