What does spiritual vitality look like in our lives?
The theme we’re examining as we go through 1 Thessalonians as a church is “Being Real Christians in Challenging Times.” It’s not hard to figure out how such a theme applies to all of us right now, is it?
On Sunday we continued our journey through the very first book of the Bible the Apostle Paul wrote and got into verses 5 through 10 of chapter 1. Starting off we’re introduced to the idea of being “imitators” and “examples.” Verses 6 and 7 say, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
If we’re serious about living out our Christian faith, we will look at those around us we can imitate or take after. Particularly in the first-century church, persecution and danger lurked everywhere for believers in Christ — and naturally they had to have been asking themselves, “How do we live under pressure as believers?” Well, one of the best ways to do so — then and now — is to be a good imitator. But here’s the other side of that coin: Once we become imitators and have a grasp of how the Christian life should be lived, we then become examples. In this circle of the spiritual life, we who’ve been blessed with instruction and understanding must do the same thing for others coming after us!
Further, the importance of spiritual vitality shines through the passage as we see four related traits of believers: They are centered on others, they are Bible powered, and they endure under pressure and exhibit supernatural joy. Let’s look at those traits.
In verse 5 Paul tells the Thessalonians that he and his companions came to them for their sake. That’s what it means to be centered on others. In times of crisis and persecution, many people focus on themselves — but as believers in Jesus, we’re called to look out for the needs of others as more important than our own. So, if you’re feeling pressure from outside forces today, it’s time to get into God’s word and see the best path to relief from anxiety — especially during a crisis like COVID-19 — is to reach out to others who may be in need.
In verse 8 we read that “the word of the Lord sounded forth from” the Thessalonian church. What a tribute to the young church from the Apostle Paul! He recognized that his flock was all about the business of “echoing out” the Good News of the gospel. And one incredibly important thing to remember — particularly now when any number of people you know are looking for answers — is that more than likely you are the gospel, and people see the gospel in you. Long before they crack open a Bible! That’s a sobering but exhilarating idea.
Following that same thought in verse 9, we find Paul looking into the pasts of believers who — like most people of their time and place — worshiped idols made of stone, wood, or metal instead of the true God. But do idols have to be things we can touch? Of course not. For us, idols are anything we worship or bow down to. How does such a definition impact your own life? Well, is your idol the stock market, your personal financial security, your health? Thing is, the stock market — for all the power it’s been exuding lately — has been in free fall and is incredibly unstable at the moment. There are so many things we can’t control — but we do know the Lord is the one who’s in control of all things. And that has to be part of our communication of the gospel.
Finally verse 10 says we’re to wait for Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. We learned Sunday that the Greek word for the verb “to wait” takes on the meaning of to “remain up.” Interestingly last week we talked about having steadfast hope — and the Greek meaning for that idea is to “remain under.” In this latest passage, we see that the idea of “remain up” is closely related to our lives not being bound to earthly things since we’re waiting for Jesus, the Son, to come back from Heaven. These days people are waiting for a lot of things besides Jesus Christ: They’re waiting to start socializing again, they’re waiting for the COVID-19 infection rate to reduce, they’re waiting for their kids to go back to school and for the economy to improve — all very important things. But as Christians we have supernatural joy about what Jesus is going to do in our lives whether there’s a deadly virus going around the world or not. And we always should wait on Jesus to deliver us as we “remain up” in our worship of him.