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Thank God for Christian Role Models!

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It’s not uncommon for children to have a role model.  The list of role models varies, depending on who you ask.  Some kids may look up to a pro athlete like LeBron James or Tiger Woods.  Others may look up to movie stars or signers.  Adults look up to individuals also.  They admire people who have made it in business like Bill Gates or those who have found “the American Dream.”  These role models often serve as a model which we use to pattern our lives after.  But after we look closer at some of these role models, we often begin to notice flaws or traits that we know we should avoid.  When we look closer we see former role models like Charles Barkley have a gambling problem, or that Mark McGwire used steroids to get ahead.  We are left to ask ourselves, should they be our role models?  The Apostle Paul set himself up as a role model for the congregation in Thessalonica.  In doing so, he was saying Thank God for Christian Role-Models!  In our lesson this morning, Paul says that as Christians, we should Imitate their good example and that we should Be a good example.

Paul’s visit to the Thessalonians was one that was marked by persecution.   Paul had recently visited the town of Philippi and been thrown in jail.  After he was released and publicly escorted out of the city, Paul and his companions went to the town of Thessalonica.  After preaching in the synagogue, the Jews banded together and formed a mob.  They were looking to drive Paul out of Thessalonica or even to physically hurt him.  When they couldn’t find Paul they targeted a man named Jason and accused Paul of stirring up trouble all over the whole world. 

During this whole time of persecution, Paul did not stop what he was doing.  He stood firm in his faith, a faith which he continued to preach and teach.  Paul stood up for the truth and continued to preach “Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2)  Eventually, the Thessalonians encouraged Paul and his companions to sneak out of the city for their own safety.  But even then, all the way to their next stop at Berea, the mob continued to persecute the Christians.  We are told through this letter that persecution still remained for those fledgling Christians in Thessalonica. 

It is because of that persecution that Paul wrote this letter a few months later from Corinth.  At the very beginning of this letter, Paul commends the Thessalonians for following his example. “You became imitators of us” (v6) he says and precedes that by saying “You know how we lived among you for your sake.” (v5)  This is not Paul’s attempt at boosting his own ego, or his way of showing off an opinion of high self-worth.  Rather, Paul himself said time after time that his boasting was not of his own strengths.  Instead, as he wrote to the Corinthians, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor. 11:30)  Paul knew that the Lord’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

Paul was reminding the Thessalonian congregation of how he stood firm through the persecution.  He was reminding them that it was the Lord’s guiding hand that allowed him to remain strong in the faith, that it was the Lord’s strength that kept him going at even the toughest times.  And he gave thanks that the Thessalonians had imitated his attitude, knowing that the Lord is in control of all things.

Paul, when he encourages the Thessalonians to imitate him, is also encouraging us to imitate him.  We may not have mobs banging at the doors of our church or our homes, ready to drag us off to court and jail simply because we are Christians.  We still, however, experience “severe suffering” (v6) of our own kind.  Satan stands ready to use the world to cause us suffering.  He uses the world to tell us that being a Christian means we can’t have any fun.  He uses the world to give us other role models to follow.  But how often aren’t these role models anything other than Christian.  The role models the world would have us follow have children out of wedlock, place a high emphasis on achieving wealth and have values that seem to be the complete opposite of biblical values.  The devil will even try to use some inside the Christian realm to be well-known personalities and role models.  He elevates TV evangelists who don’t preach God’s Word in all its truth and purity.  Satan uses sports personalities or celebs who claim to be Christian, but then don’t support their claims with their actions. 

It may seem that there’s really “no harm, no foul” in following a role model who may be less than Christian.  After all, we know better right?  Let us all be careful that we are not led astray by this thinking.  After all, isn’t it true that the more we listen to one thing, the more that we begin to apply it to our own lives?  How else might we explain the callousness, if not acceptance, of abortions or homesexuality?  These ideas have become prevalent on TV, and now are starting to seep their way into our lives.  The devil uses role models who live according to the world to get us to follow the sinful world.  He can use sinful examples to get us to stray from the will of God and to disobey him.  Finally, if we continue to follow role models who live according the sinful world, we will be led away from the Way to heaven and find ourselves on the easy road to hell. 

