Pretty much everyone born before 2000 remembers the Gatorade commercials with Michael Jordan with the tag, “I wanna be like Mike.” Consisting of scenes of Jordan jumping and dunking, followed by kids and teens playing basketball, and then Jordan drinking Gatorade, the message was, “If you want to be like Mike, just drink gatorade.” This commercial was just one of a decades-long marketing strategy built upon this idea of imitation. For decades we’ve bought into the imitation marketing strategy hook, line, and sinker. I find it in my own life every time I think that buying this brand of golf balls will make me hit it like Tiger, or this brand of tennis racquet will make me play like Nadal. This desire to imitate others is a powerful thing.
The notion of imitation is also a robustly Biblical one. The question becomes, then, “What are we imitating? How are we imitating? Why are we imitating? And what do we expect as a result of our imitation?” We see repeated exhortations throughout the New Testament to imitate leaders of the church (1 Cor 4:16), other members of the community of faith (Phil 3:7), to imitate what is good (3 John 11), as well as to imitate God and Jesus Christ (Eph 5:1).
This idea of imitation has been on my mind recently as I’ve considered another passage of Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10. As I read and pondered this passage, I asked questions like, “What was it about their lives that made them worthy of imitation? What was Paul commending in their lives? And how do we learn from those things so that we, too, would live a life worth imitating?”
As you read that passage, you’ll find 4 things that specifically made their lives worthy of imitation, and 4 things that I believe you and I should pursue as well — They were joyfully persevering, Gospel-spreading, God-serving, and Christ-awaiting.
First, we see that they were joyfully persevering. These Thessalonian believers were imitating their spiritual fathers and their Lord Jesus by joyfully persevering through various trials and tribulations. Their spiritual mentors had been forcefully led out of the city. Presumably they themselves were facing afflictions because of their newfound faith in Jesus. It would be tempting for them to give up and take the easy path. But Paul says that they persevered with the joy of the Holy Spirit, thus becoming an example to all the believers in the surrounding area. As you think about your own life, if your life marked by the same joyful perseverance in the midst of hardships, persecution, or trials?
Second, we see that they were Gospel-spreading. Having received the good news of what Jesus has done to reconcile sinners with the Father, the Thessalonian Christians had no thought of keeping it to themselves. Rather, by word and by life they made it known to others. The same must be true for you and me. As we consider the Gospel and the change that Jesus makes in our lives, we must be willing to verbally share that good news and what that means for sinners and sufferers all around us, and we must also see an active faith in our lives, where those who see our lives see evidence of the change that the Gospel has made. Our decision-making, our parenting, our entertainment, or use of finances, our allocation of time, and much more are indispensable aspects of our evangelism. We must be willing to speak the Gospel with our lips as well as demonstrate the power of the Gospel in our changed lives — to the glory of the Father, in submission to King Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit.
Third, we see that they were God-serving. In verse 9 we see that they took the radical step of abandoning those gods that were part of the worship of their family and their community and they gave their full, whole-hearted allegiance to the Triune God of the Bible. As you consider your life and what others would say as they observe your life, do you have a reputation for being radically converted to God and his ways, forsaking the idols of our generation in clear, resolute, and decisive ways? Do you exhibit to those who know you a clear rejection of worldly values and a deliberate commitment to the service of God?
And finally, we see that they were Christ-awaiting. In v.10 we read that they were known as men and women who “wait for His son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Is it evident to others that you are depending on a power that is not of this earth, but comes from heaven through your faith in Christ? Does your lifestyle give you the reputation as someone whose treasure is most truly in the world to come, so that your thoughts, passions, and longings are directed toward Christ?
For good or bad, each of our lives are an example to others one way or the other. We remind our five year old son of this all the time. Whether good or bad, he as a big brother is always being an example to his little two year old sister. She’s going to repeat what he says. She’s going to act like he acts. She’s going to respond like he responds. You are, we tell him, her big brother, and she’s taking her cues from watching what you do and how you handle things. The challenge and goal is to be a good example rather than a bad one.
The same is true for each and every one of us. If you claim to be a Christian, you are an example to others around you as to what a Christian is and how a Christian should behave. The question for you is, “Are you being a good example? Is your life worthy of imitation?” Can you tell others, “Look at me. But the grace of God, through the work of the Spirit in my life, follow me as I follow Christ?” May God, by His Spirit, work in each of us to be joyfully persevering, Gospel-spreading, God-serving, and Christ awaiting — and thus pursue a life worth imitating!