GROWING BY IMITATING
Some Christian teachers say that a believer should not give a testimony concerning himself. According to these teachers, to testify of our experience is to preach ourselves. Therefore, they advise others not to speak of how they have repented, believed in the Lord, received grace, and have been saved. These teachers insist strongly that we should preach only the Lord Jesus and teach the Bible, but should never say anything about ourselves. In 1 Thessalonians 2, however, Paul certainly speaks about himself. He gives a strong testimony of his living among the Thessalonians. He reminds them of the apostles coming and of their manner of life among them. Why did Paul emphasize this? He emphasized it because he was presenting a pattern of a proper living to the young saints. I hope that all the elders and leading ones will see from Paul’s example that we must be a pattern to the saints. In every local church there must be some patterns, some models, for others to follow.
In 1:6 Paul says to the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.” Imitating is related to growing. In fact, in many ways to imitate is to grow. In a family children imitate their parents and older brothers and sisters. The little ones do not invent anything; instead, they imitate others. A very good illustration of this is in the use of language. A child learns the language spoken by his parents. He speaks the same language with the same accent. A child learns the language and the accent by imitation. This illustrates the fact that children grow by imitating their parents. Therefore, in a family to imitate actually means to grow. The children imitate their parents in many things—in gestures, in speech, and even in character. Parents are patterns, models, for their children. Whatever the parents are, the children will be also.
PRESENTING A PATTERN
To give the new believers and young ones a lot of teaching is not the proper way to take care of them. The proper way to foster them is to show them a pattern. By showing them a pattern you water them, supply them, nourish them, and cherish them. This is fostering. If you find that your experience is somewhat lacking, point the new believers to different people in the Bible, for example, to ones such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and David in the Old Testament and Peter, John, Paul, and Timothy in the New Testament. We can present the lives of Bible characters in such a way as to foster the growth of the young ones.
If we give too much teaching to new ones and young ones, we shall damage them. Every mother knows that one of the most important matters in the raising of children is proper feeding. Caring for children is ninety percent a matter of feeding and ten percent a matter of teaching. This also should be our practice in caring for new believers in the church. We must learn to have ninety percent feeding and ten percent teaching. Feeding involves the presenting of patterns either from the Bible or from church history. By reading the biographies of saints throughout the ages, we nourish ourselves and experience a kind of fostering. The point here is that the best way to feed others and foster them is to give them a proper pattern. If there is no pattern, there can be no fostering. Only by having a pattern can we feed others.
In the book of 1 Thessalonians Paul was not preaching himself. Rather, he was feeding his spiritual children with his own living of Christ. This means that Paul’s way of living was used to feed his spiritual children. This was the reason he emphasized his coming to the Thessalonians, his preaching, his way of handling the word of God, and his manner of living.
THE OPERATING WORD OF GOD
In 2:13 Paul says, “And therefore we also give thanks to God unceasingly that, having received the word of the report from us of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but even as it truly is, the word of God, which also operates in you who believe.” This verse indicates that the source, the origin, of the apostles’ preaching was God and not themselves. The Thessalonians received their word not as the word of men, but as the word of God. Here we see a governing principle: whenever we preach or teach, we must impress others with the fact that what we are saying is not the word of man, but is truly the word of God.
In verse 13 Paul says that the word of God operates in those who believe. Because the word of God is living and operative (Heb. 4:12), it operates in the believing ones. Once we receive and accept the word, it operates within us.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 13, by Witness Lee)