The Power of Example
Text: 1 Thessalonians 1
Proposition: The power of example is that it gives proof while at the same time inviting faith.
Introduction: In 1924 Calvin Coolidge became the 30th President of the United States. He had worked his way up and was seen as a working class leader. He once invited some friends from Vermont to dine at the White House. Worried about their table manners, they decided to do everything the President did. It all went well until coffee was served. Coolidge poured his into the saucer. The guests did the same. The President added a little sugar and cream. So did the visitors. Then Coolidge leaned over and placed his saucer on the floor for the cat. The power of example is something we have all either followed after or sought to lead with. It’s this theme that we want to use to begin our next series of sermons. The setting is in a Greek city called Corinth, Paul is here after having had a number of really discouraging experiences. He had been forced out of Philippi, he had been in Thessalonica for only a month or so when he was forced to leave there. Then the same had happened at Berea. Athens had been a really difficult place with idols everywhere. So now months and months later he ends up in Corinth wondering if his work, his teaching, his example was able to be used of God at all. That’s when his co-workers Silas and Timothy who had stayed on at Thessalonica arrived and told him about how faith had ignited in the tiny church there and was beginning to touch communities all over the area. So Paul writes a letter to the congregation in Thessalonica and as we read that letter it can sound like this is a mega church that has been there for years when in reality the Thessalonian church is a congregation of about a hundred people in a church that wasn’t even one year old. Have a look at this letter in 1 Thessalonians 1 it’s all about the way the glory of God works through example.
I. When You Are the Example Remember What Enables You.
Paul writes, “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”. Do you see that little word ‘in’, it reminds them that they are in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. You’re not alone, it isn’t just about your perseverance in being good examples, it’s empowered by God to do so. When that is the case, when God empowers you to be the example that glorifies Him grace and peace characterize it. You’ve all seen that Eveready Battery commercial. What catches your attention may be the drum or the fuzzy little rabbit that just keeps on beating the drum but the commercial is all about what’s inside it, what enables it, what empowers it. What empowers you to be an example is the grace and peace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are in and Who are in you. When you remember that, the example you set causes others to remember you. Look at what happens when Paul remembers these Thessalonians he had spent just a month or two with. It moves him to pray continually for them, “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father…”. Paul says that their faith, love and hope are evident because of what is produced by them. Faith produces work, love produces labor and hope produces patience. Why do you suppose he could say that? Was it that he recognized the very same to have been true in his own life, in the way God had used him to set the example. And he doesn’t stop there, he takes it right to its origin, Look at verse 4, “knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.” God chose you way before you chose Him, it’s why you evidence faith, love and hope, it’s why we see it so clearly in you and it’s even what makes us be thankful for you, praying for you, remembering you, knowing this choosing of God in you by what it shows to us. So when you are the example of faith, love or hope remember what enables you.
II. When You Follow An Example Look Past Them To See What They Follow.
What the people of Thessalonica followed was the character and leadership and teaching of Paul, Silas and Timothy but what Paul pointed them to was what was in front of all. In verse 5 he says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” The gospel, the word of God, came to them not just as information but it came endued with power, alive and living by the Holy Spirit and able to answer the needs of their hearts. Why do you think that it’s important to look past the person that is like an example to you, to look past them to see what they follow? I would suggest it is because they are just people that can disappoint you or others. You are the first reflection of Jesus that some might see, it’s like you are reflecting the character and person and work of Christ to the people who are looking at you, watching what you do and say. But what they ultimately need to see is not the mirror that will be smudged and streaked but the very person of Jesus you reflect to them. To some measure Paul was able to do this and to teach those who followed him to do the same. Look at verses 6,7, “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.” These Thessalonians didn’t go to Bible college, they weren’t Christians for 20 years, they didn’t have a person with a PHD leading them. In verse 8 Paul says that others are being influenced by whatever it is these Thessalonians are doing. So what is it that made them so effective in setting the example to the people and villages and cities around them? That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked that…
III. When You Are An Example Prepare Yourself To Do It Well.
In the last two verses Paul writes about what people are saying about these Thessalonians, “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to 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, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” I think these verses are referring to the testimony of the Thessalonians, people who did not just explain what had happened in their lives, they proclaimed it. So let me list a few things about what it would take for a person who already is an example to prepare themselves to do it well.
1. They were excited, they were more full of the reality of Christ than a theology.
2. They spoke about the latest news, their most recent discovery spiritually.
3. They weren’t afraid any more to admit where they had once been stalled out and stuck. The change is unmistakable, it happened when they turned to God.
4. They talk about not just the moment of faith when they believed but how the desire to serve Christ is a daily living experience and the more they do the more truth becomes an evident presence in their thinking.
5. They are excited about new discoveries in their own belief in Christ. Their doctrine starts to expand from a very basic, elementary position to one that has greater and greater depth.
6. The willingness to look their own mortality in the eye increases because they are no longer afraid of death. They know they are waiting on Christ until either He returns or until we die and meet Him face to face in glory.
7. They understand more of the reality of resurrection, especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ which has paid our debt from sin in full. It means that heaven is not some glossy caricature of a place but rather a place where the life we have longed for, even tasted in small moments, is real. Resurrection from the dead is not just about overcoming death it’s especially about being made ready for that life that is the real experience of the life that Jesus talked about in John 10:10, “I am come that you would have life and have it abundantly.” Now yes, but that is only a shadow, the reality that casts the shadow is what He is preparing us for.
These are things that make up your testimony, it’s your story, it’s how you turned to believe and serve the living and true God. How it is received is not your worry, that’s God’s call. How you prepare yourself and how you proclaim the truth of what God is right now doing in you, that’s yours to recognize, be amazed with and then overflow with. That’s your testimony. Your testimony is about yesterday but it’s also about today and even tomorrow.
So it’s all about example, remember what enables you as the example, when you follow another who sets example before you, look past them to see what and Who they are following. And when you are the example, prepare yourself to do it well.