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  • Imitators of Christ

    Posted on October 25th, 2009 admin No comments

    Earlier this week ABC news reported a story of a woman who imitated Christ in a life-threatening situation. Angela Montez was doing her job as a clerk in a check-cashing store. In walked an armed robber who hopped over the counter and stuck a loaded gun in Angela’s face. Angela started praying. She needed God to intervene, not only for her but also for this young, 23 year old man who was about to ruin his life. Angela started talking to the robber, “Don’t do this. You are too young. Don’t do it.” The robber confessed that he had a two-year-old son to support, but he did not have a job. He thought he was out of options. Angela kept imitating Christ. She prayed to God. She showed this man love. She kept talking to him like anyone else who needed a little encouragement. Video surveillance tape shows what happened next. The robber got down on one knee and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. Then they both stood up and hugged. The robber handed Angela the one bullet in his gun. They continued to talk for another thirty minutes as Angela kept imitating Christ. The man then took twenty dollars and left the store.

    That situation could have turned real ugly real fast. But, Angela allowed God to work through her. She imitated Christ before this young man and God changed his heart.

    We need to be like Angela. We need to be an example to those around us so that they can see God in us, so that they can see that the gospel we proclaim with our mouths has made a difference in our lives. If we do our part, then we can trust God to do his part of bringing humanity back into relationship with himself. If we don’t imitate Christ, the world will think the gospel message is a joke. They will look at us, see nothing different and have no reason to believe the message of the cross, which is foolishness to them.

    What would happen, though, if we would imitate Christ?
    What would God do in the lives of people around us if we just lived as Christ followers? We are going to answer that question this morning. We will take the entire message to build up to the answer. The answer will be very short. It will come at the very end of this message. Hopefully we will leave church today motivated to imitate Christ because we know what would happen if we did.

    I invite you to turn your Bible to 1 Thessalonians chapter 1. We are going to focus our attention on verses 6 through 8. In order to get a feel for how these verses fit into context, we will start by reading the entire first chapter.

    1 Thessalonians 1 (NASB95)
    1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
    2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;
    3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,
    4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;
    5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
    6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
    7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
    8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.
    9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God,
    10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.

    Let’s pray. “Father God, help us learn what you would have us know, and help us live the way you want us to live. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

    Now that we have read the first chapter of Thessalonians, let’s talk about the background of this book, which comes from the book of Acts.

    The Apostle Paul visited the city of Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. Thessalonica is the capitol city of the Roman province. You wouldn’t expect many synagogues there; this place is full of Romans. Yet, when Paul entered the city he saw a synagogue. What’s the big deal? Well, the synagogue means that there are more than just a few Jews in the area. Paul heads straight to the Jews and gets to work. He reasons with them for three weeks. He shows them from the scriptures that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. Some Jews believed, as did Greeks and some prominent women in the city.

    These conversions angered the Jews who did not believe the gospel. They wanted to put an end to Paul’s missionary work so they sent hit men to Jason’s house, which was where Paul was staying. They didn’t find Paul or his men, but they started plenty of trouble. This trouble was so great that the Christians had Paul leave town. It was best that Paul move on.

    Paul and his men headed south to Berea. Guess what they found there? They found a synagogue and started sharing the gospel. Guess what happened when they shared the gospel? Once again, God worked. The gospel started making sense to some people and they believed in Christ.

    As God worked in the hearts of people down South in Berea, the Jews up North in Thessalonica heard that Jews were still coming to faith in Christ. That news upset them. It made them terribly mad. So, guess what they did? The angry Jews headed south to Berea to give Paul more trouble. This trouble was so great that the Berean Christians had Paul leave town. It was best that Paul move on.

    Paul headed South again to Athens, but this time Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea. A short time later they joined Paul in Athens, but Paul sent them back to minister in Berea and Thessalonica. The two men eventually returned to Paul in Corinth. They did not return empty handed though. They took a gift. They took money donated by the people Paul led to Christ. At this point, not only did Timothy give Paul money, but he also delivered a report about what was happening in the church in Thessalonica. Remember Paul went from Thessalonica to Berea to Athens. He was out of touch with the Thessalonians other than through Timothy. The text we just read, 1 Thessalonians, was the letter Paul wrote in response to Timothy’s report.

    Now that we know some of the background of this letter, let’s examine verses 6 through 8. We want to learn what would happen if we imitated Christ. What would happen if we lived lives of obedient faith?

    Our key text begins at verse 6.

