Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 2: Submission to authorities

I am an academic who is supposedly an expert on religion and politics.  As a Christian who is occasionally asked to speak in public on such issues, I've been asked to address the second half of I Peter 2 a lot.  Honestly, I do get tired of talking about it. At the same time, most of the time when I give this talk, what I say surprises the listeners.  I suppose this is a good thing, so I keep agreeing to give these talks.

It seems that most Christians, at least in the US, want to explain away the message of vv 13-20.  They don't want it to say what it says, especially if someone they don't like happens to be running the government at the time.  They don't like the idea of submitting to authorities with whom they disagree.  I suppose this is a very Protestant way of thinking.  The Protestant movement started by breaking away from authorities and it has been doing so on a regular basis since.

That is not the message of the Bible, though.  The message of the Bible is to submit to authorities unless they instruct you to do something that is blatantly contrary to God's teachings.  I don't see any way you can get around this interpretation of this and similar passages (and believe me, I've tried).  So perhaps it's more important to understand the rationale behind submitting to authorities.

The rationale Peter gives for submission to authorities in this passage is twofold: 1) You need to set  a good example; and 2) Christ suffered and you should expect the same.

Many years ago I wrote a short essay entitled "People are watching".  The point was that once people know you are a Christian, they are watching you very carefully and judging the faith by what they see.  How does it look if Christians do not obey authority just because they don't like the instructions or (worse) the source of the instructions?  If Christians disobey authorities, they had better have a good reason that they can clearly articulate to the world.  Otherwise we are actually harming the cause of the Gospel.

Secondly, Peter points out that Christ suffered, so we should expect no less.  Think about it.  Who nailed Christ to the cross?  The government.  Could he have stopped it?  Yes.  Did he? No. Are we better than Christ?  It has always bothered me that Christians (especially in the US) somehow think that they are special and therefore immune to suffering.  We aren't.  In fact, if you read the New Testament, we find that we should actually expect it.  If the government does something that makes our lives hard, we should submit to it.  That doesn't mean we can't act to change the government (within the bounds of submission), but we shouldn't do so out of a feeling of entitlement that we shouldn't have to suffer.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 1: Set your hope completely on grace

Peter is probably writing this letter to a group of people who are suffering--who are scattered from their homes and not comfortable in the world in which they live.  And, I think, for those who are not scattered, it was perhaps even harder because they are Christians, trying to live holy lives, in the midst of people they know who find them odd or worse.

I do know this feeling.  When I was applying to colleges, I insisted on two things.  First, I wanted to go someplace where there was a strong Christian presence.  Second, I wanted to go someplace far away from where I was from.  I hated high school (and junior high, and elementary school...).  At my high school I was one of maybe two dozen openly practicing Christians at a high school of 1200 students.  We were outcasts and frequently treated as such.  When I went to college, I wanted to get as far away from that as I could.

Peter's instructions for living as a Christian outsider are not for the faint of heart.  He instructs us to be holy.  He tells us to set our hope completely on the grace given to us by God so that we can reject worldly things.  In essence, he instructs Christians to run counter to peer pressure by placing our focus on obedience to God.  For most people I would venture to guess that is easier said than done. 

These instructions are difficult, but not impossible.  As Peter reminds us, we have something in addition to mere flesh and blood.  We have a new birth, an imperishable seed, and the enduring word of God.  That's definitely a good start.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thoughts on Titus 3: We were once like that

Throughout Paul's letter to Titus, he gives Titus instructions on how to deal with his congregation that has been corrupted by it's society and was therefore having difficulty practicing the Christian faith.  In this third chapter Paul provides a couple of reminders that are helpful for us all to remember.

First, he reminds Titus that, before coming to faith, we were all negatively influenced by our society.  God didn't save us because we were good.  He saved us in spite of our being corrupt. 

Second, Paul reminds Titus that the appropriate focus for Christians is good works.  These are beneficial for all people and help keep us from getting distracted by other things.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Thoughts on Titus 2: Dealing with a troubled church

It is apparent from reading through the book of Titus that Paul is not a big fan of the people in the church at Crete.  He is very blunt in his advice to Titus.  So, how, practically, do you deal with a church full of less than savory characters?  You remind each group what their role is and why.  My impression is that Paul's view of the people at this church isn't that they are simply corrupt, but rather that they have been so poorly influenced by society that they don't know how they are supposed to act.  So Paul goes through each major demographic and tells Titus what areas to focus on.

