“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10
To me, bravery is moving from fear to faith. It’s moving from fear to faith because we don’t always know for certain what the result of our ‘moving’ will be. Maybe you’re stuck in a job that you don’t like. Moving from fear to faith for you would be to quit your job and start another one, not knowing if it will actually work out. Maybe you are going to start a business. Moving from fear to faith for you might be opening up a store front, knowing that you only have six months of expenses covered. Who knows what will happen with that business in a year?
Being brave is about moving towards significant changes in your life. I think most of us have enough emotional intelligence to challenge ourselves by asking the question, “What significant change needs to happen in my life?” I think most of us won’t even finish the question before coming up with the answer: “I need to marry her.” “I need to make a career change.” “I need to ______.” So, I suppose, the real question is, do you have the emotional intelligence to actually move toward that significant change, no matter the challenges you will face?
Paul, who wrote the quote above, gave us a pretty good formula (if I can use that word) to help us see how to face those challenges. We could even say, Paul reminded the Thessalonians how they bravely took on their significant life change, and in turn is teaching us how to be brave.
Here are the three elements: Reception, Repentance, Reflection.
Reception really is the first element of making significant life change. Notice what Paul wrote in the verse above: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all...” Reception, in this case, was receiving the word. That is, Paul’s teaching about who God is and the gospel. This is a very important element in life change, because not only does it set you up for significant growth, it expands beyond yourself and into the lives of others.
Think about it. If you read a self-help book, who might benefit from it? Your self – that’s what the name implies. It’s to help yourself, not necessarily help others. Reception, on the other hand, is specifically design to help you and help others. Why? Because God wants you and everyone around you to the farthest corners of the earth to know who He is and the good news of salvation for all who believe. There are no limits to the influence you may have on others, if you receive the word. And the word ‘receive’ does not mean “I was given something.” The word ‘receive’ is about our experiences and how we respond to them.
For the Thessalonians their experience was one of affliction and joy. Which, I believe, is an insight to something that is very common to Christians: Experiencing the joys of God and the afflictions of life. The interesting thing about this is that what brought them joy and what brought them affliction was the same thing. They experienced the joy of following God, because they became Christians. They turned from the idols of their culture and exclusively followed ‘the living and true God.’ They also experienced the afflictions of following God, because they no longer did what the culture did. Some became ostracized, others lost their jobs, possibly even their homes. Those that depended on government assistance lost it, because they no longer worshiped Caesar. The struggles of affliction were very tangible for them, so was their joy. They really began living out what it meant to ‘love God’ and ‘love one another.’ (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12)
When the Thessalonians ‘received the word,’ they experienced life in such a way that it imitated Paul’s example of faith and Jesus’ example of faith. In this regard, they were imitators. Additionally, their experience made them examples to others who were suffering in the same way. This means that they were both imitators and examples. I can’t stress how important this is – for you to make significant life change you must do this first: Find someone to imitate and identify the people who will see your example.
Hear me out though, don’t just find anyone to imitate and don’t try to be an example to anyone who will listen. The Thessalonians experienced life through the Biblical worldview. This is the short answer for what ‘received the word’ means. They imitated those who ‘received the word’ (Paul and Jesus is the example here) and they became an example of what it means to have ‘received the word’ while experiencing the joys and afflictions of life. Find someone to imitate who has ‘received the word’ and has experienced some of the same things you are experiencing (joys and afflictions).
Also, become an example to others who are going through what you are going through. An easy example is financial struggles. If you imitate someone who is currently going through the same struggles as you, you will never stop struggling because you are both in the same boat. You don’t want to be in the boat. You want to be out of the boat, so find someone who got out, followed Jesus, and do what they do. Then, look back at the boat and say, “I am going to help you get out of the boat.” This act of reception brings a rare element of both accountability and dependability, a combination that will help you be brave – moving from fear to faith.
Repentance cannot be ignored. Significant life change requires repentance. If you are just trying to make a ‘change’ in life as if that change is just one option among many options, you are going to end up exactly where you left off. Significant life change requires turning from what you know is wrong to what is right. Since there is no gray area between right and wrong the change you will experience will be specific, which is exactly what you need to know: What specific thing in your life needs to change?