    Verse 6 is a continuation of the paragraph that began in verse 2, “We thank God for all of you.” Let’s make sure we know to whom these pronouns refer. The “we” in verse 2 refers to Paul, Silas and Timothy. The “you” in verse 2 refers to the church of the Thessalonians. Paul, Silas and Timothy thanked God for the Thessalonian believers in their prayers. Paul, Silas and Timothy knew that God chose the Thessalonian believers.

    Verse 6 begins with the subject “you” and contains the pronoun “us.” The Thessalonian believers became imitators of Paul, Silas and Timothy.

    The verb “became” is in the aorist tense. The aorist tense stresses the entrance into a state. It gives us a snapshot of what happened in the past. The Thessalonian believers became imitators. They weren’t always imitators; something happened that transformed them from what they once were to what they now are.

    The thing that happened is found in the preceding verse. In verse 4 we see that God chose them. God chose them to be part of something bigger than themselves. This choosing was not the outcome of random chance, but the exercise of God’s sovereignty. In verse 5 we see that the gospel came to the Thessalonian believers in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

    God chose the believers. Then God used Paul, Silas and Timothy to share the gospel: Christ died and rose again. Then God in the person of the Holy Spirit convicted the hearts of those who heard that gospel.

    The thing that happened that transformed the Thessalonians from blind, deaf, dead, lost sinners into imitators was God’s work in the hearts of men. God chose his people. God moved men to preach the gospel. God convicted hearts. God transformed lives. No more deafness. No more blindness. Once lost, but now found. Now imitators.

    Before we answer what would happen if we imitated Christ, let’s consider what it means to be an imitator.

    The word that is translated imitator comes from the Greek word μιμητής.

    The secular usage of this word group surfaces in the sixth century B.C. It means “to imitate” or “to mimic.” If a work of art is an imitation, it is a copy of the real thing. That is generally not good. No one wants a counterfeit painting. Imitating people, on the other hand, can be good or bad. Imitating good people can be a way to goodness, just as imitating bad people can be a way to badness. When it comes to imitating people, if you want to find the way to goodness, chose wisely.

    If I were to say, imitate this chair (or any other inanimate object) you would have difficulty. What, are you supposed to just sit there and hope someone comes to sit on you or to wipe dust off your back? The very idea makes no sense. On the other hand, if I were to say imitate Dave, you’d begin by looking at him. You’d observe the way he is sitting. You’d notice what he is doing with his hands. You’d look at the expression on his face. You then may try to do what he’s doing. If you were serious about imitating Dave you would want to know his thoughts. You would want to climb into his skin and live as he lives. Of course, the more time you had to learn about him, the easier it would be to imitate him. You could go about your business imitating Dave.

    That is the idea of being an imitator. As an imitator, you don’t simply try to match the physical movements of someone else, but you’ve watched them, you’ve listened to them, you’ve lived life alongside them, you’ve started thinking how they think, and you’ve taken it so seriously that you start living as they live.

    Now, who are we supposed to imitate?

    According to verse 6, the Thessalonians believers became imitators of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy and of the Lord. That sounds strange. I can somewhat understand imitating one person, but three people? That’s not to mention imitating the Lord?

    Interestingly enough, the general idea of imitating God is not found in the Old Testament. However, this word does appear elsewhere in the New Testament. I’ll read a few verses that contain the idea of imitating. Listen to the progression of how this word is used. 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul writes, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul writes again, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Did you catch that? Be imitators of me. Be imitators of me as I am of Christ. Be imitators of God.

    How can you be an imitator of Paul, Silvanus, Timothy and of the Lord? Well, the three men were imitating Christ. They modeled their lives after the one who came from heaven to earth and taught from the Hebrew scriptures. They modeled their lives after the one who gave his life. To imitate Paul, Silvanus, Timothy and Lord, model your life after Paul. Obey his words; they are inspired by God. Do as he does and do as he says. Follow his example and obey his words, then you will be imitating Christ.

    That gives me hope because Paul made a few mistakes along the way. He once persecuted Christians. Yet, when God got ahold of him, he gave him grace and transformed him into an imitator of Christ.

    God got ahold of the Thessalonian believers too. He gave them grace and transformed them into imitators of Christ. Christ is ultimately the one we are to imitate. If you want to look to a spiritual leader in your life, that’s fine. If you want to look to Paul, that’s even better. Know that Christ is the one you are ultimately imitating.

    You may want more specifics. What does it mean to be an imitator of Christ? You think, “I understand how I could imitate Dave, for I can see him. But, how do I imitate Christ?” That’s a great question. Let’s go to our text to find two ways to imitate Christ.