I think there are a lot of churches today that could use this type of advice.  It isn't that the members of the congregation are inherently evil.  Rather, society has corrupted what they think is appropriate.

A few years ago I was at an inner-city church and having lunch with a young man who did not grow up in the church.  It somehow came out that I was a virgin, and he was stunned and promised to not tell anyone my secret.  My being a virgin wasn't a secret.  I didn't go around pronouncing it on the rooftops, but it's not something I kept hidden either.  But this young man thought there was something wrong with being a virgin.  In his culture, that was the ultimate insult.  He just didn't fully understand that Christians were supposed to abstain from sex before marriage.  It took a while to explain to him what the Bible says on the topic (and I'm still not sure he got it).

It would be an interesting exercise to go from church to church and figure out what instructions Paul would give the leaders on things to focus on with their congregations.  I am sure every church has some areas of cultural blind spots.  Hopefully the leaders won't have the same blind spots.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thoughts on Titus 1: Paul, the blunt

“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  

Quoting an ancient poet, this is part of what Paul said in his instructions to Titus on how to deal with the people of Crete.  Can you imagine a contemporary church leader saying that to a pastor in the city where he serves?  I used to live in New Orleans, and there are lots of "interesting" things I could say in general about the people there (who I also love, oddly enough), but I'm not sure I would actually say it to a pastor serving there, especially in matters of guidance.

But there is something to be said for blunt honesty in dealing with ministry.  If you aren't honest about the issues your people face, it's awfully hard to adequately serve them.  If the people of Crete were actually evil, lazy, liars and you acted as if they were hardworking, honest people, you might have some difficulty in serving them.  They would be taking advantage of you left and right and you would never really be serving their needs.  So perhaps there is something to be said for bluntness in ministry.  But we should be cautious in who we say blunt things to.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 4: But the Lord strengthened me

When I was 16 (maybe 15) I did my first summer of full-time ministry.  In my opinion, half of the team I was on should not have been in ministry at all, as they seemed to do it out of boredom and seeking fun rather than serving God.  Two guys in particular drove me nuts.  They were very stereotypical male teenagers, and I emphatically was not one. I was miserable most of the time that summer.

I mentioned this in a letter to one of my friends and a mutual acquaintance (who I really wish I had gotten to know better when we were in high school) wrote me one of the most valuable letters I have ever received.  It was simple, but included II Timothy 4:16-17.  I wasn't sure at the time what struck me so much about those words, but they carried me through the rest of the summer.

Looking back, with 23 years of perspective, I can now see it was the emphasis on the Lord strengthening me.  I'm not very strong.  I never have been, either physically or emotionally.  I am very fearful.  My dream life is that of a hermit, where I can just be alone and do the things I love, without having to face the odd turmoil that comes from being around people.  But I don't get to live that life.  I need to get strength from somewhere.  There doesn't seem to be a better source of strength than the Lord.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 3: Avoid charlatans and evil people

Paul goes on at great length warning Timothy on how to deal with false teachers.  He describes them a charlatans that trick people through smoothe talk and false promises.  Their teachings lead to destruction

So, how is one to avert the snares of these slicksters?  Pay attention to known truth.  In this case, Paul instructs Timothy to compare what they say to the teachings in which he was brought up and the Scriptures.  If they don't match, have nothing to do with the slickster.  The Scriptures are also useful in training followers in righteousness and good works.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 2: Don't wrangle over words

As I was struggling through a complex theological issue (eternal security) back when I was in high school, I cam across this passage, which has been deeply influential in the tone of my theological conversations ever since.

In vv. 11-13 Paul quotes what looks to be a poem to discuss the eternal security of the believer.  Honestly, the verses can be easily interpreted in either direction.  But what struck me was the verses immediately following this.  Timothy is instructed to remind the people of these things (the deep theological message) and to not wrangle over words as such wrangling can lead to ruin.

Here's what I take from that.  It's appropriate to discuss complex theological issues.  At times it is beneficial.  However, when it turns into wrangling over words rather than trying to understand God's nature and our relationship with Him, it has negative consequences. 

Too often I see theological discussions turn into "us vs. them" fights.  If you don't agree with my interpretation, then you are a heretic. Too often the "theology police" are too quick to find people guilty without giving them a fair hearing. This leads to unnecessary dissension within the Body of Christ. (Note: I am not saying all interpretations are equal or that there aren't heresies.  Rather, we should discern the difference between false doctrine and complex issues that are open to interpretation.) 

Paul was obviously very concerned with false teaching.  He instructs Timothy several times to stand up against it.  But there is a difference between false teaching and presenting differing views on complex theological questions.  We need to use discernment to figure out where that dividing line is.  To be honest, this is something I still struggle with, 20 some years later. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 1: Paul's lonliness

When reading II Timothy, one gets a sense of Paul, the man.  It is probable that Paul is old and in prison when he writes this letter to his protege, who is carrying on his work while he can't.  Paul is lonely.  The only person he gives credit for being there for him in prison is Onesiphorous.  I don't know who this person is, except that Paul prays that God blesses his family for his kindness.

So, what does Paul, in his lonely state, want to share with Timothy?  He wants Timothy to be bold in sharing the Gospel.  One gets the impression that Timothy was an impressive young man, but sort of timid.  He was able to start his ministry being the assistant to Paul and Silas, two who were very bold in the faith.  He was able to play the important background role.  But then he got sent on his own as the "church straightener"--Paul's representative to help out struggling churches.  Then, when Paul was imprisoned, he seemed to take on the mantle of chief evangelist (although I am not sure about this).  Timothy was one of the leaders, although probably younger and less of a "natural leaders" than many who wanted to usurp his authority.  So, Paul encourages Timothy to be bold in utilizing his spiritual gifts and to not let others be swayed by false teachers.

What does this tell us about lonely Paul?  He didn't beg Timothy to come back to him.  He encouraged Timothy to continue his work.  This is not to say that he didn't want Timothy to return (see the last few verses of the book), but rather that Paul understood that what Timothy was doing was more important.  Lonely Paul was selfless enough to sacrifice his own happiness for the well being of the Church.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 6: Godliness and contentment

In the middle of chapter 6, Paul has an interesting discussion on seeking after wealth.  In brief, Timothy shouldn't pursue wealth and should encourage others to follow his lead.  In this passage comes the famous line, "The love of money is the root of all evils." (By the way, although not a Greek expert, I do think this is the correct translation.  I do not see anything in the original that can be legitimately translated as "all kids of".)  But before this is what I believe is the far more important line, "Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit."

Ancient Greek philosophers had a term that I think might be beneficial for modern Christians: eudaimonia.  The rough translation is "flourishing", or to put it differently, being the best you that you can be.  The idea is that everything has a purpose and that thing is only as good as it achieves that purpose.

The eudaimonia of the Christian is to serve God.  It isn't to become rich.  It isn't to own a big house.  It isn't to have a lot of stuff.  These things can get in the way of serving God.  Wealth can be used to advance the Kingdom.  This isn't to say that making money is inherently bad.  I have a friend who I think is a model for this.  He owns a highly successful internet business.  He only needs four employees to run the whole thing and he pays them well.  The profits he makes go into growing the business and ministry.  He himself lives in a 900 square foot cabin.  He doesn't splurge on anything, but rather lives simply.  After giving money to ministry, he makes $30,000 per year. (I don't know the details, but he gives away a lot more than that.)  He devotes 20 hours a week to ministry.  This, I believe, is an example of living a life of godliness combined with contentment.  And he flourishes, in the true sense of the term.  He is highly fulfilled with his life, mostly because he is content and feels like he is serving God.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 5: Practical advice for the Church

In chapter 5, Paul gives Timothy a lot of tips for handling situations in the church.  Today I will just focus on the handling of widows.

Perhaps contrary to what a lot of people might think today, Paul did not call for the universal helping of the poor.  He believed it was the responsibility of the church to help those who truly needed it.  In his day, the primary case was widows.  Paul instructed Timothy to only help widows who did not have family to care for them.  If someone refused to care for their elderly family members, they were to be shunned. (Boy, do we have a different mentality today in the US...) 

If the widow was young enough to remarry she should, so that she could be taken care of and the church could focus on those "truly in need".  I think the modern corollary is that people who are young enough to still work should be expected to do so and not be taken care of by the church.  This is something the church in the US used to do well.  If someone could work, the church would help them find work, even if that meant cleaning up the church and doing yard work for elderly parishioners.  With the advent of the welfare state, there is both less expectation of the church to help and greater expectation that when the church does help, that it does so without regard to the capabilities of the recipient.  Both mentalities are wrong, but it is very hard, given today's circumstances, to escape either one.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 4: Don't neglect your gifts

When I was younger, vv. 12-16 of the fourth chapter were some of the most important to me in the Bible.  Now I am middle aged and not quite sure what to do with them.

When I was in high school and college, I did receive confirmation of my spiritual gifts through prophesy.  I never had a blueprint for what I was supposed to do with these gifts, so I spent my early adulthood doing things that I thought would put myself in a position to both fine-tune the gifts and give myself more credibility.  I earned a master's degree in philosophy and a Ph.D. in government.  I served in the churches I was in and did gain credibility within those churches. 

Then I got married.  My criteria for getting married for as long as I can remember is that I should be able to better serve God with my wife than without my wife.  I found a woman who had strengths in my areas of weakness and we married.  I have since found that I am serving God less effectively.  The marriage drains my energy and I am constantly doing things to fix things for her because she has glaring weaknesses in my areas of strength.  But it saps up all of my energy and I am no longer serving God.  In addition, my spiritual gifts have been neglected and I feel like they are weakening.

That's primarily why I am doing these "thoughts on" posts.  I am trying to exercise some of my spiritual gifts and get them back into shape so that hopefully I can get back to serving God and live up to the potential He gave me.  I'm not even remotely close to being there yet.  I look back on some of my older writing and listen to some of my old talks and am in wonder of what I was once able to do.  Now I just feel tired and hopeless that I can never get back to where I once was, let alone to where I know I should be.  I neglected my gifts and now I feel the consequences of that neglect.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 3: Choosing Elders and Deacons

I have never been an elder or a deacon myself.  I have been influential in choosing both positions at two different churches, though.  I can also tell you that I have high standards for both positions and certain individuals did not receive appointments because of walking through this chapter with church leadership.

It is good to be both an elder and a deacon.  Having said that, though, I am very cautious about those who think they are ready for the job--who strongly believe they are qualified.  That indicates an arrogance that I think might indicate a lack of qualification. 

In my opinion, most churches need to be more careful in their selection of deacons and elders.  I've seen too many problems pop up from the choice of a "big name" who then become arrogant and leads the church in an unhealthy direction.  I think part of the lack of cautiousness largely comes from two problems:
  1. The church is thinking too much like the world in the selection of leaders.  A good business or political leader, for example, does not necessarily make a good church leader.
  2. Many churches have church constitutions or charters which mandate the number of elders and deacons that are to serve there.  But what happens when there are too few truly qualified candidates in a church?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 2: Pray for everyone

Pray for everyone.  Not just the people you like.  Not just your family.  Not just for those close to you.  Pray for everyone.  Pray for those who do you wrong.  Pray for those you've never encountered. 

When teaching a politics class, I often refer to a something studied in social psychology.  Unfortunately, I am blanking out on the technical term, so I will just describe it.  We tend to favor those who we see ourselves associated with.  If a member of my family is in dispute with a neighbor, I side with the family member.  If my neighbor argues with someone across town, I side with my neighbor.  If someone from across town argues with someone from a different town, I side with the person from my town.  We naturally favor those with whom we identify.  This has both positive and negative consequences.

In terms of prayer, it means it is much easier for us to pray for those with whom we identify.  I don't do a good job of praying for those in South America.  I don't have any affinity with that part of the world.  I don't bother to see what their needs might be.

A few years ago I had a book that was essentially a guide for praying for every country in the world.  I got it at a missions conference, and, although it had some flaws (including factual errors), it did at least give me a broader perspective.  I was able to see needs outside myself and outside those with whom I identify.  I was better able to (although not perfectly able to) pray for everyone.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 1: Keep the main thing the main thing

As a teacher, it is very easy to get distracted.  Students (at least at the college level) also love to distract you.  They often want to get into heated discussions about something they find interesting rather than focusing on the content that they are supposed to learn.  There seems to be something about human nature that drags us away from focusing on what is good for us so that we can ponder irrelevant things.

