“For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).
Churches today need to relate to one another with more imitation and less competition. Too many view their great struggle as being with their sister churches rather than against the powers and principalities of darkness. We don’t need a competitive spirit, but a complementary one. Churches need to appreciate the strengths and accomplishments of other congregations. Imagine how the kingdom is built up when Southside church looks for the good things happening in Northside church and when they see it they respond with celebratory thanksgiving. Rivalry out, revival in!
There was a time when churches of Christ were heavily influenced by what Christian colleges did. People turned to colleges to understand scripture and to get fresh ministry ideas. This trend has changed with people looking more and more to other congregations to set the tone. I think this is can be a positive development – ministers and elders looking for the strengths in other church families, admiring them, and even imitating them. While we may not want to become franchise McChurches, we can benefit greatly by appreciating the successes of others and following in their footsteps. And sometimes what we may need to imitate more than anything else is an allegiance to the love of God through Jesus Christ that is steadfast and unmovable, no matter what the consequences.
While we can benefit from intentional replication of good things in other churches, I’m not so sure the Thessalonians’ imitation of the Judean churches was all that deliberate. They just accepted the message from God and passed it on. The results certainly were not a reproduction of anything we would call positive. The Judean churches suffered and the Thessalonians followed right behind them. The persecution that brought suffering was not at the hands of strangers, but from their own countrymen.
Why did their own countrymen harass them? The surface answer would be because the Judeans and Thessalonians were reaching out to the Gentiles, that they may be saved. But this was not just a matter of what was being taught and to whom. Beneath the surface, those who caused this suffering were fueled more by anger than principle. The opposition’s deep-seated ill-will provoked them to drive out people. Paul made it clear, this contentious hostility toward people displeased God. This sin can be heaped up only so far before the wrath of God is poured out.
In whose footsteps are we following? The grace-fueled, evangelistic Thessalonians or their antagonism-fueled, contentious countrymen?