Sunday, 13 September 2015

Discipleship by Imitation - 1 Thessalonians 1:2 - 10

Modelling and imitation is a concept seen several times in the New Testament. Hardly surprising in that Jesus set about modelling Kingdom life: gathering people around him, giving them hands on experience of the Kingdom, unpacking it for them, sending them to do the same, and then helping them make sense of it.


Paul describes himself as imitating the Lord. After his own conversion and discipleship his travelling missionary work included discipling new believers as well as the Kingdom preaching.

Put simply, this is the way of Jesus, and the way that the Spirit's Kingdom work spreads around the world. See in v7 the Thessalonian believers themselves became a model for others, the message 'ringing out' through them. Last week we heard how things in Thessalonica were interrupted - yet still they went on to support an ever increasing regional work. How?

The two reasons are seen in this letter. First was the encounter with Jesus - Jesus was the foundation of their faith (see v5, gospel came with power, Holy Spirit and deep conviction). Secondly was their ability to keep true to those foundations in Jesus, an ability arising from the discipleship habits formed in them (see v6 'you became imitators of us', i.e. they learnt to do what Paul did ... what Jesus did). Those habits would enable them to endure, doing Kingdom work despite adversity and suffering (as mentioned in v6).

In my own life I have been able to sit with people vastly more experienced than myself and observe how they approached things. Encouraged by them to get stuck in myself, their approaches and attitudes positively rubbed off on me. Years later I find myself almost sub-consciously imitating them (and I believe I am much better for it!). They taught by their example - truly worth more than thousands of words!

That is the mentoring approach of Jesus, and one we can apply across all areas of church life. From basic discipleship right up to developing leadership skills, we can all participate in the basic model of getting people together, giving hands on experience, encourage to have a go, and reflecting with people.

The key question and challenge from last week is about our own discipleship habits. The practice of meeting with a trusted few, say every 8 weeks or so, for prayer, challenge and encouragement is surely a vital habit for us to stay true to our own foundations in Jesus. It might be one of the few places we can be truly open and honest, allowing other people to challenge us where we need re-directing.

As a church we want to see Kingdom Life break out across the city. The Thessalonians saw this, and v3 tells us it was through working to the point of being worn out (the word 'labour' has this 'worn out' sense). Clearly they put their Jesus inspired faith into action, and formed habits that allowed the Spirit to go on overflowing love from their lives even against the odds. Not necessarily because of any special teaching or motivational speech by Paul, but because they learnt to do what Paul did, and through Paul what Jesus did ... giving life so that others might live.

Yes we want Kingdom life across our city, spreading across the region. So let us adopt the same model.

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