by Herman R. Rocke

"We are thanking God always concerning you all, making mention of you in our prayers, unintermittingly remembering your work of faith and toil of love and endurance of expectation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in front of our God and Father, having perceived, brethren beloved by God, your choice, for the evangel of our God did not come to you in word only, but in power also, and in holy spirit and much assurance, according as you are aware. Such as this we became among you because of you. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the Word in much affliction with joy of holy spirit, so that you become models to all the believers...For from you has been sounded forth the Word of the every place your faith toward God has come out."
(1 Thess.1:2-8)

To "IMITATE," according to the definition given in the Keyword Concordance of the New Testament Concordant Version, is to attempt the same thing in the same manner. Using this interpretation, the contents of the verses quoted above (1 Thess. 1:6-8) can be arranged in a simple chart, as follows:


Paul had perceived that the Thessalonians had been chosen by God; this was evident from their work of faith, their toil of love, and their endurance of expectation. For they had received the Word (as he himself had done before them) not only in much affliction, but with joy of holy spirit. Here we, too, have already started to imitate Paul, "on hearing the Word of truth, the evangel of our salvation," and "on believing" in Christ Jesus (Eph.1:13).

(the same with us as with Paul)
Receiving the Word In much affliction with
Joy of the holy spirit
Become models The Word is sounded forth.
The faith has come out.


We see from this heading that the "same manner" is restricted to two points: (1) in much affliction, (2) with joy of the holy spirit. No reference is made to the individual's state of mind, the length of time involved, nor the special occasion when this happened. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 the "same manner" definitely allows for another time another place, another set of circumstances.

In the Greek, the tense of the three verbs (receiving, hearing, believing) is the Indefinite (or Aorist). This tells us that no single act is in view here, but rather a fact or timeless truth. Our believing in Christ Jesus is not a mere act in the past which we may repudiate or denounce when we change our mind. Hearing the Word and receiving it is no sham belief, but rather a fact valid for all time, for "the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy spirit which is being given to us." Ever since we first believed, we have experienced not only affliction, but also endurance, testedness, and expectation. Because of the joy of the holy spirit in us, "we may be glorying in expectation of the glory of God...we may be glorying also in affliction" (Rom.5:2-5).


When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "You become models to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia," it is evident that their task was restricted to a certain time, a certain place, and a certain set of circumstances. These were not identical with Paul's, nor are they with ours. In a country comprising almost all the territory of today's Greece, the Thessalonian believers had become models to all their brethren! Is this not amazing? Perhaps we are inclined to say that they had a better chance than we have today, since we are not the only believers in our town or state. But we should not forget Paul's service elsewhere in Greece, such as in Philippi, Athens, and especially Corinth where he stayed one year and six months (Acts 18:11). Considering the circumstances, we might say that the Thessalonians had no better chance to become models to all the saints in Greece, than we have to attempt the same thing in our own vicinity.


This heading shows that "becoming models" is not a matter of quantity (models for many), but rather of quality, in that the Word of the Lord is sounded forth and our faith toward God comes out. Even though the Thessalonians were model missionaries for Christ in the face of furious persecution, Paul reminds them that "we ought to be thanking God always...and pray...that the Word of the Lord may race and be glorified" (2 Thess.2:13,3:1). For "God parts to each the measure of faith" (Rom.12:3) which may come out into the open to be manifested to many others or just a few, and He is also the One Who makes the Word grow, independent of the amount of effort we may put forth in the planting and irrigating (1 Cor.3:6). Hence there can be no boasting, even if we are successful in heralding the Word and standing by it, opportunely as well as inopportunely. When we fail in our attempt, may God graciously grant us not to become disappointed nor to love the current eon, but rather His advent, as an ideal soldier of Christ Jesus is supposed to do (2 Tim.4:2,5).


There are no definite rules and regulations for the soldier of Christ Jesus which would cover every phase of life and any conceivable action. While we are in this body of our humiliation, we are facing minor and major choices every day. There are simple ones, such as, at what time we should get up in the morning, what we will do first when we start on our daily job, what we will eat for lunch, how we will spend the evening, whether to accept an invitation to visit friends, or, instead, to study a topic of special interest in this magazine. All of these choices are relatively simple. But there are others, more difficult, such as whether to go to college or not, whether to plan for marriage immediately, or if it would be better to wait another year, whether to leave town and look for another job elsewhere, or stay in the city and spend forty hours a week in a systematic exploration of all the job opportunities in the vicinity.

Some of us are apt to approach these problems in a somewhat haphazard manner. However, even if we are pressed for time, we should follow Paul's administrative advice, "Let all occur respectably and in order!" (1 Cor.14:40). All our choices should be in accord with our status as beloved children of God (Eph.5:1), Who has chosen us.


When our apprehensions were no longer blinded by the god of this eon, and the illumination of the evangel of the glory of Christ, the Image of the invisible God, began to shine in our hearts, we had no choice in this matter but to accept this gracious gift, the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor.4:3-6).

