For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, since you have also suffered the same things from people of your own country, just as they did from the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us” (1 Thess. 2:14-15).
For the second time, Paul says the Thessalonians are imitators because of their sufferings. In chapter one, Paul says they became imitators of Paul’s group and the Lord. Now, he says they imitate the churches in Judea because they have suffered from their own people.
By “imitator,” Paul means something deeper than mimicking or copying. The Thessalonians didn’t merely copy Jesus, Paul, or other believers who suffered. They experienced what others before them experienced. The things they went through made them like Jesus and His followers. Because of their experience, the Thessalonians joined in fellowship with Jesus and His body; they entered into a union.
It isn’t primarily doctrines, traditions, or sameness of belief that binds Christians together. It is experiencing the person of Jesus that joins us into one body. Our connection is the synchronicity we have with the living Spirit of Christ.
The Holy Spirit enables communion between us and Christ’s inner experience. This plays out in a multiplicity of circumstances and scenarios. Whatever the outward situations, the Spirit replicates Christ’s inner disposition, reaction, and perspective within. Those who know Jesus in this way are bound to Him and one another; they are truly one body.
Paul touches on this with the Corinthians as well: “The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
Paul is not just talking about drinking and eating. Drinking the cup and eating the bread of Christ represents our communion with Jesus and each other. Ingesting ceremonial foods doesn’t make us one body with Christ. Only sharing in His broken body and shed blood make us one body with Him.
The Thessalonians didn’t all literally have their bodies broken or their blood shed. But they were persecuted. Circumstances were different but spiritually they shared Christ’s broken body and shed blood; the Spirit wed their sufferings to Christ’s.
When we spiritually share Christ’s sufferings, we are one body with Him and each other. As Christ suffers, dies, and rises within, we are integrated with Him and His people.