And you became imitators of us and of the Lord when you welcomed the message with the joy of the Holy Spirit, in spite of your great suffering.
Acts 17:5-10). St. Paul frequently refers to the sufferings that so quickly tested the faith of this brave Christian community at the very commencement of its new life (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:2 5). But in spite of persecution a peculiar joy seems to have possessed the Church at Thessalonica. The Epistles to the Thessalonians are to be distinguished for hearty congratulations and a spirit of gladness. Here is an apparent paradox, which, however, when regarded from a higher standpoint, resolves itself into a spiritual harmony.
I. AN EARTHLY PARADOX. St. Paul was much inclined to the use of startling paradoxes. His vigorous mind seemed to delight in facing them. Thus his style is rugged with great contrasting ideas.
1. The gospel does not prevent affliction. To the Thessalonians it was the means of bringing suffering. Christians often suffer more of earthly trouble, rather than less, than others (Hebrews 12:8). Though the gospel is good news, and though it brings gladness to the soul, it may be ushered in with storms and sufferings in the outer life. This might be expected, seeing that it is in conflict with the prince of this world.
2. Affliction does not prevent the experience of the joy of the gospel. In spite of much affliction, the Thessalonians had joy. The world sees only the outside. Hence its common verdict that religion must be melancholy. It can see the flaming fagots; it cannot see the exultant heart of the martyr. It is a great truth to know that, when God does not remove trouble, he may give us such gladness of heart as shall entirely counteract it. Surely it is better to rejoice in tribulation than to be sad in prosperity.
II. THE SPIRITUAL HARMONY.
1. The affliction is external, while the Joy is internal The two belong to different spheres. It would be impossible for one and the same person to be in temporal prosperity and adversity at the same moment, or to be at once m spiritual sunshine and under spiritual clouds. But it may well be that, while the earthly sun is shrouded in gloom, the heavenly sun is shining in full splendor.
2. The affliction comes from earthly causes, the joy from heavenly. Men persecute, the Holy Spirit inspires joy. Here are different sources of experience, and accordingly the experiences differ.
3. The affliction rather helps the spiritual joy than otherwise. It prevents men from looking to external things for comfort. It enables them to see that true joy must be inward and spiritual. In conclusion, observe that affliction is no reason for the rejection of the gospel, since this is not therefore the less true, and it claims to be received on its truth, not on our pleasure, and also because the joy it brings will not be lessened by any external trouble. - W.F.A.
And ye became followers of us and of the Lord
I. THE THESSALONIANS WERE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLES. And the apostles took every care to demean themselves well, not only for their own credit's sake, but for the benefit of others, by a conversation suitable to their doctrine, that they might not pull down with one hand what they built up with the other; so the Thessalonians, who observed what manner of men they were among them, how their preaching and living were all of a piece, showed a conscientious care to be followers of them; that is — to imitate their good example. And herein they became followers of the Lord also, who is the perfect example; and we should be followers of others no farther than they are followers of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). The Thessalonians acted thus notwithstanding the afflictions to which the apostles and themselves also were exposed. They were willing to share in the sufferings that attended the embracing and professing Christianity. Perhaps this made the Word more precious, being dearly bought; and the examples of the apostles shone very bright under these trying circumstances; so that the Thessalonians embraced the gospel cheerfully, and followed the example of the suffering apostles joyfully. Such spiritual, and solid, and lasting joy as the Holy Ghost is the Author of, when our afflictions do abound, maketh our consolation much more abound.
II. THEIR ZEAL SO PREVAILED THAT THEY WERE THEMSELVES EXAMPLES TO ALL OTHERS. They were "stamps," or instruments to make impression. They made good impressions, and their conversation had a correspondent influence upon others. There is nothing which maketh the gospel sound louder, the sound of it to be heard better, and the offer embraced more readily, than when a sincere profession is beautified, and adorned, and seconded by a sober and conscientious practice; for it was such a profession, strengthened with such a practice, in the Thessalonians, which made the gospel sound from them in Macedonia and Achaia. The word signifies to sound shrill and far, as with the noise of a trumpet, or voice of lion herald. So that the effects of the gospel in turning the Thessalonians from idols "to serve the living and true God," was so spread abroad that the apostles themselves "need not to speak anything."
