Imitation unto thriving perseverance.
Imitation is the foundation of human learning. Imitating Jesus means imitating his examples.
1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
What imitations should we find exemplary?
Joel Salatin Quote-ish: “We don’t need veterinarians very much and we don’t use antibiotics on any of our animals. That’s because we select our genetic lines for survival. Our chickens are the children of previous generations of survivors living in natural conditions. So we always have robust and healthy livestock.”
Purpose of 1 Thessalonians is assurance unto “thriving perseverance.”
So, imitate those thriving unto perseverance.
Like chickens: not all growth is created equal. You get some choice in the genetics of your spiritual life—who becomes your spiritual fathers and mothers. You aren’t limited to two. But you need to chose for thriving perseverance. Not by gifting, or following, or who sounds cool, or who acts passionate, or any other affectation. Jesus said to judge trees by their fruit, and the fruit of joyful perseverance is among the most important.
But you can ask: How do I break that down? In some ways I can’t know who will persevere until it’s over. How does that help me now? Can I see more than trajectory right now? What can I look for that makes persevering and thriving in the faith likely?
First, track record DOES matter. Someone who has trusted Jesus for 30 years through tests and changes is a better bet than someone else.
But how do I even assess a strong track record or a good trajectory in the faith?
1 Thessalonians talks about these. Paul makes them the object of how he offers them assurance:
- The things the Thessalonians are doing well
- That they imitated faithfully in Paul, Silas and Timothy
These things are what we should imitate, and these things display evidence of grace in our faith. They show our faith is real, assurance is warranted, and that we have everything we need to thrive and persevere.
There are 4 things in this passage that lead to perseverance:
- Conversion: a cataclysmic change of belief and allegiance
- Worship: seeing the worth of God in proportion to pain, and everything else.
- Discipleship: the humility to identify and imitate the godliness of good examples
- Mission and witness: authentic word and faith goes forth and goes everywhere
We’ll just look at the first 2 today.
1. Conversion: we imitate those Jesus has persuaded
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 “…They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
1 Thessalonians 1:3 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Conversion is unpopular because the concept is confused.
We should expect this to be true of all critical areas of knowing God. The flesh, the world and devils will attack every concept and premise God reveals. This will usually take the form of confusion—a muddying of the logical waters around an important concept.
People tend to feel that conversion amounts to closing one’s mind rather than simply changing one’s mind.
But being willing and able to change your mind is the very definition of not having a closed mind. But if conversion is never warranted—then we are by definition closed minded.
Conversion is the opposite of bigotry.
- Conversion: the proper change of mind as a response to being persuaded of a warranted truth.
- Bigotry: The resistance to changing one’s prejudice, even after expose to evidence that warrants persuasion.
- Bigot: “Obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices.” (Merriam-Webster)
- You can’t categorically be against both conversion and bigotry.
Conversion is the full change of mind and heart from idols, death and wrath, to the Living God, the saving Son, and hope in his return and vindication.
Gospel content/doctrine: faith in the content of the gospel—the news of the events of God’s work to save us.
- The God of the Bible is the living and true God.
- All other gods are idols—gods of our makings (false), and dead (without the life we ascribe to them).
- Jesus is the Son of God, who has died for our sins, and who has promised the hope of his return that we are waiting for—rather than giving up.
- God the Father showed this to be true by raising Jesus from the dead.
- This Jesus is our rescue from the final judgment of God.
Full change: a full and decisive total change of mind.
- Involves repentance and faith
- Repentance: rejection of unbelief, sin, and cynicism toward God
- Faith: Living belief, embracing love, and seeing hope
Conversion is thought unnecessary—though it is absolutely necessary.
An example: New versus nice
- “World Weavers”: “immerses people in different faith traditions for a month for a small fee.” People can experience “Buddhism for a month,” “Muslim for a month,” or “Rasta Roots Spiritual Tradition.”
- Michael Lawrence: “There is no need to become a true believer. Rather religions help people become better, nicer people, and any religion will do the trick. This assumption…is why so many people in the west have abandoned religion altogether. If the point is simply to be a better person today than I was yesterday, then why do I need any religion at all?”
- You could substitute “nice” for “health” or “wellbeing”.
The concept of Christian conversion is that we must be made new, because we are not good.
- John 3: “you must be born again/born of the Spirit.”
- 2 Corinthians 5: “a new creation”
- Ezekiel: dry bones come alive, heart of stone to heart of flesh
- Romans 6: dead and raised into a new life
- Titus 3:5: “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”
Imitating Jesus’ examples means imitating their sound conversion.
