“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction” (1Thessalonians 1:6). Describe the theology of ministry, both explicit and implied, to be found in 1 Thessalonians, and discuss the lessons that this theology has for today.
Paul’s first epistle was to the Thessalonians. Although this letter appears towards the end of the epistles in the sense of their Biblical arrangement, one ought to understand that the epistle to the Thessalonians was the first one to have been written by Paul. There are many reasons that made Thessalonica such a special place in the New Testament, especially in light of Paul’s epistles. During the period in which Paul was addressing the Thessalonians, Thessalonica was under Roman domination. Put in another way, Thessalonica was a Roman colony. Rome had a special way of dealing with its colonies. Rather than seeking to assimilate the colonies to the Roman culture and systems, but it imposed its laws to administer the colonies. With the imposition of the laws, Rome was able to make the colonies like it. The Thessalonians followed the rules of the Romans and also the way of life of the Romans. Just as Paul indicates at the end of this verse, the colonization of Thessalonica was painful to the inhabitants. In this verse, Paul says that the Thessalonians received not only the laws of the Romans and behaved like the Romans, but they went ahead to receive the message of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and they sought to imitate the Lord. The obedience of the Thessalonians is unmistakable in this verse.
To have a better understanding of this verse, there are certain terms that need to be understood clearly. Firstly, there is a need to develop a proper contextual understanding of the phrase, “And you became imitators of the Lord and of us.” Who is this ‘us’ that Paul is referring to in the text? There are two possible scenarios. The first scenario is that Paul, being a Roman and the Romans having colonized Thessalonica, might have been referring to the fact that the Thessalonians had embraced the laws of the Romans, and they also imitated their ways of life. The second scenario is that Paul might have been addressing the Thessalonians, imitating him together with the servants of the Lord with whom he served. It is important to note that in his entire ministry, Paul never served alone. He had a group of believers who desired to walk with him in the ministry. In verse 1 of this Chapter, Paul introduces fellow ministers, Silvanus and Timothy. Thus, when talking about ‘us,’ Paul might have been talking about the decision of the Thessalonians to imitate both the Lord and his group of ministers.
Thus, it is highly likely that Paul was talking about the Thessalonians imitating him together with his group of ministers. In many of his messages, Paul put emphasis on his audiences imitating him just as he imitated Christ. When the Thessalonians saw and heard from Paul, they embraced and accepted his teachings on Christ. The Thessalonians saw the image of the Lord in Paul, and as a result, they sought to imitate Paul and his fellow ministers; and after receiving the message of the Lord, they also sought to imitate the Lord. One thing that emerges clearly from the text is the obedience of the Thessalonians. There is no evidence that they questioned the gospel or raised any hostility towards Paul. They accepted and embraced the gospel and sought to imitate the Lord and live in accordance with the dictates of the teachings.
The main topic that this text seeks to address is personal discipleship. Discipleship is the act and practice and act of following another person with the undying hope of becoming what they are. The people of Thessalonica, as described by Paul, have demonstrated great spirits of discipleship. Other than being obedient to their colonial masters, these people also received the message of the Lords, and they embraced it, and they sought to imitate the life of the Lord. Personal discipleship entails a lot of traits. One of the traits is the element of personal discipleship is personal conviction. One cannot be a disciple if they do not believe and if they do not have personal conviction. Although the Thessalonians did not receive the message from the mouth of the Lord, however, they must have heard stories about the Lord and the good things that he did, and they took the decision to follow him. It is important to note that personal discipleship entails personal decision-making. Each individual is convicted personally, and the decision that they make to imitate the Lord is personal and based on individual rather than communal conviction.
Personal discipleship demands that individuals live not in their ways but in the ways of the Lord. The life of discipleship demands that one makes the life of Christ be the model around which their life is built so that when one sees their life, they see the life of Christ. There is no way in which one can claim to be a disciple when their life does not reflect the image of Christ. Thus, it is not surprising that the Thessalonians sought to imitate Christ and live in accordance with his ways.
Personal discipleship always comes at a cost. One aspect that makes the Thessalonians special is the fact that they receive the message of the Lord, Jesus, with many afflictions, but that did not hinder them from seeing the image of Christ and opting to follow him. In many cases, when people face tribulations, their pains, troubles, and tribulations may hinder them from seeing the image of Christ. However, that was not the case with the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians received the message during times of sorrow and great tribulations, but they accepted Christ and followed him. It is not recorded that the Thessalonians whined and moaned about the circumstances of their lives, but they found joy, that special joy that comes from the Lord so that even amidst their tribulations, they could imitate the Lord.
In this text, Paul also describes the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. When one accepts the message of the Lord, the Holy Spirit will descend upon them and guide their paths. The life of the Thessalonians was guided by the Holy Spirit, and that is why they could find joy amidst their affliction. The joy that comes from the Holy Spirit is not like this worldly joy. It is an everlasting joy that gives peace and contentment amidst the challenges. When the Holy Spirit takes control of the life of an individual, the individual is likely to find joy in Christ. The life of the Thessalonians who accepted the message was taken over by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit then gave them the strength to endure and persevere the moments of hardship.
When Paul is talking to the Thessalonians about getting joy amidst affliction, he perfectly understands what it takes to endure the times. Just before he arrived at Thessalonica, Paul was imprisoned together with his comrade Silas. When he was in prison, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he was able to get the joy that can only come from the Holy Spirit. One ought to understand that the possession of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the tribulations does not take away the physical and emotional pain that comes with the conditions. Even Jesus Christ faced similar painful circumstances, and he had the Holy Spirit, but this did not take away his pain. The pain that Jesus experienced when he was being crucified was exceedingly painful, but he was able to endure because the Holy Spirit never departed from him. However, the Holy Spirit gives hope and comfort as well as perseverance to individuals, and this gives an eternal joy to the individuals.
When Jesus invited disciples, he did not in any way that they would not suffer. However, what they were assured was the presence of the Holy Spirit that would comfort them, give them hope and the strength to endure the times. Paul himself had a taste of this enduring presence of the Holy Spirit so that even after being stoned at Lystra, Paul was able to regain his strength and continue with the mission. Paul was certain that as long as the Thessalonians had the Holy Spirit, they would emerge even stronger from their tribulations. It is, therefore, unsurprising that despite the trials and tribulations that they encountered, the Thessalonians embraced the gospel, and they walked in the footsteps of Paul and Jesus Christ. One lesson that one may learn from the people of Thessalonica is their exemplary faith. Their faith is said to be exemplary because these people received the gospel in some of the most difficult times possible. It is remarkable that these difficulties did not deter the spirit of the Thessalonians, and credit must be given to them.
This text also gives us an understanding of Paul as pastor. While many people can effectively pass the message of Christ to others and make them believe in God and follow him, it takes something special for one to preach the gospel to the extent that the audience starts imitating them. The problem is that many people are not in a position to practice what they preach, and that makes it extremely difficult to imitate them. When Paul preached about Christian living, he did not only say how his listeners ought to behave, but he also showed them how to behave through his behaviors and character. For example, when Paul preached against the spirits of lustful desires such as fornication and adultery, he not only pointed out to people how they ought to behave, but he also pointed out his personal life how he lived. The impact of this is that Paul left a lasting impression on his audiences so that they wanted to be like him. In many instances, Paul implored his audiences to be “imitators of me just as I imitate Christ.”
There are many ways in which the life of Paul mirrored the life of Jesus Christ. One of the ways in which the life of Paul mirrored the life of Christ is the full, complete, and undivided attention to the gospel. In everything that Jesus did, he pointed at the heavenly father. Similarly, in his teachings, Paul pointed at Christ and forever sought to imitate him. In the present times, many preachers prevent the effective delivery of the message by exalting themselves rather than Christ. Instead of letting Christ be seen in them, they desire that it is them that get to be seen. With this attitude, it is difficult to draw people to Christ.
In conclusion, when the Thessalonians saw and heard from Paul, they embraced and accepted his teachings on Christ. The Thessalonians saw the image of the Lord in Paul, and as a result, they sought to imitate Paul and his fellow ministers; and after receiving the message of the Lord, they also sought to imitate the Lord. Pau lived a life that was consistent with his teachings, and many people found that life is imitable. Had the teachings of Paul been inconsistent with his behavior and actions, there would be no way in which people would imitate him. While many people can effectively pass the message of Christ to others and make them believe in God and follow him, it takes something special for one to preach the gospel to the extent that the audience starts imitating them. The ability of Paul to be such an impactful pastor is influenced by his actions. Perhaps the actions of Paul impacted many more than his words, for it is difficult to imitate words but action. Today, many preachers fail to have the impact of Paul because they fail to match their words with their actions. Until preachers of today model their lives to the standards set by Jesus Christ, it would be difficult to have a meaningful impact.