1. They resembled himself and his fellow labourers. But how? In their faith, their hope, their love, and their good works. Let us enter into this thought. Man is an imitative creature. The first voluntary efforts that are made by children, are always endeavours to mimic something which they have seen. But as man is a depraved creature, and as he is exposed to bad examples in this world, as well as good, and more to bad examples than to good, he naturally follows the multitude to do evil; and the question with him, therefore, concerning anything, is not — Is it true? or is this reasonable? or is it righteous? but — "What will people think or say of me? Shall I not be seen?" Why, all the Lord's people are "a peculiar people"; and it argues much more dignity of principle and purity of motive to advance alone than under the applause of thousands. This disposition was in the case of the Thessalonians sanctified, for it was turned another way; for the men they now followed were few, compared with the rest, and they had nothing of a worldly kind to recommend them. No; they were esteemed the very "filth and offscouring" of all. Yet, with Moses, these Thessalonians chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." They "esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." Yes; with David they could say — "I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, of them that keep Thy statutes." So it always is when persons are made wise unto salvation; then they immediately see, that the righteous are more excellent than their neighbours, and that of them the world is "not worthy." Then they pray — "Look Thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as Thou usedst to do unto them that love Thy name." Then they let go the sons and daughters of folly and vice, and run and take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying — "We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."
2. They resembled the Lord also; to show the apostles confidence that they were themselves conformed to Him, and those that followed them thus far would be followers of Him. Therefore, says the apostle to the Corinthians — "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." Did he mean to place himself upon a level, then, with Christ? By no means; but to assert that he knew he was walking the same way, that he was influenced by the same principles, that he felt the same sentiments. And we must be conscious of this too. Yes; we must remember that "if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His." But it is added, to teach us that no men are to be our examples any further than they resemble Him; that we are not to give up ourselves absolutely to any leader, however distinguished by gifts or graces. We are not to pin our faith upon their sleeve, or to determine our action by their practice invariably. No; they are all fallible. The wisest of men have their follies; the best of men have their faults; the wisest and the best of men, therefore, may lead us astray. Abraham denied his wife at Gerah; Moses spake unadvisedly with his lips; Job cursed the day of his birth; Peter said with an oath, "I know not the Man." But here we have in the Lord Jesus an infallible pattern; and therefore we may give up ourselves entirely to His direction and influence, and, as it is said, "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth."
3. They who imitated others became ensamples to others: — "Ye became ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." It is very observable in nature that things in succession are alternately cause and effect, effect and cause. Thus, parents produce children, and children produce in time children; thus, those now obey, who by and by command; thus, learners now become teachers; and those who were followers become leaders themselves. This was the case here; from following the apostles and the Lord Jesus, they "became ensamples to all that believed in Macedonia and Achaia." Indeed, what individual is there, who is not, more or less, an "ensample" to some? Which of you is entirely isolated? Who is not seen and heard of some? Who is not followed by some? But how honourable was it for these converts! They were "ensamples," to whom? "To them that believe." Oh! it is easy for you to be "ensamples" to some. It is easy, to have goodness enough to censure and condemn the grossly wicked; it is easy, to have goodness enough to be considered righteous, when compared with drunkards, and swearers, and thieves, and robbers. But these Thessalonians were ensamples to the good, to the godly, "to them that believed"; yea, and what is more, " to all them that believed in Macedonia and Achaia"; though it is very probable that many of these had been in the Lord before them, and had believed before them. There are many cases in which "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first."
(W. Jay.)I. THE TRUE RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL
1. They received the Word in sorrow — "in much affliction" (Acts 17:5-9). Principally, sorrow on account of sin — their prolonged rejection of Christ, and obstinate disobedience.
2. In joy. "With joy of the Holy Ghost." They realized —(1) The joy of conscious forgiveness and acceptance with God. The sinless angels, placed beyond the necessity of pardon, are incapable of realizing this joy. It belongs exclusively to the believing penitent.(2) The joy of suffering for the truth. , who suffered for Jesus, used to say, "It is not the pain but the cause that makes the martyr." That cause is the cause of truth. Suffering is limited to life, but truth is eternal. To suffer for the truth is a privilege and a joy.(3) The joy of triumph — over error, sin, Satan, persecution. This joy is the fruit of the Spirit. These twin feelings — sorrow and joy — are typical of the alternating experience of the believer throughout his earthly career.
II. THE PRACTICAL RESULT.
1. They became imitators of the highest patterns of excellence — "us and the Lord." The example of Christ is the all-perfect standard. But this does not supersede the use of inferior models. The planets have their mission, as well as the sun, and we can better bear the moderated light of their borrowed splendour. The bravery of a common soldier, as well as the capacity and heroism of the most gifted officer, may stimulate a regiment to deeds of valour. So the apostles, in their patience, zeal, and integrity, became examples, while they pointed to the great Pattern.
2. They became examples to others. "So that ye were ensamples to all that believe."(1) In the reality and power of their faith.(2) In their zealous propagation of the truth. "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord."(3) The influence of their example was extensive in its range. Macedonia and Achaia were two Roman provinces that comprised the territory known as ancient Greece. Thessalonica, the metropolis of Macedonia, was the chief station on the great Roman road — the Via Egnatia — which connected Rome with the whole region north of the AEgean sea, and was an important centre, both for commerce and the spread of intelligence. Wherever the trade of the merchant city extended, there the fame of the newly founded Church penetrated. Great was the renown of their own Alexander, the Macedonian monarch, and brilliant his victories: but the reputation of the Thessalonian Christians was of a higher order, and their achievements more enduring. Learn —
1. The gospel that brings sorrow to the heart also brings the joy.
2. A genuine reception of the truth changes the man, and creates unquenchable aspirations after the highest good.
3. A living example is more potent than the most elaborate code of precepts, however eloquently explained or cogently enforced.
(G. Barlow.)I. He is a RECIPIENT of the Divine. The "word" here is the gospel. Their suffering in receiving it was more than counterbalanced by "the joy of the Holy Ghost." What matters bodily affliction if you have this joy. "We glory in tribulation," etc. A genuine Christian is a man who has received into him the Divine Word. God's great thoughts have come into his intellect, touched his heart, and given a new moral impulse to his being. He who has not received this Divine Word intelligently and with practical effect is no Christian. The Christian is a living Bible, the "word made flesh."
II. He is an IMITATOR of the Divine. The apostles were Christians because they were "followers of the Lord"; and all who would be Christians must become the same.
1. Christ is the most perfect moral model. In Him we have all that commands the attention and admiration of the soul.
2. Christ is the most imitable moral model. Sublimely great as He is, no character has appeared in history so imitable as His.(1) Because none is so powerful to awaken our admiration. What we admire most, we imitate most.(2) Because none is so easily understood. He is perfectly transparent. One principle — love — explains all His moral features and activities.(3) Because none but His is permanently consistent.
III. He is an EXAMPLE of the Divine. "So that ye were ensamples," etc. Macedonia and Achaia stand for all Greece, so that they became ensamples to the entire Greek race. Genuine Christian not only receives and imitates, but reflects and radiates the Divine. He is the brightest and fullest revelation of God on earth; there is more of the Divine seen in the Christly soul than there is in starry heavens and blooming landscapes. "Ye are My witnesses."
IV. He is a PROCLAIMER of the Divine. "From you sounded out the word." This is an image from a trumpet filling with its clear sounding echo all the surrounding places. They sounded out the gospel, not only in enthusiastic utterances but in noble and generous deeds. Thessalonica was a large maritime and commercial city; and its Christian mer chants would in all their transactions with foreign traders ring out the gospel. Conclusion: A genuine Christian, then, is a Divine man. There is in a moral as well as in a constitutional sense, a "divinity within him." He is the recipient, imitator, example, and herald of the Divine.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. FOLLOWERS OF US AND OF THE LORD.
