…as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit (I Thess. 1:5-6).
What kind of man was Paul? In I Cor. 11:1 he exhorts the people of Corinth to “imitate me…” wow! Immediate thought mind tend toward overconfidence; perhaps even proudly so.
But we must read the full statement. “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Ah, the later changes everything. Paul is describing that his identity is absolutely bound up with Christ Jesus.
He was a man of Christ and therefore the gospel of Christ. This gospel was the center of his life. He was a man, not focused on the kingdom of the Roman Empire, nor on the Caesar of the empire, nor of the fabulous and very daily advantages and pleasures of the culture for an esteemed citizen of the empire. No, quite the contrary. Paul was a man who followed another king, not Caesar. He was a man who was not of this world. He was not after satisfying his own passions or the lust of personal pleasure. He did not attempt to win the approval of the community surrounding him. Paul’s hope was his approval of Christ. His teaching reflected that the only long lasting, eternal hope was that found solely and wonderfully in Christ.
Paul’s life reflected such truth without contradiction. His life was bound up with Christ. He lived in such a way that reflected the reality of another world. That is the kind of man Paul proved to be among them. He glorified God by witnessing to the reality of the kingdom of God in the face of the very power of the Roman Empire and its domination of the surrounding cultures. His life was bound up with Christ.
And what happened to many of the people in Paul’s presence? They became imitators of Paul and of the Lord. It wasn’t easy. Remember the backdrop of the church in Thessalonica is found in Acts 17. Some of the descriptive words towards the believers in that city who chose to follow Paul—“evil men”, “mob”, “attacking”, “dragged.” No wonder Paul would write “having received the word with much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” The Thessalonians, to use New Testament language, “took up their cross.”
This is what it means to be a Christian. You die to yourself and the old way of life in order to live in a way in which your hope is in Christ who transcends the struggles of this world. You look well beyond satisfying your own desires. The one who sincerely calls Jesus “Lord,” lives life intending to submit to Him.
Consider the above verse and the reality of the words “affliction” and “joy” in the same sentence. This is not the language of one living an earth-centered-life. This kind of language makes no sense if your hope is based on the promises of this world. Paul is commenting on a joy beyond words, found in the gospel. One which daily chooses to be lived with submission to the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. It is a joy which comes from a confidence in the forgiveness of sin solely by the Cross of Christ. It is a joy that knows it is God who will make all things right one day.
That day is soon… Heaven is soon and time is short… we’ve been forgiven of sin. That is good news!