So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia. (NLT)
We all want to set a good example to others. If we are followers of Jesus, we especially want to be worthy ambassadors of Jesus. We want to be walking, talking signposts, pointing people to Jesus. But we can misunderstand what it means to set such an example and be such a witness.
Paul’s readers were setting a great example to other believers. However, it seems their example consisted not only of joy but also bearing up under suffering. We witness powerfully about our faith when others see how that faith sustains us in times of difficulty. Witness is not all about showing how on top of things we are. It is about showing how our faith can not only survive setbacks but flourish as they come.
There is no need for us to pretend we are better than what we are. No need for us to advertise Jesus as the means to constant happiness and ease. No need to conceal from others the challenges we face. The example we set is that of people who experience both joy and trouble: just as Jesus said we would.
People are not necessarily impressed with others who soar above life’s challenges. They may well be drawn to those who face those challenges with quiet faith and rather unglamorous perseverance.