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Paul was deeply grateful for the believers in Thessalonica. Among other things, he was grateful for how they imitated him as he imitated Christ (1:6; see 2 Thessalonians 3:9). This was an important aspect of his ministry to them. Ancient teachers were routinely expected their followers to imitate their example. A person not worth imitating was unfit to be a teacher. Paul was therefore careful to set an example that these believers should follow.

But what kind of example did he set? It is important for us to observe the sorts of behaviours that he commended them for emulating, for they are precisely the kinds of examples that we should look to emulate ourselves. As we read 2:1–12, we see at least four virtues that he modelled for them, which he wanted them to emulate. As the Thessalonians sought to emulate Paul’s model in these ways, so we should seek to emulate him. And as he provided this sort of model for others to follow, so we should strive to model these characteristics before others in the church.

Paul modelled, first, a clear fear of God (vv. 1–4). Above all else, “entrusted with the gospel,” he laboured to “speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” Christians always face the temptation to please men rather than God. Paul was not exempt from this temptation. But he realised how important it was for him to model a good example for his followers. He lived in light of the truth of Proverbs 29:25: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”

We must live life with the clear priority of pleasing God rather than men. We should follow people who model this for us and seek to model it for others in the way we live. Since we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, we must live all of life to please him, not men.

Second, Paul modelled a deep concern for the integrity of the gospel (vv. 5–8). The false teachers who plagued his ministry were known for their flattery and greed. They were known for their desire to be recognised. Paul was not interested in these things. Instead, he gently ministered among the Thessalonians like a nursing mother. He wanted to share the gospel and was not interested in the financial and reputational gain after which the false teachers so desperately lusted. He would not allow anything to detract from the integrity of the gospel.

We should be deeply concerned to not allow anything to interfere with the integrity of the gospel in our life and ministry. Paul, in fact, was even willing to forego some of his apostolic rights to ensure that nothing interfered with the gospel’s integrity. Such people are worthy of following. We should similarly strive to model this virtue before others.

Third, Paul modelled a profound fatherly commitment to those to whom he ministered (vv. 9–12). He bent over backward to ensure that he in no way burdened the members of the church. He laboured and toiled so that they would not experience any labour or toil themselves. As a good father does whatever he must to make the lives of his children less frightening and more secure, so Paul laboured to ease the burden of his followers.

Godly concern for the church works hard to minimise the burden on brothers and sisters in the church. Recognising that we are brothers and sisters in the Lord, we should labour hard to unburden others. This is a good virtue to model, and those who model this virtue are worthy of our following.

Fourth, and ultimately, Paul modelled a clear ministerial goal. In all he did, he “exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (v. 12). He was not primarily interested in growing numbers or an expanding budget. He was not primarily burdened to add ministries to the church. Above all, he took joy in seeing his followers walk worthy of God.

Do we desire, above all else, to find our fellow church members walking worthy of God? Do we do everything we do to help others achieve that goal? We should intentionally follow those who push us to that goal and labour, above all else, to help others toward that goal.

As you meditate on 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12 this morning, ask God to help you identify worthy models to emulate, and to be a worthy model for others to emulate, as you strive to prioritise these four virtues.