We like to think that we are all unique, and indeed we are. But it is also true that we all are always imitating someone. For that reason, it is important that we have the right people around us. Once a person becomes a believer, good role models become crucial. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is concerned that these newly born Christians know who they are to imitate if they are to grow in their faith.
First, we are called to imitate God (1 Thess. 1:6). This is a blunt statement. In becoming disciples of Jesus, we become imitators of God. Before becoming Christians, we, like the Thessalonians, imitated the idols of our lives. We followed wrong models and corrupted patterns of life. The Bible says that man was created in God’s image and likeness to imitate God, to do things God’s way and in a godly manner. Then our first parents disobeyed God, and sin entered the world. Mankind began to imitate the serpent rather than God, idols rather than the Creator. Therefore, troubles and conflict and sickness and death flooded into human life. But then, through the work of Christ, we were enabled to respond to the gospel in faith and to be converted from our idols to the living God.
Now, we are called to imitate God, to go back to the original model, the good model, the healthy model: God Himself. We, like the Thessalonians, have to leave evil models aside and learn how to live with God as our model.
Imitate Godly Believers
Paul also says that we must imitate godly people (v. 6). He is not afraid to present himself and Silvanus as models for the Thessalonian believers. As we imitate God, we are to imitate those who walk with the Lord. We are to imitate those who are more mature, more experienced, those whom God has approved in their ministries and lives. We are to learn from their prayer lives, from the way they handle problems, from the way they witness, from their family lives. As godly people imitate God, they embody for us godly human patterns of Christian discipleship.
Imitate Healthy Churches
As individuals are called to imitate other individuals, so also churches are meant to imitate healthy churches. This is what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:14: “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.” The Thessalonian church was not the first Christian church. Other churches far away had already been established and were faithful churches. For churches today as well, older churches can be examples for younger and smaller churches around the world. No church is perfect, but we should look to more mature churches with admiration and thankfulness for who they are and what they do to spread the gospel around the world.