When most of us see a mountain range, our eyes are instinctively drawn to the mountain tops. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s something about what you can see—the clarity we get through the unobstructed, panoramic, mountain top view. Whatever it is, I just know we tend to look up when we see a mountain.
In a similar way, there’s a real value in looking up at the example certain people set for us. Let’s face it, our culture floods us with mega doses of bad news on a daily basis. Whether we want to be or not, we’re surrounded with stories of death, disease, destruction, and unending examples of people sadly and tragically living below what God has called us to be. If we’re not careful, if we don’t think about what we think about, it can drag us down in a major way.
That’s why positive examples (and we’re not talking about putting people on a pedestal), can be so helpful and healthy. They show us what we can do and be. Someone said that Christ didn’t come to convict us of our sins but to convince us of our possibilities. Qualify that however you must, but don’t miss the point that we are imitative beings—so much of what we learn (good or bad), comes from watching others and then imitating them. So many of the problems being experienced in our culture comes from people choosing bad models to imitate. But a good model uplifts, inspires, and provides us with an unobstructed view of what life can be.
It’s clear from the tone of 1 and 2 Thessalonians that there was something special about Paul’s relationship with them. It’s all over the first three chapters of the first letter. Paul pours out his affection for them saying things like:
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (1 2:8)
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? (1 3:9)
The clincher for me in all this, are his words in 3:7, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.” Despite all his difficulties (and they were substantial), Paul found encouragement in the Thessalonians and their faith. He tells them that like a proud parent, he “boasted” about them to other churches (2 1:4).
You never know how life is going to work out—God is constantly surprising us. In this case, the students kept the teacher going! They were an important part of what provided Paul with strength for his journey.