A Bible-believing church that is headed in the right direction has people in it who are committed to exemplifying Christ in their lives. A congregation that is growing spiritually has certain characteristics that make it stand out.
They are receptive to God’s Word, even if it hurts (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
The Book of Revelation gives us interesting exchange between the Lord and the apostle John that is extremely illustrative when it comes to our interaction with God’s Word.
(9) And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
(10) And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
God expects us to so make his Word such a part of our lives that it’s like we are eating it up. And in this vision, John does just that, but God Gives it to him with a warning: “It shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.” It is interesting that God gives the warning first. It’s because He does not sugarcoat the truth.
But why is God’s Word like that to us: Sweet in the mouth but bitter in the belly? Because God’s Word is always good. It’s just not always easy to take. We tend to think that if something in God’s Word bothers us, there must be something wrong with His Word – or with God Himself. But God is never the problem. He’s always the solution. Sometimes God’s Word will speak to us in ways that makes us very uneasy, even sick to the stomach. But it’s still the truth. Thank God that He does not pull punches and that He tells us the truth about ourselves, especially when we don’t want to hear it. That’s not cruelty. That’s love.
The Thessalonian believers had to face some hard truths about themselves and had to make some really hard choices when they became followers of God. They could do it because they recognized something about God’s Word: It came to them with real power (authority), and it was backed up by men who lived what they preached. (See also Matthew 7:29.)
They are “imitators” of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:6a)
Paul said of the Thessalonians that they “became followers of us, and of the Lord.” In other passages Paul beseeches his readers to be “followers of me” (I Corinthians 4:16). Then he clarifies it more when he says: “Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). To the Philippians he says: “Be ye followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example” (3:17).
The word in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 translated “followers” is a Greek word that means “imitators” in the way a child imitates his or her parents. If you have kids you know what I mean: They want to wear mommy and daddy’s shoes. They dress up like mommy and daddy. Sometimes they try to do what mommy and daddy do. They imitate you…and then they become teenagers and suddenly you’re not cool anymore, but that’s for a different topic of conversation. And then again, maybe not. To a certain extent you, as a parent do want your children to imitate you (when it comes to the good stuff, that is), but at some point you do expect them to grow past that and become their own person.
We have to be careful in understanding what Paul meant when he told people “be ye followers of me.” He was not looking to start a cult following. Cult leaders only take Paul’s words part way: “Be followers of ME!” Paul was always careful to tell his readers: “be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ.” Remember, in many of his writings Paul was speaking to new believers. He, like a good parent, wanted his infant believers to follow him (in the good things), but to eventually grow past that to where they followed Christ on their own. But to get there, new believers need mature, godly examples.
Takeaways: Look for godly examples to emulate. Remember that for some, you are the godly example.
They are willing to suffer for their beliefs (1 Thessalonians 1:6b)
Jesus said to His disciples: “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Matthew 10:24). When He said this He was not speaking about the disciple showing proper respect to his master. He was speaking about how the disciples would be identified with their master in all things, including His suffering. The Lord spoke more plainly of this guilt by association in John 15:20: “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”
The Thessalonians trusted Christ at great cost to themselves. Turning from idols to the true and living God was not just a simple lifestyle choice. People would be genuinely offended by this action and that included friends and family. These believers suffered loss of employment, loss of standing in the community, even loss of family ties for following Christ. Are you and I willing to stand with Christ even if it costs?
They are an encouragement to other churches (1 Thessalonians 1:7)
The profound faith of the Thessalonians was more than just a blessing to themselves, it was a testimony to other churches as well. Your church, my church also has a testimony to maintain. How I live and carry myself in my community doesn’t just reflect upon me; it reflects upon my church as well. Beyond that, congregations rely on each other to keep the faith as well. It’s not just a happy coincidence that one church is a source of encouragement and blessing to another; it’s an obligation.
The Thessalonians because of their individual faithfulness to Christ were able to be a blessing to the larger community around them. They were examples to entire regions (Macedonia and Achaia).
Takeaway: Live like the whole world is counting on your faith.
[Primary source for material: Warren Wiersbe Be Ready]