Everyone wants to be a leader. At least, everyone wants to have others follow them, their ideas, and their preferences. Usually that lasts only until we become leaders, and then we would much rather have someone else take the brunt of the criticism and responsibility that comes from being in such a position. Still, very few people, if asked, would say that their goal is to be a follower. I don’t think many people would appreciate being voted “Most Likely to be a Sheep” in the school yearbook, and yet that is exactly the exhortation given to the Christians in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. As I read this book today, I was struck by the theme of “following” that runs through the whole book.
From the very beginning, Paul commends the members of the church for their growing faith and abounding love in the face of harsh persecution. He reminds them of the reward they will enjoy when Christ returns to judge the wicked, because his “testimony among [them] was believed” (2 Thess. 1:10). This testimony involved more than just words; it involved his faithful obedience to Jesus Christ. They had become followers of Christ when they recognized that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were themselves following Christ.
Paul also encourages them to continue to follow the teaching they had received from him, rejecting any doctrine that was contrary to what they had been taught, even if it claimed to be sent by Paul, himself (2:2). They were to be unmoved by any other teaching, because Paul had already given them clear instruction concerning God’s plan for the future of his people (2:5,15). They were not to be afraid of missing out on the grace of God, because they had been chosen by God to receive salvation. Although others may have come along with novel ideas and “new revelations,” they were responsible follow the truths they had been given.
Finally, Paul challenges them to follow his example in their relationships with one another, by working diligently rather than being an unnecessary burden on their brothers and sisters in Christ (3:7-9). He had refused to take anything from them, instead working at his trade of tent-making so that he would not be burdensome to them. Of course, there would have been nothing wrong with Paul receiving support from the Christians as he ministered to them, but he chose instead to set an example of selfless service for them to follow.
Maybe being a sheep isn’t such a bad idea after all. Instead of trying to get people to follow us, we should seek to follow those who also follow Christ. Let’s not seek out new and novel interpretations of the Scriptures, but follow the clear teaching of God’s word by those who are committed to faithfully obey it themselves. And let’s follow the example of the apostle Paul and other godly men and women who have served others without seeking personal gain. Be a sheep!