… As I Imitate Christ
“Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Thessalonians 1:1a NIV)
When you want to succeed in life, the natural thing to do is to emulate someone who has made it, who’s on top of the world, who tells others what to do, who speaks and others follow, right? Not so for the Christian. Take the apostle Paul, for instance. Originally a persecutor of the church, he was transformed into the great apostle and teacher who wrote most of the New Testament epistles. Paul told the Corinthian church to imitate him. Sounds boastful, doesn’t it? Not really. Let’s take a closer look at what he was asking them to imitate by studying how he began his two letters to the Thessalonians.
It’s important to note, first of all, that Paul followed the practice of letter writing in his day, which differed from how we write letters now. Today, we begin with a greeting that includes the name of the intended recipient; e.g., “Dear John.” The person writing the letter then signs his or her name at the bottom. In Paul’s day, the writer began the letter by by stating the name of the person who was sending the letter. In the first verse of both letters to the Thessalonians, we read that it was from “Paul, Silas, and Timothy.”
What’s telling here is the humility and team spirit being displayed by Paul. Even though he’s the famous apostle and leader, he includes the names of his co-laborers, Silas and Timothy. If you’re full of yourself, you would make it all about yourself. Paul could have written something like the following: “This is Paul writing, remember? The one who saw Jesus on the road? I started that church in your city. I am the father of that church. You remember me, don’t you? Oh, by the way, I have some guys helping me named Timothy and Silas, but they’re not really important. It’s me. Give me a ‘P’; give me an ‘A’; give me a ‘U’; give me an ‘L.’"
No, it wasn’t like that at all. Notice: Paul said that he, Silas, and Timothy were writing together, even though he ended his second letter to the Thessalonians by saying, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.” Later on in his first letter, Paul goes on to talk about how the three of them prayed and worked together on behalf of the church in Thessalonica.
This reminds us that we don’t have to push ourselves forward in God’s kingdom. Promotion comes from the Lord, and what the world considers success is not how God measures achievement. Now, remember that Paul said, “Imitate me...” His complete thought, however, was the following: "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). And how did he do that? Well, Jesus was the one who said, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of spirit”; and it was that humility that the apostle Paul was displaying as he began his letter to the Thessalonians. That doesn’t sound like a formula for getting ahead according to the philosophy of this age, but it’s a sure recipe for winning the prize as we run with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-6.