A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 1:6. b). You welcomed the message.
As Paul has given a description of his preaching of the gospel, so now he gives an equally full description of the Thessalonians’ receiving of it. His first thought is to link it with their afflictions.
(i)…in spite of severe suffering.
There had been considerable opposition in Thessalonica to the gospel, and so also to those who preached it and those who embraced it. The authentic gospel always arouses hostility (not least because it challenges human pride and self-indulgence), although the opposition it provokes takes different forms. But persecution had not deterred the Thessalonians. They had *welcomed the message* in spite of the suffering involved.
(ii)…with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
We must not miss this second reference to the Holy Spirit within two verses. The same Spirit who gave power to those who preached the gospel gave joy to those who received it. He was working at both ends, so to speak, in the speakers and in the hearers. And it is not surprising to read of the converts’ joy, for joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22). Wherever the gospel goes and people respond, there is joy – joy in heaven among the angels over sinners repenting, as Jesus said (Lk.15:7, 10), and joy on earth among the people of God (Acts 8:8,39; 13:52; 16:34). This pattern of outward opposition and inward joy has often been repeated in the long history of the church (Jn.16:33).
(iii) You became imitators of us and of the Lord.
This is an earlier expression, which comes at the beginning of verse 6. It indicates the profound change which came over the lives of the converts. They began to follow the example as well as the teaching of the apostles (*us*), and so of Jesus (*the Lord*), whose apostles they were. To ‘welcome the message’ includes this. it is no mere intellectual acquiescence in the truth of the gospel; it is a complete transformation of behaviour through a close following of Christ and his apostles. We often think about the imitation of Christ (E.g. Eph.5:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:6; 3:3), but probably do not pay sufficient attention to Paul’s repeated exhortation to the churches to imitate him (‘I urge you to imitate me’, 1 Cor.4:16; cf.2 Thess.3:7; Gal.4:12; Phil.3:17: 4:9), as he imitated Christ (1 Cor.11:1).
(iv) And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
As Dr. Leon Morris has put it, ‘the imitators in their turn were imitated’. For those who take Christ and his apostles as their model inevitably themselves become a model to others. And the singular ‘model’ probably signifies ‘a model community’.
It is marvellous to see the effect of the gospel on those who receive it. It may mean persecution and consequent suffering. But it also involves inward joy through the Holy Spirit, the imitation of Christ and the apostles in changed lives, and the setting of an example to others. Four new relationships seem to be implied – the opposition of the world, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the imitation of the Lord and his apostles, and being a model to the rest of the church. If the preachers were marked by truth, conviction and power, the converts were marked by joy, courage and obedience. Let nobody say that the gospel is devoid of wholesome effects!
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.