We did not choose Him, for "not one is seeking out God" (Rom.3:11); "He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world" (Eph.1:4), before we ever existed! It is because of His vast love with which He loves us first, that we are saved in grace and for grace, through faith, which is not out of us, but rather His approach offering in order to gain our affection (Eph.2:4,8,9; 1 John 4:19).

In the Concordant Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:4 we read: "As Paul reflects upon the vision which sent him there (Acts 16:9) and the mighty power of the preaching, and their subsequent service and sufferings, he is convinced that God has chosen them."

Hence the apostle could write to the Thessalonians, "We are thanking God always concerning you all... having perceived...your choice [by Him]." Since God made this vital choice for us, to our own good, how shall He not also bestow on us an ever growing measure of insight, discernment, and perspicacity, so as to see more and more clearly through the ramifications of a complex situation, so as to choose wisely between standing still or moving on, going right or going left, in the face of the various circumstances which make up a certain situation?

There is a certain parallel between the problem under consideration, and the basic truth dealt with in Romans 8:32,35: "Surely, He Who spares not His own Son, but gives Him up for us all, how shall He not, together with Him, also, be graciously granting us all? What shall be separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?"

We recall the Lord's words to His disciples shortly before He was arrested, "In the world you have affliction. But courage! I have conquered the world." (John 16:33). Hence, even if we make a choice which is seemingly wrong, resulting in a chain of affliction and distress, or danger, or something else, this will never separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, Who has conquered the world. "Nay, in all these we are more than conquering through Him Who loves us" (Rom.8:37).

As imitators of Paul and of the Lord, we are not expected to accomplish the same thing in the same manner, but simply to strenuously attempt to do so, always endeavoring to achieve as much as God may grant us.


When we were young believers and still in our teens, we did not yet know the correct definition of "to imitate" (i.e., to attempt the same thing in the same manner). In those days we honestly tried to develop a set of rules governing our behavior and deportment, by asking ourselves the simple question, "What would Jesus do? "How would He react in the present situation when I do not know what to do, how to decide, what to answer? It was an earnest endeavor to be as gentle as Jesus, and at the same time, to heed the admonition of the elders. They believed that they had patterned their lives after His, and claimed to know the answer to any problem or questions which might arise in a teenager's life. Disregarding their advice was considered equivalent to causing sorrow to Jesus, for it was taken for granted that the elders knew what He would have done under the circumstances. Their rigid rules served to perpetuate the traditions of the Christian fathers, both in doctrine and deportment.

But no genuine attempt was ever made to actually imitate the Lord Jesus in the performance of His duties, and to discharge them in the same manner as He did. In those days, we were more interested in our problems and difficulties, and we tried to project the personality of the Lord Jesus (as we recognized it) on our own situation, thus hoping to develop for ourselves a suitable pattern of behavior which would not offend the elders. This was far from walking in His steps and living for righteousness, of which Peter writes in his first epistle (2:21) to Jewish expatriates in Asia Minor:

"For for this were you called, seeing that Christ also suffered for your sakes, leaving you a copy, that you should be following up in the footprints of Him Who does no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, Who, being reviled, reviled not again, suffering, threatened not, yet gave it over to Him Who is judging justly, Who Himself carries up our sins in His body on to the tree, that, coming away from sins, we should be living for righteousness; by Whose welt you were healed."

For this passage, the following exegesis is offered by the Concordant Commentary:

"Following in the footprints left by our Lord while He was on earth is often taken as the ideal of human deportment for believers in Christ. And so it is--for the Circumcision, to whom Peter writes. His path may be copied by them, for they find themselves in similar circumstances and under identical conditions. Not so with the nations in this economy of God's grace. In preparing Paul for his part as the channel through which the truth for today was to be revealed, God kept him from contact with Christ during our Lord's life on earth, both before and after His resurrection. It was only after His ascension into glory that He called Saul, and changed his name to Paul, and made him the medium for the special truth which is in force during the apostasy of Israel.

"Saul's call might have occurred long before, but it was deliberately deferred so as to conform to the truth with which he was entrusted. He, and we, know Christ only as ascended and glorified. If we were connected with His earthly life, then we, like the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:26) could get nothing more than a few crumbs from Israel's board. Christ does not act in glory as He acted on earth. Now He makes no distinction between Jew and gentile, but lavishes unutterably greater grace on both than was possible when He was the Servant of the Circumcision (Rom.15:8).

"The key to conduct which pleases God is to copy His present attitude toward us in our relations with our fellow men. It is not reasonable to follow in His steps when He came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and kept Himself from contact with the outside nations. His walk in the land is no model for our conduct outside the land. Hence we are exhorted to be imitators of Paul, as he is of Christ (1 Cor.11:1), for he knew Christ ascended and glorified. And we are exhorted to be imitators of God, as beloved children (Eph.5:1). Such a place we, sinners of the gentiles, did not have when Christ confined Himself to the favored nation."

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