Paul warns Timothy in the beginning of this letter to be careful of such things, and to watch out for those who are trying to distract from the central themes of the gospel.  I don't know the specifics of these distractions, but I imagine it is similar to those today who focus so much on an obscure piece of theology and end up ignoring the larger picture.

How does one not get distracted?  By keeping the main thing the main thing.  I am a sinner.  God saved me.  Now He wants a good relationship with me.  God wants the same for you. 

Discussing other things can be valuable when done in certain ways and in certain contexts, but only when done in proper perspective.  Our relationship with God should always be the focus and the purpose for all of our discussions.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Thoughts on II Thessalonians 3: We must work

Paul, in one of his more blunt moments, says, "If anyone is not willing to work, then he should not eat."  In context, it is clear that Paul is not speaking of the disabled or those who honestly cannot find work.  Rather, he is aiming his blunt weapon on those "teachers" who claim that they don't need to work because they are servants of God.  Although we know from Paul's other writings that God's servants are worthy of wages, but that doesn't give license for laziness.

This principle should be applied more broadly though.  Help shouldn't be given for those who are not willing to work.  Work, however, should be interpreted broadly, I believe.  A single mother with five kids is working by raising five kids.  I think if she multi-tasks in whatever breaks she had from child-rearing (such as "nap time") and does other work, she should receive help from the Church.  Even if this means something as simple as stuffing envelopes (something that can easily be done at home to ease in child care).  As a church, we should also be willing to help those who are willing to work.  The principle goes both ways.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Thoughts on II Thessalonians 2: Fooled by imposters

Based on reading Paul's two letters to them, the church in Thessalonica seemed to be very concerned about the Lord's return, arguably in an unhealthy way.  Here Paul has to warn them about false teachers who are trying to tell them that they missed it and are now stuck like Chuck in the muck (to quote one of my former pastors).   He also wants to warn them about an actual sign that the Lord's return is near, that the man of lawlessness takes the seat of honor in the temple.

I'm not going to try to dissect what all this means.  I do think it is important to note that Paul cautions about imposters.  We have needed that warning ever since as there have been a lot of imposters over the centuries.  How do you avoid being fooled by imposters?  In verse 15 Paul admonishes his readers to hold firm to the traditions they were taught.  I think it is safe to translate these traditions to modern readers as the Bible.  (In my view, the original traditions have been so corrupted, we aren't sure what they were beyond what has been laid out for us in the Bible.)  The Bible is where we have preserved the original teachings of the Christ and the early Church leaders.  So, when we hear something new, we should test it.

Thoughts on II Thessalonians 1: The Myth of the Passive New Testament God

So many times I have heard the God of the Old Testament described as wrathful and angry where in the New Testament God is loving and peaceful.  Whenever I hear this, I have to wonder if the speaker has actually read the whole Bible.  Throughout, God is clearly both loving and wrathful.

In the first chapter of II Thessalonians we get a small taste of both the love and the wrath.  Those who follow Him, although afflicted now, will find peace.  Those who do not follow him now will find eternal punishment, separated from God's glory.  What I find interesting about both of these positions is that it seems people are getting what they want.  Followers are receiving rest in His glory.  Non-followers get to find out what absence from His glory is all about. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thought on I Thessalonians 5:17: Pray More

A couple years ago I was in a rather diverse Bible study.  Represented were at least three different ethnic groups.  There were three individuals with Ph.D.s (myself included), two ordained ministers, three pastor's kids (myself included), and about five adults who grew up outside the church and who had not yet graduated from high school.  Yep, diverse group.

The leader asked us to write down a summary of I Thessalonians 5:12-22.  Those of us highly educated "churchy" people went about on our exegesis and none of us came up with anything particularly profound.  When we got to verse 17 the leader asked what one of the guys who hadn't graduated from high school and who did not grow up in the church to explain vs. 17.  He said simply, "Pray more".  The room fell silent as we thought about how profound those two simple words were. No one in the room has forgotten and I always think of that every time I read I Thessalonians 5.  And it humbles me because I know that I need to pray more.

It also reminds me that I shouldn't always over-analyze the texts.  Sometimes simple is far more profound.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 4 & 5: What we do know about the end

I have no idea what I'm going to say when this devotional blog gets to the book of Revelations.  I really don't know what most of it means and therefore have very few thoughts on the matter.  The only thing I come close to certainty on is that what I hear most teachers on the "end times" say is probably wrong.