1. There is something startling in these words. A man of like passions with ourselves dares to propose himself for imitation to those who were seeking to follow the incarnate God. And the world is never without its Christlike ones. And there is nothing more wonderful than that men and women like ourselves may be and live like the Son of God. He does not shine in unapproachable isolation. As the elder among many brethren, a bright particular star amid a cluster of constellations, He leads the human host with which He has cast His lot and mixed up His life forever.
2. Where are the points of likeness? (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 12:10). In the power of self-sacrifice. It may seem strange to this self-loving age, but it is well worth noting, that these men whose lives have been so fruitful had no thought of any interest but Christ; no self-will, but were absolutely open to the will of God. Are we then to have no will of our own? God forbid! Paul had a mighty will of his own, and expressed it in defiance of the whole secular and religious world. But it was his own and yet not his own; it was moulded and refined into harmony with a higher will; and just as the blood gets purified from its carbonic dross as the vital air breathes through it in the lungs, so the will of Paul was purged of the acrid leaven of self by prayer that God would use him, strengthen him to follow Christ, and teach him to spend himself for the service of mankind.
3. A man need not adopt the calling of an apostle to enter such a life as this. There have been soldiers, statesmen, merchants, whose deepest thought has been "I am not mine own." Hard as it may be, it is the beginning of peace to say it and try to live it. You may have your own way, and you will weary of it as soon as you have got it; while you may give up our own way, and make it your effort to care for others, and a glow of heavenly joy will enter and abide in your spirit. Likeness to Christ lies expressly in the power of self-sacrifice, and this is to grasp the difference between blessedness and happiness which the text expounds.
II. THEY ENTERED INTO THIS FELLOWSHIP BY RECEIVING THE WORD WITH MUCH AFFLICTION AND JOY OF THE HOLY GHOST.
1. Confession or profession is in these days cheapwork. Then it was dear work, and at any moment might cost dear life. It is not good to be out of fellow ship with the heroisms of the past. How many a stout citizen has stained his hearthstone with his life's blood that you may sit with your loved ones without fears around yours? An age out of fellowship with the martyrs is neither noble nor blessed, however prosperous.
2. We learn from Acts 17 and the Epistle some thing of these afflictions. Strain your imagination to realize them —(1) Feel the cords tightening, see the glaring eye of the lion, hear the hiss of the red-hot iron or the swing of the axe; and bethink you in the last dread moment of a gentle wife, or a dear boy, etc., whom you are leaving obnoxious to the same doom. Does it seem to you that you could utter the name of Christ with your last breath with passionate devotion? Then you can understand how none but as martyrs can taste the joy of the Holy Ghost.(2) Then there was the utter rupture of all the bonds of kindred and social relation, and the loss of means. It is evident, from the Second Epistle, that there was deep poverty in the Church. They received the Word as England did at the Reformation — as Hindoos, Chinese, and South Sea Islanders receive it today.(3) And this is independent of the sorrow which springs out of the stern struggle against the world and flesh and devil.
3. To understand this better, notice —(1) That the purest joys are independent of surroundings. What a man has is nothing in comparison with what he is. If two persons love each other, to be near, even in penury, is bliss; to be separate, even in wealth, is misery.(2) So the joy of the Holy Ghost is the joy of a man who has found the true Lover and Lord of His being, whom he can obey with supreme delight. It is the joy of the lonely soul that has found its kindred, of a sick man who feels within himself that the spring of his life is healed. Men can glory in tribulations if they but bring them fully into the sphere of Christ's fellowship and love. Suffering ceases to be pain if love consecrates it.
4. And let the careless understand that the choice in life is mainly between suffering with joy in the Holy Ghost, and suffering without it. Life is no holiday pastime for any of us; but the true agony of life must be with those who are without God and hope in the world.
(Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Followers of us and of the LordI.
II. III. (Canon Mason.) (G. Macdonald, LL. D.) (Canon Liddon.) (W. Gladden, D. D.) (Percy.) (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
III. (Canon Mason.) (G. Macdonald, LL. D.) (Canon Liddon.) (W. Gladden, D. D.) (Percy.) (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
(G. Macdonald, LL. D.)
(W. Gladden, D. D.)
(J. Hutchison, D. D.)