In spite of this suffering and these attempts to lead us astray, Paul thanks God that we have imitated him by “welcoming the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (v6).  It is only in this message, the message of the gospel, that we receive the power to stand firm against all the assaults of the devil.  Paul gave thanks that we have “become imitators” of him.  When Paul uses the word imitators, he is really saying that we have mimicked him.  The Greek word Paul used is the root for our English words “mimic” and “mime.”  The Apostle Paul is not only our role model – he is also an example after which we mimic our Christian living.  As we mimic him we stand firm against the trials and temptations that are thrown at us.  As we mimic Paul, we mimic his attitude of turning to God’s Word in tough and easy times.  We imitate his attitude of rejoicing through the persecution we may experience in this life.  Paul had that same idea when he wrote to the Romans, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom. 5:3,4)

Paul tells us that in mimicking him we are really imitating the Lord.  The Apostle Paul knew that the strength he had to stand through the trials and persecutions was really a strength received from Christ himself.  He knew that Jesus Christ was the ultimate role model.  He was tempted on several occasions, but stood firm.  As the write to the Hebrews said, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15)  Jesus righteousness, his perfection, has covered our failures.  Jesus Christ is more than just an example; he is our Savior from sin!  The Apostle Paul lived his life in the joy of knowing Christ as his Savior, and he let that joy show itself in any and every situation.  Paul reflected Christ in his life, and he says that when we are imitating him we too reflect Christ in our lives.  When we imitate Paul, we too show the joy of knowing that Christ is our Savior.

It’s often the case that when you imitate a person long enough, you begin to act just like that person even if you are no longer trying.  That’s what Paul said had happened with the Thessalonian congregation.  He said that they had become a good example for others.  Paul tells us this morning that we, too, should be a good example. 

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”(v7)  Their faith had become known to all the areas that surrounded them.  Paul later includes the Thessalonians among those congregations who, despite severe persecution, begged to share in Paul’s ministry in whatever way possible.  (2 Cor. 8:15)  They were eager to share in Paul’s ministry as well as conduct their own.  Listen to what Paul writes about the Thessalonian Christians: “The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere.” (v8)

Behind Paul’s words to the Thessalonians is a question to us.  Paul asks us, “Are you a good example to those around you?”  He asks us if we are like the Thessalonian congregation, a shining example of how the Gospel works among mankind; or are we just merely here, not really giving off any sort of example to those around us?  If we were to go canvassing in the neighborhoods of Wichita, would people know where our church is if it weren’t for the large addition we’re building?  Is our faith evident to those around us?  Can they look at us and say that there is something clearly different about us, that they can see Christ reflected in our lives?  Or is the better statement that we consider living our Christian lives as a Sunday only thing?  Do we daily show our sanctified lives or when we go home and change out of our Sunday best do we also hang up our visible Christian lifestyle?

My fellow Christians, rescued through the blood of the Son, we are like the Thessalonians.  We are a good example to others when we get up regularly to faithfully attend worship.  We are a good example to others when we, despite troubles and distractions of this life, let the joy of our Christian faith shine through everything.  When we fight the temptation of greed and selfishness to generously give back to God’s church, we are wonderful examples for the world to follow. 

As good examples to the world, we eagerly “wait for his Son from heaven.”(v10)  God’s Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, is that perfect role model on which our faith is based.  But best of all, he is so much more than a role model – he is our Savior!  He is the one who endured all temptation and persecution, yet was without sin.  It was he who willingly gave up his life on the cross, and then rose again just three days later.  Paul tells us that through that death and resurrection, “Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath.”(v10)  Had Jesus not died and rose again, we would still be held captive by our sins and death would hold all power over us.  However, now that Jesus has come and fulfilled his work, we have been released from the chains of our sins.  Through his death and resurrection, Jesus’ perfect life has been credited to each of us through faith. 

Having faith in God’s Son, we now possess the strength to be good examples to the world around us.  We are good examples to other Christians, strengthening them in their faith.  We encourage them with our actions to stay rooted in God’s Word.  We encourage those around us, by living our life in such a way that Christ is seen in our actions.  Through the gospel we possess the strength to let our faith in God be known everywhere. (v8)  As we let our faith be known, we show ourselves to be good examples to the world around us.   We are good examples in order to strengthen fellow Christians and to open the eyes of those still living without the Savior.  As good examples to the unbelieving world we let our faith shine so that they may see what a difference the Savior makes both for their life here on earth and for all eternity.

As a child, I looked up to Magic Johnson.  I grew up just outside of the town where Magic Johnson grew up and played college basketball.  He was an amazing athlete and seemed to be an amazing person as well.  And yet, Magic could not live up to the expectations that I had put on him.  My image of Magic was shattered when he told the world that had contracted AIDS because he had been with many women.  Compared with Jesus, Magic Johnson could never measure up.  Jesus is our perfect role model – he never gave in to temptation.  He is our perfect Savior whose death won our salvation.  And Jesus is the perfect motivation for us to be role models ourselves.  Because of Christ, we say along with Paul: Thank God for Christian Role Models!


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