Four years ago, I wrote a post called “How to be an example to others.” In many ways, this is still a challenge for me. If I were to change anything in the post below, it would be this: We should not seek to be an example; our life is already an example to those around us. Instead, the question we should ask ourselves is this: “How can we live as a positive example of a follower of Jesus Christ?” I still think that Paul’s “example” to the Thessalonians is a good place to start.
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul reminds the Christians in Thessalonika about the time that he spent with them. Paul probably only spent a few weeks with the Thessalonian believers. However, it seems that he made the most of that time.
This is what Paul says:
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved- so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last! But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, again and again- but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2 ESV)
What can we learn from Paul’s example:
1: Continue making disciples in spite of difficulties.
2: Seek to please God, not people.
3: Do not try to persuade people by your rhetoric or your method of teaching or your arguments.
4: Do not make demands on people, even if you think you may have the right.
5: Gently care for people.
6: Share your life with people, not just your words.
7: Work hard serving people and serving with people.
8: Continually encourage people to walk with Christ.
9: Give God all the glory when people grow in maturity.
I don’t know about you, but I think I still have a long way to go before I am following Paul’s example. While I can see where my life and discipleship has matured in some of these areas over the last few years, I can also see where I have much more need for growth.
Primarily, I think the first item is one of the toughest for me. Paul suffered greatly at Philippi – he was imprisoned. Yet, he continued to make disciples. He did not let the difficulties distract him from his purpose.
I tend to be distracted much more easily. If something goes wrong or if life gets difficult, I tend to withdraw and forget or ignore the fact that I am supposed to be making disciples. Sometimes, I let my circumstances dictate my level of obedience. I can learn from Paul here. I can learn to trust God and follow the Spirit in spite of my cicumstances, allowing him to strengthen me.
What about you? Have you seen growth as a disciple-maker in your life? In what area or areas do you still need to grow?