    The first way to imitate Christ is to receive the word. Verse 6 continues, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word.” The verb translated receive is δέχομαι which means to receive (dugh) or to welcome. Just as you can receive a letter someone writes you, or you can receive someone into your home, you can receive the word.

    “The word” here refers to the early Christian message. This is different than John’s use of “the word.” John uses the word in reference to Jesus Christ. Some say that when Paul writes, “they received the word,” he is talking about the truth revealed in the New Testament, Matthew through Revelation. The word of God, the word of the Lord and the word all refer to the scripture. However, the phrase “received the word” is used throughout the New Testament. In Acts 8:14, Samaria had received the word of God. In Acts 11:1, the Gentiles had received the word of God. In Acts 17:11 the Bereans received the word. James 1:21 says, “In humility receive the word…, which is able to save your souls.” When the New Testament writers say “receive the word,” they are referring to the gospel message, that Christ died, was buried and rose from the grave. It is more than reciving a letter. It is more than receiving someone into your home. Receiving the word is welcoming the truth that Jesus Christ died in your place for your sin, he was buried and he rose from the grave as a promise that you have been granted eternal life.

    APP: Have you received the word? Have you welcomed the truth of the gospel into your life? If you have, God has transformed you from what you once were to an imitator of Christ.

    What do you have to do to be an imitator of Christ? First, you must receive the word. You must believe the gospel. It all starts there. Without faith there is nothing. Without faith you are not an imitator of Christ.

    Receiving the word sounds easy enough, but consider the conditions under which faith comes.

    Verse 6 continues, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation.” Tribulation? What does that mean? Tribulation means trouble.

    ILL: Earlier this week I was listening to a country music station. The jockey asked, “What’s the most trouble you’ve ever been in?” Listeners called in to respond. One girl skipped school to attend the state fair. Later that evening whe was sitting at home with her family watching the local news. Up flashed a video of the state fair. There she was pictured in the background. Opps. Trouble. Another man called in and said he and a friend were shooting cars on the highway with a paintball gun. One of the cars that was hit happened to be an unmarked Kentucky Highway Patrol car. Opps. Trouble.

    Do you think that’s bad? That’s nothing.

    Some of you may know about the trouble Paul has in mind when he writes about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “But if you marry, you… will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.” (Does marriage really come with trouble?)

    John 16:33 reads, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

    Listen to what Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 24. He is talking about signs of his coming, the end of the age. Matthew 24:6-9, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
    If that sounds too extreme, listen to John’s words to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

    That is trouble. If you haven’t faced it, get ready. It is coming. Trouble will test your faith. The way you respond to trouble will tell you if you have received the word. Your response to trouble will tell you if you are an imitator of Christ.

    Consider Paul’s response to tribulation. In Romans 5:3-5, he writes, “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 12:12, “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” 2 Corinthians 7:4, “I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.”

    Just as Paul knew joy in his trouble, so did the Thessaloian believers. Verse 6 says they “received the word in much tribulation with… joy.” The imitator of Christ knows joy no matter what trouble life throws his or her way.

    Do you want to know what is so amazing about this joy? Do you want to know what makes this joy so different than any short-lived happiness brought by a new car, a new house, a new job, a good round of golf, or all the money in the world? What makes this joy so different is that this joy, this delight, is maintained in the face of tribulation. No matter what trouble comes your way, this joy isn’t leaving.

    That sounds good, but what is the source of this joy? I need it, because even though I haven’t seen the tribulation Jesus spoke about, life isn’t easy. If I can’t keep the joy when I face my little problems, what am I going to do when the real trouble comes? If I don’t have this joy, I’m going to question if I’ve received the word. If I haven’t received the word, I’m not an imitator. And if I’m not an imitator of Christ, I’m nothing. But, I know I’m something because God chose me, he transformed me into an imitator of Christ when I received the word by believing the gospel. Now I need this joy so that I can, like Paul, like the Thessalonians, persevere through tribulation. The source of this joy is, verse 6, the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity who convicted me of my need for salvation in verse 5 and who gives joy in verse 6. Now that I have received the word, I can be an imitator of Christ by cooperating with Holy Spirit’s work in my life. I don’t quench the Spirit’s work, suppressing it like a fire. I don’t grieve the Spirit by acting in sin. I cooperate with the Spirit by being sensitive to his guidance. As the Spirit leads through prayer, people and the application of the word that I have read, I must obey. When I obey I know the joy of being an imitator of Christ. Throw me in jail. Take away my earthly possessions. Tack me to a cross. I am living my life for Christ. He is my joy.

