Imitators and Examples
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 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.” 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7
St. Paul’s train of thought continues as he describes how Christians learn and grow by being part of a community. He notes that the Thessalonians had become “imitators” of him and how they had grown to become “an example” to others. The late British theologian Lesslie Newbigin wrote, “Jesus didn’t write a book, but formed a community.” The Christian faith is not lived out and practiced in isolation, but as part of an assembly of Christians who gather around Christ to receive His gifts, to pray for one another and to encourage one another. Likewise, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, writes, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”
St. Paul’s description of the faith being “imitated” should not threaten our Lutheran sensibilities. Children (and adults) learn by imitating others. The physical act of prayer (in most cases with hands folded, head bowed) is shaped by the actions of others. Parents learn the “practice” of the Christian faith by watching their parents and other Christians. One of the aspects of our communities of saints that has suffered during the pandemic has been that social distance has made it more difficult to see the example of other Christians and to imitate their faith. During the extended period of separation, children and young adults were not able to see the piety and devotion of older adults who have such great love for Christ’s Word and Sacrament and being part of the community of believers.
Watching a service online is a means by which Christians can receive the Word, but it does not provide an opportunity to imitate others or be an example to others. Like St. Paul, the time of separation created a sincere desire to physically worship together so that those blessings from God of being part of such a community can provide encouragement and support for one another.
One particular shut-in who I visited as a pastor would regularly lament his inability to attend worship in person. On Sunday mornings, he would listen to the Lutheran Hour, his own congregation’s worship service and another nearby Lutheran congregation’s service on the radio. The Lord was feeding and strengthening him through the Word, but He longed to be part of the community again. His was a sincere faith was to be commended and imitated as one who hungered and thirsted for Christ and His gifts within the community.
When you attend worship this week, note how God has surrounded you with a great cloud of witnesses. They are blessings from God to serve as examples to you. Be imitators of them! Thanks be to God for the precious gift of a community of saints to encourage and support us in the faith.
Prayer – Almighty God, grant to Your Church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes down from above, that Your Word may not be bound but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve You and, in the confession of Your name, abide unto the end; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan