Integrity Gets the Word OutBlog / Produced by The High Calling
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers . . . The Lord's message rang out from you . . . your faith in God has become known everywhere . . . 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.
We can be thankful for many things—whether friends, family, experiences, or material blessings. But how often do we give thanks for someone's integrity?
This opening passage of Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is distinctive for its connection between thanksgiving and integrity. He thanks God continually for their work, labor, and endurance generated by faith, hope, and love. These character virtues, Paul says, manifest in their external behavior, and he commends their praiseworthy example.
Of course, the Thessalonians learned this from Paul. When Paul was with them, he walked his talk. The gospel came not with words only, but with power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. He showed integrity by living a life that matched his spoken message. Paul and his friends both verbalized and modeled the Christian life.
But that's not all. There's a reciprocal, synergistic relationship between Paul's own integrity and the Thessalonians' integrity. We know from the book of Acts that Paul, Silas, and Timothy spent some time dwelling with the Thessalonians, interacting with their community in the daily stuff of life. They were not merely itinerant preachers who blew through town and ministered from an impersonal distance. They shared life together, which allowed the Thessalonians to see the reality of the Christian life lived out with holiness and integrity. The result was that the Thessalonians imitated Paul and modeled themselves after his example of following Christ. As Paul strove to live like Jesus, so too did the Thessalonians.
And then the ripple effect moved outward. The Thessalonians "became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia" (vs. 7). Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia and its largest city. Achaia was the province immediately to the south, best known for its influential cities of Corinth and Athens. The Thessalonians' influence rang out beyond their own city into neighboring regions, throughout the whole of Greece. And perhaps beyond—it is unclear exactly what Paul is referring to when he says that their faith in God "has become known everywhere." Perhaps east to Ephesus or west to Rome. Word of mouth buzz about the Thessalonians' faith was widespread. (Indeed, Christians around the world know of them yet today!)
Paul's own mission team didn't need to publicize what was going on in Thessalonica, for others were already reporting it. Word of their reputation and integrity had spread.
Isn't this the case when something is so impressive, so amazing that you can't stop talking about it? Maybe it's a coffee shop that has great mocha or an online retailer with terrific customer service. A colleague tells you that you have to check out this blog, this movie, this book. A church that is so dynamic and exciting that people visit just to see what's going on. Satisfied customers are so impressed that they become loyal evangelists for the brand. We all know that some companies and organizations have buzz and excitement about them, while others don't.
Paul might say that it all goes back to integrity. Christians who imitate Christ and live with integrity have extraordinary impact on others. Word gets out—these people are different. Their work is stellar, their service is reliable, their example is inspirational. The more our lives model this kind of integrity, the greater our impact on the world around us. And for that, we and others can give thanks.