Principles for Christian Teaching from 1 Thessalonians 1–2

Most of us are familiar with the old saying, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Many of us are also aware of the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Both of these sayings are for the most part unhelpful. In the first, the implication is of someone blindly following the actions of another whether good or bad. There is no reasoning involved or internalizing of said behavior. In the second instance, the inference is that it is unnecessary for one’s words to comport with one’s behavior. It is okay to be a hypocrite. Further, it assumes that one’s words are of greater influence over another rather than one’s actions.

When we turn to the pages of Scripture though, we see something different. One is neither called to shut off one’s brain and blindly follow another, nor is one to disregard the actions of another in place of their words. Rather, we are to think and reason, and we are to live in such a manner that our actions are consistent with what we say. This has implications not only for the way in which we live our lives, but also more specifically for how we teach others.

In 1 Thessalonians 1–2 Paul is expressing his thankfulness to God for the Thessalonians reception of the gospel, their example to other Christian churches, and for their endurance in the faith in spite of persecution. One theme that occurs throughout these chapters is the theme of imitation. In 1:6 Paul notes how the Thessalonian Christian imitated Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s examples and the Lord’s. Specifically, the way in which they imitated Paul, his co-laborers, and Christ was the way they responded to the gospel in the midst of suffering, namely, with “joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1:6). The idea of suffering well occurs elsewhere in 2:14–16. There as in 1:6 the Thessalonians are imitating the behavior of others in this regard. The only way they could be said to imitate this action was that they were aware of it in the lives of Paul and his co-laborers, and Jesus Christ. So it wasn’t good enough for Paul only to provide lip service to joy in suffering, but to actually live in accordance with that teaching. Not only did the Thessalonians imitate other godly persons, but they too became a model for others to imitate. Paul addresses this in the next verse, “so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1:7). The Thessalonians that had been influenced by the example of others were now influencing other churches to stand firm against those hostile to the gospel.

Not only did the Thessalonian church imitate godly examples and provide an example for others to follow, but their following of such examples was not done without thoughtfulness on their part. In chapter 2 Paul provides several evidences of the Thessalonians thinking through how they should respond to the suffering they were facing. First, they recalled the example of Paul and his co-laborers (2:5–12). Second, mention is made of their having received Paul’s message, which they reasoned was God’s word (2:13). All of these actions take discerning and reasoning to come to these conclusions. So it isn’t merely following another’s example, but assessing it and their words to determine whether or not one should adopt a particular model to follow.

When it comes to teaching, it isn’t enough simply to be a talking head, spewing forth information. As good and helpful and true as the information may be it must be modeled if others are to buy what you’re selling. One has to be an example; an embodiment of the truths one espouses if one expects others to follow their instruction. Part of the reason for this is that others get to see how an abstract idea works out in real life. It also gives credibility to the one teaching, since they live consistent with what they teach. It is also necessary to find ways to engage one’s students in the learning. Rote memorization has its place. Memorization of ideas and facts enables one to quickly call on them when needed. However, there must be time for reflection and for critically thinking about a topic. As teachers, we must encourage our students to think for themselves. This may mean modeling how this is done for one’s students. Come up with a problem and let them see how you would go about solving it. By doing this you let them climb into your head and see how you reason. Such modeling will help them with thinking about their own thinking (otherwise known as metacognition).

What models have you learned from and how have they influenced you? Who are you providing an example for?

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