5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we were among you for your benefit, 6 and you became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from the Holy Spirit. 7 As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 For the Lord’s message rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place that your faith in God has gone out. Therefore, we don’t need to say anything, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Paul wrote these encouraging words to the Thessalonian believers after hearing about the life transformations God’s good news had produced in their young church. Paul, Timothy and Silas had only stayed for three weeks during their first visit to Thessalonica. During this short time, the team was especially intentional with these newborn believers, which led Thessalonians to imitate Paul and his team’s example of persevering faith during the intense persecution they were receiving from Jews and the local civil authorities.
Paul used two key words, “imitators” and “example,” in order to emphasize an ancient form of teaching, mimesis. Mimesis, from which we get the word “mimic,” is the practice of imitating the teacher, who provides the pattern or example for their pupils. During Paul’s days of ministry amongst a fairly illiterate culture, this was an ideal style of education. Because there were no “how to” guides on discipleship, no podcasts or training videos to preserve their training, the students had to immediately put into practice their teachers’ lessons. They followed the teachers everywhere, observing their patterns of character, behavior and skill, and in that way they understood both the concepts and how to live them out.
Paul intentionally complimented his Thessalonian friends when he said they not only had imitated their teachers (v.5), but they were also becoming examples to be imitated by others (v.7).
This passage shows the results of discipling those who come into contact with our faith. For example, simply asking someone to read the Bible with you in your home or at a local coffee shop can bring about life-changing results. One mentor of mine says that real life discipleship is more “caught than taught.” Strong Bible teaching is essential to our orthodoxy, but godly modeling is quintessential to our orthopraxy.
We are to give two relationships priority in our lives: being a mentor and being a mentee. Throughout my spiritual journey, I have been thankful for the men God has placed in my life who have spiritually mentored me. Although they weren’t perfect, these men lovingly and consistently spent time with me, seeking to unlock the potential with which God had particularly gifted me. They modeled a faith that challenged me by constantly sharing with me what they were experiencing from God through the Scriptures. They invited me into their homes to pray, and they were willing to talk with my friends when I did not feel equipped to answer difficult questions.
As a result of their consistent efforts of love, I am now eager to love and mentor those around me. I am excited to have the opportunity to pour into someone else, because I have a “pay it forward” hunger to help those who desire to grow in their walk with Jesus.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Using 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 as a principle for making intentional discipleship relationships, start to pray for a spiritual mentor. It is amazing to read how God multiplied the missionary efforts of Paul and his team. It took just three weeks for them to have dramatic impact, not only in the city of Thessalonica, but also throughout the region. Now, imagine if you were to receive the type of attention the Thessalonians had, what kind of follower of Christ you could look like next month. Start today. Ask God for someone whose faith and spiritual practices you can imitate, preferably someone with whom you can meet regularly.
- If you are already being mentored, then ask God to bring someone you can start to mentor. Again, simply reading and discussing the Bible with your friend can often lead to significant spiritual maturing.
 Gary Steven Shogren, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series: New Testament, vol. 13, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©2012), 79.