IMITATORS OF THE CHURCHES
In verse 14 Paul continues, “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus; for you also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they also of the Jews.” The apostle taught the same thing in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16). This indicates that all the churches should bear the same testimony of Jesus. Hence, they all are lampstands of the same kind (Rev. 1:9, 20).
The church in Thessalonica imitated the churches in Judea. Certainly reports concerning the churches in Judea reached the believers in Thessalonica. How could the Thessalonians have imitated the churches in Judea if they had not heard anything concerning them? They must have heard about the churches and the saints. These reports fostered the growth of the Thessalonian believers. Once again we see that nothing can foster a church or a saint as much as a true story about other saints or churches.
In verse 14 Paul points out that the Thessalonians suffered the same things of their own countrymen as the churches in Judea suffered of the Jews. This is a comforting, strengthening, and fostering word. When Paul wrote, the church in Thessalonica was suffering and was being persecuted. In the midst of their persecution, they heard about the sufferings of those in Judea. This report strengthened, comforted, and established them. It helped to foster them in their growth.
Verse 15 continues, “Who have both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and are not pleasing to God, and are contrary to all men.” Paul was wise in writing this verse. Here he is inoculating the believers against the eventual coming of the Judaizers. Paul injected a healthy warning concerning the Judaizers into the Thessalonian saints. Here Paul seems to be saying, “Brothers, don’t regard Jewish things as marvelous. The Jews are not for God, and they are not one with God. They killed the Lord Jesus, and they also drove us out. Be prepared, Thessalonians, for one day the Judaizers will come to you to undermine what we have done. Don’t take their word, for they are against us. They are contrary to all men, and they are not pleasing to God.” This surely was an excellent inoculation.
This inoculating word was also part of Paul’s fostering of the saints. Even inoculation is included in fostering. In caring for their children, parents seek to protect them from disease. Even in caring for a garden we try to protect the plants from disease or insects. Otherwise, disease may ruin the plants, and the insects may devour them, especially the tender parts. Therefore, in order to protect a garden, we may spray the plants with insecticide. We may say that in this verse Paul was giving the believers at Thessalonica a divine germ-repellent. He warned them not to have any confidence in the Jews or to give them any credit. On the contrary, the Thessalonians were to reject them.
Paul continues this warning in verse 16, where he says of the Jews, “Forbidding us to speak to the nations that they may be saved, that they may fill up their sins always. But wrath has come upon them to the end.” Paul points out that the Jews did not want the Thessalonians to hear the word of the apostles in order to be saved. This word is part of Paul’s inoculation.
BEREAVED OF THE SAINTS
In verse 17 Paul goes on to say, “But we, brothers, being bereaved of you for a little while in presence, not in heart, were more abundantly eager with much desire to see your face.” This word implies that the apostles considered the new converts precious and dear to them. Paul likened their departure from them to a bereavement, a loss they suffered from being separated from them and that caused them to miss them. In this verse we also see the apostles’ yearning over the new converts.
In verse 17 Paul seems to be saying, “Brothers, we have been bereaved of you. We wanted to stay with you, and we miss you very much. But although we are bereaved of you in presence, we are not bereaved of you in heart. In our heart we are still with you. We are very eager with much desire to see your face.”
Paul’s word in verses 15 through 17 is emotional. Because he was emotional, he could touch the emotion of others. When Paul spoke about the Jews negatively, he was emotional. Likewise, when he spoke about the apostles positively, he was also very emotional. Paul’s expression of deep emotion caused the believers to love the apostles and to shut out the Judaizers. This too is related to fostering children, to protecting them, to raising them without their being damaged by negative things.
Paul certainly knew how to foster the saints. He spoke about himself in such a way as to foster them and also to inoculate them. In fostering the Thessalonians, Paul pointed out to them that the Jews who opposed and persecuted needed to be shut out, but the Jews who came to them as apostles were lovable.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 13, by Witness Lee)