There is no imitation of Christ without this transformation of mind and allegiance. Conversion is not small minded, or unnecessary. It is the noble recognition that we have gone the wrong way, rejected our Creator, and that we need to correct our course, repent of our self-righteous bigotries about the universe, and come to his Savior for rescue and to restore our identity.
It is beautiful and good—and it is categorically worth imitating. Especially when done in the mist of palpable opposition and affliction.
2. Worship: we imitate those who rightly value the gospel
Conversion leads to worship—because it leads to joy and away from idols.
Conversion naturally leads to a sense of proportion in value—seeing our hope in God as a fountain of joy, increasingly overshadowing the afflictions of the world and the curse.
To God from idols: devotion is personified. We relate to what we believe, hold commitments like relationships, want them to do things for us, and are mastered by them.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Joy over affliction: Joy is the wide universal and sadness the narrow particular.
G.K. Chesterton on the Dogma of Joy: “The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Romans 8:17-18 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Worship: Worship is essentially our joy in God expressed to God.
- Expressed: thankfulness, pursuit of godliness, obedience, adoration—prayer, singing, discourse, etc. All expressions of joy in the worth of God.
- Joy in God’s goodness and beauty: is its vitality.
- It is especially helpful as testimony of the worth of God when in the presence of suffering and affliction.
- Such worship shows how Christ’s work is more valuable. It also comes with the gifts of calling, justification, transformation, family, and glory.
Joy: This creates a sense of emotional proportion in which the gain in Christ overwhelms the cost of all the curse and sin. This joy is divinely empowered—“of Holy Spirit.”
This is something we imitate from inspiring examples.
- Paul and Silas had just been persecuted for the faith in Philippi—and still told them about it (1 Thessalonians 2:2).
- The churches in Judea (2:14).
- Jesus was killed, and so were the prophets (2:15).
- Jesus did it “for the joy set before him…endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
All these imitators of Jesus cared more about God than what would happen to them—and were willing to bear scorn for faithfulness.
Paul and Silas getting flogged in Lydia (Acts 16)
Paul and Silas had done an exorcism and healed a woman, and God let that good deed be answered by personal attack, getting arrested, getting whipped, not having their wounds cleaned in a time when infection killed you, getting thrown in jail, and getting chained in very uncomfortable foot stocks (like terrible criminals and escape risks) in a cell with no windows (inner cell) where it was probably pitch black.
What were they doing in the middle of the night? Well, inner stone cells have great acoustics.
Acts 16:25-28 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
Why did Isaac Watts and William Cowper write so many hymns? To fight for joy through the dark night of depression. They wrote hymns because they knew the joy was in the doctrine—the truths and promises of Christ. That God was the fountain head of all human joy—even joys in this world.
The joy of God—in him and in what he does—leads back to a wholesome love of the created world without the poison of worldliness.
Cowper says of an oak tree he saw one day:
“Could a mind, imbued with truth from heaven, created thing adore, I might with reverence kneel, and worship thee.”
“So fancy dreams. Disprove it, if ye can, ye reasoners broad awake, whose busy search of argument, employed too oft amiss, Sifts half the pleasures of short life away.”
It also caused him to see morally through one of the more difficult moral issues of his time that most men were blind to: his poems against slavery—also quoted by MLK.
The purpose: thriving spiritual endurance through encouragement about assurance, rooted in present faith.
- Faith that works—has moving energy
- Love that labors—that is sacrificial and self-forgetful in its activity
- Hope inspiring endurance—that our joy dwarfs our afflictions because of the clarity and certainty of our hope
The emphasis here isn’t on how hard our faith hope and love works, but on the operation of God in our conscience and willingness to imitate the examples he gives us.
Christians call this “evidence of grace,” and it is the basis of our assurance.
Before we are saved, the question is “Have you been converted by repentance and faith to belong to Christ and be his imitator/disciple?”
But what about after? How do we know our faith isn’t false? Delusional?
Answer: The evidence of grace. Is what God does operating in us?
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 NIV 4 For we know, brothers and sisters1 loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.
Becoming imitators and examples
People are struggling with what perseverance and growth are right now—while we feel pretty stuck.
It takes humility to be an open imitator. It takes embracing responsibility to be an example.
We all have to ask ourselves whether our faith does work, whether there is a labor to our love, or whether our hope makes us steadfast.
The point of this book it to encourage us to perseverance. Not by driving us on like slaves, but by celebrating not only God’s worth (adoration), but also affirming that what God is doing in us is worth celebrating (affirmation).