When it comes to reaching the lost, the Church as a whole isn’t doing such a great job. According to statistics on religioustolerance.org, Christianity is at about 32% of the world population and losing ground. Other statistics place the numbers at anywhere betwen 27-33%. Almost everyone says the percentage of Christians versus the world population is declining. Keep in mind that these statistics count a person as Christian if on a census they identified themselves as such. In other words there was no check as to their actual beliefs or practices. These are sobering numbers for a people called to make disciples of all nations. It is even more sobering when we realize that Islam is on the rise.
When Christianity was first getting started, it was an upstart religion that ran counter to what the traditional beliefs of the day were. Christianity wasn’t an accepted faith with a time honored tradition. It wasn’t well accepted by everyone, either. Such was the case in Thessalonica, where the believers were persecuted, for we see references in both letters to the Thessalonians regarding the persecution they were suffering. In this persecution they stayed firm to the Gospel.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell 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—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10, NIV
The believers in Thessalonica were commended by Paul not just for standing fast for Christ. In standing fast they also served as a model for the region around them. They were Christ’s witnesses to the world and their steadfastness in the face of persecution inspired other believers. There’s that old cliche that actions speak louder than words. The actions of the believers in Thessalonica spoke to other believers around them. The Thessalonians became the model to emulate.
They are our model, too, as to how to influence other believers. Notice what Paul said of them: they were imitators of Paul and his ministry partners, and more importantly, of God. When they heard the Gospel, they received it with joy, in spite of the persecution they were suffering. What does this mean for us? When we welcome the Gospel with similar joy, when we strive to be imitators of God, we set the example. We become the model. And our actions will speak lounder than any words we may try to speak.
Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. He explained to us we’re supposed to love God first and showed us how to love our neighbors as ourselves. These aren’t easy things to do. They run contrary to our flesh, and contrary to the world. As a result, when we honor them and strive to do them, we stand out. We are the ones standing at the front of the great crowd of Christians saying, “Follow me.” Only we’re not stopping at our words. We’re stepping forward. We’re marching into the fray. We’re leading the way. And by us doing so, hopefully we can inspire other believers to follow our lead. We can’t force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. But we can provide the model, we can become the inspiration, just as the Thessalonians did.
There is a lost and dying world that needs Jesus Christ. We can begin to reach it. And as we do, we can inspire others to do so, too. We can be like the Thessalonians, serving as a model for those around us. Let us be known for our faith. Let us be known for our love for our Lord. And let us share that faith and that love for Jesus with the world which needs both so badly.