Now, that question was asked earlier, but this element requires us to re-approach the question and ask, “Why am I making this change?” We didn’t ‘Start with Why’ (Sorry Simon Sinek), because that is a highly relational question. In ‘reception’ we identified who we would have that relationship with and defined the relationship: Those we will imitate and those we will be an example to. Now we will ask the ‘why’ question because it will give us what we need to enter into those relationships and wrestle with the hard questions surrounding significant life change.
Consider Paul’s words from the quote above: “how you turned to God from idols.” When you see the word ‘idol’ think of ‘culture.’ When we think of what an idol is I think most of us imagine a trinket god, which would be accurate, but what we need to know is that idols were woven into the fabric of culture. An idol-less culture was unheard of in that city. Pretty much every job had an idol the workers paid respects to, every relationship had a god to pray to, every festival had a god to worship. So, yes, the Thessalonians turned from idols, but more specifically the Thessalonians turned from the aspects of their culture that were wrong.
When they ‘received he word’ they received a standard. In a standard-less culture of subjective morality and truth, Christians stood out. They could point to God’s law and say, “This is wrong because God said ______.” Morality in those days were judged by philosophers. Truth in those days was governed by the authorities. Both morality and truth were fluid and what justice was and was not depended on the philosophers and authorities of the day. Christians, on the other hand, have the unchanging law of God and stood on those principles as the standard of morality and truth. So their ‘why’ was literally this “to serve the living and true God.” It was like this statement: “I am not serving God, I must serve God.” That is language of repentance.
If you want to make significant change in your life your change must be based on an authority higher than your own. Or else you will go back to your old ways because, one day, you just feel like it. That is not an example of someone who has repented. That is an example of someone who was trying out their options. It’s not the same thing.
We repent with a very specific conviction in our heart: “You must serve God as your authority in life and be crystal clear that the change in your life is moving in the direction God wants you to go, not the culture. This isn’t to say that everything in our culture is wrong, not by any means, but there are things that are. We must be brave enough to confront them and change. Yes, this can be scary, but God is teaching us how to be brave.
There are two phrases that follow the Thessalonians example of reception of the word and repentance from idols, which are: “To serve” and “To wait.” There isn’t any hidden meaning in those words, but there is a big reason you should underline them in your Bible. In the book of Thessalonians original language (Greek) those words are called “Infinitive of Purpose.” They tell us the purpose of the action, which is what we read earlier, “turned to God from idols.” The ‘turning’ was for this purpose: To serve and to wait. To serve God (now) and wait for His Son (future). Their service now was connected with what is to come in the future. This is very similar to the second habit of highly effective people, which is beginning with the end in mind.
The end of every man, women and child is standing before God to account for their life. This is mankind’s universal end, which means it is your end just like it is the end of those we are reading about in 1st Thessalonians. So, the basic principle we get out of this is that whatever our significant life change is, it must be something we can take to God and say, “I did this with you in mind.” This is the ultimate demonstration of bravery. It doesn’t consider the culture first, it considers God first. And that’s not easy to do, especially if your significant life change is something that the culture accepts as ‘moral’ or ‘true’ yet clearly defies the word of God.
So, begin with the end in mind. Reflect on the now and the future. What does success look like? If you were to present your life change to God today, what does it need to look like for you to hear the words, “Well done.”? Consider Paul’s words one last time, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you… but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” This is language of reputation. Think of your life change and the kind of example you will be to people. Not just in the future, but today.
In order to properly reflect you will need to find some time alone, preferably a few hours, and answer the following questions:
- What significant life change do I need to make? (list many – choose one)
- Who do I know that has made a similar life change, has a biblical worldview, and was successful?
- Who do I know that is in the same boat as me who I can be an example to?
- Why am I doing this? (be real with yourself)
- What does success look like?
The next step… make a plan.
If you would like to hear the 3-part sermon series related to this article, click here: How To Be Brave