    The second thing you must do to imitate Christ is cooperate with the Holy Spirit. You first receive the word, then you obey the Holy Spirit. That’s the spiritual life in a nutshell. Don’t make it more complicated than it is.

    APP: Let’s get real personal. Are you imitating Christ? When you evaluate the way you act at work, they way you interact with your spouse, or the way you spend time with and encourage your children, are you allowing the Holy Spirit to guide your steps, to lead you in a Christ-like life? As I’ve thought this passage the past few days, I’ve caught myself so many times. I saw someone and immediately thought something negative. “Nope, that’s not imitating Christ.” I let unwholesome words come out of my mouth. “Nope, that’s not imitating Christ.” Uh, it’s never ending. If I could only fully cooperate with the Holy Spirit, then I’d be a consistent imitator of Christ. How about you? What are those areas in your life that need to be marked by more obedience to God’s work? I challenge you to find a person you trust – maybe your spouse or someone in this church. Let them know you’ve not been disobedient in an area, regardless of how small it may be. Give them the freedom to call you out should you stumble. Have them remind you that you are an imitator of Christ, not an imitation Christian. “Darling, I know that I have not been speaking words of love into you. It’s easier for me to tear you down than to build you up. I want to stop doing that. Remind me, would you, with lots of grace that I am an imitator of Christ.”

    Now that we know what it means to imitate Christ, what would happen if we took imitating Christ seriously?

    Let’s see what happened in the first century. Our text reads, “You became imitators of us and the Lord,” verse 7, “so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” This verse begins with the conjunction so that. It gives us the result of what happened when the Thessalonians became imitators of Christ.

    What happened? They became an example to all the believers.

    When you imitate Christ, you become an example of the gospel’s transforming power to those around you.

    The word translated example (typos) means “the mark (of a blow), an impression, stamp (made by a die). It is used in reference to the visible scar in Jesus’ side in Jn 20:25. It was something that could be seen. In our text it means an example of obedient faith. Paul is said to be an example or model to the church. Now, the church is a model. The church leaves a visible mark through faithful living. Greater obedience to the received word and greater obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit leaves a greater impression on people. Of course church leaders should leave such an impression, but what about you? Does your life leave a visible mark that shows you are an imitator of Christ?

    ILL: Friday I received an email from a Christian couple I had been out of touch with for several years. It was a mass email that said their time in Israel was over and that they were back in South Carolina. When I saw their names in my inbox, I remembered how much they ministered to me during my time overseas. I was in major need of Christian fellowship and God used them to encourage me. They left a visible mark of obedient faith on my life. I can say, “Thanks be to God for them.”

    You surely have people like that in your life. When you look back, you recall certain people who left an impression of faith on you. Thank God for transforming them into imitators of Christ and for using them in your life.

    APP: Let’s get personal again. What impression are you leaving on others? Are you leaving visible marks of Christ such that people will say “Thank God for you”? Or, are you too busy doing something else that you think is more important?

    In verse 8 we see that the gospel message spread throughout the land. The Thessalonian believers were proclaiming the gospel with their words and backing it up with their actions. The result of their example was so great that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy had no need to say anything. The last phrase of verse 8 should leave you gasping for air. When these missionaries traveled behind the Thessalonian believers, they had no need to say anything. The church said it all.

    Imagine what would happen if all of us lived as imitators of Christ. We would leave visible impressions of Christ on those around us. People would see that the gospel changes lives. Anyone who would walk behind us would not have to say one word. The good news of new life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ would have already been proclaimed. The gospel message would spread across the world faster than any time in history.

    Let’s encourage each other as we set out to imitate Christ. Then let’s watch God change lives.


    Last Friday ABC news reported a follow up to Angela Montez’s story. This time they reported the robber’s account of what happened. Dressed in his orange prison garb, he said referring to Angela, “She just started talking to me and let me know there is different ways of going about things and she started praying for me. It had to be God working through her because she just talked to me like a mother or grandmother to her child, and she made me feel comfortable. I started telling her stuff I hadn’t even told my own mother. I even tried to give her the gun. She wouldn’t take it.” He ends, “To everybody I’ve affected in this I just want to say I’m sorry (sniffle) for putting ya’ll through this.”

    The reporter concludes the story by sharing her thoughts about Angela, “She said she literal felt the presence of God, but her compassion, her faith, remarkable.”

    Angel’s example left visible marks of Christ on that reporter, the young man who robbed her and anyone else who heard about this story.

    Only God knows what he will do through his children who imitate Christ.

    Let’s pray.


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