With that in mind, we come to the second half of chapter 4 and the second half of chapter 5, where Paul gives his readers a glimpse into what is to come.  Those who are already dead will rise when the Lord returns and those alive will meet them in the air.  When this happens seems to be unknown as it will "come as a thief in the night".  But we should not live as if we are in the night, but should be aware of what is going on as one who lives in the day.

Does this mean, since we are in the day, that we will clearly be able to tell when the end has come?  Based on my reading of church history and hearing too much Christian talk radio over the past thirty years, I sort of doubt it will be that obvious.  How many times have we heard predictions that the end was right around the corner?  The following are a list of "anti-Christs" I have heard in my relatively short lifetime: Reagan, Gorbachev, G.H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, three different popes, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah...and the list just keeps going.  My impression is that we really don't know what's going on.

Is it possible that when the end actually comes that it will truly be obvious to most Christians?  Maybe.  But I tend to think that living in the day is meant to motivate us to live as if the end might be near because, frankly, we don't know.  So, what does it mean to live as if the end is near?  That is a good question and is worthy of some intense thought.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 3: Caring about what matters most

In this third chapter, Paul expresses the concern he felt for the church in his absence.  He was concerned enough to send his trusted colleague Timothy to check up on them.  When Paul received the positive report, he "felt alive again". 

This is true care.  And it is valuable, I think, to see what drove the care.  He was concerned far more about their spiritual well being than anything else.  In fact, nothing else really gets mentioned.  This is, I believe, because their spiritual well being is what Paul thought was most important.

In the past few years I've been more involved with what I'll call the "Evangelical social justice movement".  The participants in this are quite varied, but what they share is a belief that Evangelical Christians in the US have, over the past few decades, ignored the importance of social justice as part of holistic Christian ministry.  I wholeheartedly agree with this.  My concern is that in focusing so much on social justice, the more important things have fallen to the wayside--namely spiritual health.  So, in the emphasis on creating a more holistic ministry, too many of these leaders ended up replacing on gap for another.  In their zeal to return to practicing social justice, they ignored spiritual health.  If one of the two has to be chosen (and I don't believe that to be the case), then Paul would focus on spiritual health.

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 2: Being worthy of immitation

In the first chapter, Paul emphasized the importance of the church imitating good sources so they could be a good example to others.  In the second chapter Paul spells out some of what is involved in being worthy of imitation.  To save time, I'm going to simply list a few things in the chapter that are worthy of imitation:
  1. Not being slick salespeople.
  2. Not being glory hounds.
  3. Caring for others with the nurturing love of the mother of a newborn
  4. Hard work in sharing the Gospel
  5. Hard work in caring for their own physical needs
  6. Living blamelessly before others
  7. Suffering for Christ
That is quite the list, and, when I think about it, a hard one to emulate. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 1: Become an example by learning to imitate

In the first chapter of this interesting letter, Paul comes out with what I imagine was an intentionally odd thought: Become imitated by first imitating others.  In this case, the believers in Thessalonica became an example for other believers in Macedonia and Achaia (v. 7).  They were able to accomplish this because they imitated Paul, other spiritual leaders, and the Lord.

In the modern (at least Western) world, there is so much emphasis on being unique.  Children are encouraged to become their own persons (although I would argue that the encouragement is not consistent, especially among those most vociferous about it).  In academia, you are rewarded for being original, sometimes even if the original thing you say is ridiculous.  You see this in many areas of life.

But, there's a problem.  For a large percentage of the time, being original doesn't actually work.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that being original frequently hinders progress.  Why would you try to invent something new for every task when there are proven ways to complete that task already in place?  Isn't it smarter to simply imitate what has done before?

Now, I freely admit that there are problems with my argument when taken all the way and applied to all circumstances.  However, this passage does not apply to technological advancement, for example.  It applies to spiritual growth.  Why would you try to create a new way of doing things spiritually?  Well, it depends, I guess, on your motivation.  Is your motivation to please God or to please yourself?  If your motivation is to please God, it makes perfect sense to imitate those who have pleased God previously.  This is not an area where one wants to re-invent the wheel.