1 Thessalonians 6-7: And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
How we example to the world our way of living as Christians matters. Our lived example is on public display as individuals, congregations, denominations, and as a local and global ecumenical body of Christ whether we like it or not, are intentional about it, or unintentional.
My oldest son Aaron shared that his 15-year-old daughter, Karina my granddaughter, calls him out when his actions stray from Christ-like behavior. All she says to him when she observes or hears his actions and words misaligned with the ideals of Christian faith, hope, and love is, “The example, dad! The example.” Meaning, is that the Christ-like example you really want for me to follow?
Paul’s opening greeting in his letter to the Thessalonians beautifully commends and affirms them for their joy in Christ in spite of persecution and for the Christ-like example they exhibit to all believers in the region. Their example positively influenced and strengthened the faith, love, and hope of other believers. Their life-changing influence made Paul’s pastoral work easier because the foundation of faith and what it meant to live a life of faith was firmly established in the lives of the Macedonian and Achaian Christians because of the joyous, faithful, loving, and hope-filled life exampled by the Thessalonians.
My granddaughter watches her dad’s actions and hears his words at all times. I do not think she looks to “catch” him. Instead, she expectantly looks to her dad to learn how to live a life that is more joyful, more faithful, more loving, and more hopeful. My son says that he is aware that he does not live in a bubble and that what he does and says affects others, especially his own children.
Christians do not live in a socially insular bubble; our baptism does not allow for it. To claim we are Christians is to live a private and public life worthy of God who has called us. Such a life carries with it a set of expectations by a watching world that we are a people of joy, of faith, hope, abounding in love, mercy, and justice. The message of the gospel that has come to us, not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction enables us to hold fast to what is good and abstain from harming ourselves and others with our words and actions.
We are examples to a watching world whether we like it or not, whether or not we are intentional or unintentional about it. Our missional commitment to seek the spiritual and temporal wellbeing of our communities, our nation and our world examples our faith, hope, Christ’s abounding love, mercy and truth. Our call to break down social barriers and see people as people, accepting others who are different than us, is needed today more than ever as a divided and hostile world looks to those that follow Christ and cry out, “The example, church! The example.”