As Paul concludes his letter to the Thessalonians, he tells them that instead of arguing and speculating about the dates and times of the second coming of Jesus ( which know one knows), they would be much better served to live for Christ in the light of that coming. So, in conclusion of his letter he gives them a good number of important and practical instructions as to how the church might be busy, while waiting for the coming of the Lord.
All of these instructions relate to pleasing the Lord in the context of a sanctified life lived within the church. Again, all these issues are of a selective nature, but we will take these exhortations as the very Word of God for ourselves today.
- Relating to our elders ( 5:12-13a)
- Relating to one another (5:13b)
- Relating to those that are struggling in various areas ( 5:14)
- Keeping evil under control and promoting good ( 5:15)
I believe that we do well at the beginning of the year to be reminded concerning some key areas in which we should see ourselves being sanctified "more and more" (4:1, 10) as a church.
1. Sanctified behaviour through appreciating your elders
The first request from Paul is that we should respect those who are over us in the Lord. This is a difficult one for me to deal with , for I am not here to commend myself nor our elders. I am not here to say, “you need to submit to our authority !” That would sound more like the language of a cult leader than a true servant of God. And yet we cannot get around the facts. We cannot afford to ignore the pastoral leadership of the church. The Scripture says these things – and so must we.
Another important text in this regard is Hebrews 13:17,
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you .”
What is the work of the pastor / elder? How will a proper relationship with such affect my spiritual development and sanctification ? What is their role in my life? And why should I obey them and submit to them? Paul describes the pastor’s role in a brief few words. His work is to be characterized by:
a. Hard labor. (Gr. kopiao). The word means to work to the point of ‘growing weary‘. The pastoral ministry is tiresome work and one of the reasons we are to respect our leaders is that they often labour among us to the point of exhaustion. It takes courage to be an evangelical pastor – going with God and going against an opinionated world that holds the hearts and minds of so many of our young people and older people captive.
Pastors often labour among poorly taught, untaught, unwilling, non- cooperative, difficult, self opinionated people. In so doing they must remember that their work is to be done with utmost patience (2 Tim 2:24-26; 4:2). That continual self restraint is hard on the soul of the pastor. Although he must be a tender man , he must also be a tough man.
“His work is“, as William Still says, “not to make a crowd of worldly folk happy… but so to labour amongst them that through many tribulations, discouragements and misunderstandings, we form a faithful people of God, however small a remnant of the total congregation that may be.”
Pastors are called to tell us the truth. It is hard to tell the truth! The Gospel both cuts and heals. And so Pastors must admonish us. It is far easier to say pleasant things! So, members of the church - let’s not make their life more difficult. Their life is already difficult if they do their job properly.
b. They are over you in the Lord: ( lit. “to stand before – hence to lead/rule). Paul reminds us secondly that these men called to rule in the congregation by the Lord’s appointment and therefore by His and in His authority. He appoints them and gives them authority, and therefore we respect God as we respect them. Also remember that they have great levels of responsibility and shall be judged more strictly. (1 Peter 5:1-4; James 3:1)
c. They admonish you: ( lit. “to put in mind “ - to instruct and warn in view of the things that are wrong). Don’t resent them for this work . They are called to do this by God.
d. How then should we respond to our elders? Paul says that they should be highly esteemed in love – mainly because of the Christ who called them to this place. So, we should make a good beginning by not making the job of the leader any more difficult than it already is. Unfortunately it seems that faithful leaders are often badmouthed, maligned and ridiculed (see 2 Corinthians). We should really thank God when we do have faithful leaders and value them as much or even more than we value those who lead us politically, socially, financially and in so many other ways. Make it your duty to encourage them in their work. Listen to what they are saying. Follow their lead, if they are following Christ.
2. Sanctified behaviour by living at peace with one another (5:13b)
We don’t know whether this is still part of the previous discussion about spiritual leaders or whether it is a new thought. If it is still part of the discussion on respecting spiritual leaders, it might indicate that there was a power struggle going on in the church. In this case, Paul was pleading for the people to stop fighting each other and start working together in Christ .
If this is a new section, Paul is giving us a familiar principle: we should be peacemakers rather than troublemakers!
3. Sanctified Behaviour by helping those that are struggling in various areas :
a. Admonish (warn) the idle: “idle” is probably better translated as “unruly/ disorderly /undisciplined ”. When we see someone going astray, we have a responsibility to warn that person that they are in danger. (see James 5:19-20)
When we see people who are drifting from the faith, we need to know that those people are actually drifting into the path of the wrath and judgment of God. We have the responsibility to warn those people! By all means choose your words carefully and let them be said in love, but be bold and honest! Don’t be indifferent. Care enough to keep each other from danger.
b. Encourage the fainthearted (timid). The word translated “faintheated” literally means “ small souled”. The idea seems to be that we are to encourage those who want to give up. Most of us know such periods in life when we want to quit. We become timid. We become tired of living faithfully. We are worn down by those who resist the truth of the gospel. At times we feel like we aren’t accomplishing anything. At these times we need someone to come along to encourage us.
c. Help ( sustain/ support ) the weak.
A weak person needs support. The Christian church is not a place where we reject or belittle the weak. The Christian church is a place where we develop support systems, not dependency systems mind you, but helping people to be self sustaining and self supporting after they have experienced setbacks e.g. after divorce or illness or bereavement and when they become advanced in years and when they believe they serve no useful purpose. In each of these cases the human tendency is to withdraw from these people because we don’t know what to say. But these are times when people need someone to help them.
d. Be patient with them all: In some respects this may be the most difficult of them all. We tend to be so impatient with people. We want to solve problems NOW!
You see it all the time with people who are grieving. They don’t need answers. They need someone to understand that they are hurting. They have lost someone and no mount of comforting words can replace them. They need time to heal. We all need people in our lives who will be patient with us and who will pray for us and with us even when we don’t seem to be making progress; who will endure our “bad days” rather than getting offended and walking away.
Patience is the key that unlocks the door to the deepest relationships. You can’t have any significant relationship unless you are willing to be patient.
e. See to it that nobody repays another evil for evil “. We live in a world that believes in the ‘eye for an eye‘ principle. This was not the way of Jesus. He had compassion on the weak. He defended the helpless. He saw potential in those the world ignored. His first goal was not to “protect Himself”. He protected others. He was zealous for God’s glory.
Don’t you want to be a part of a church where people value their leaders and care about each other?
Don’t you long for people who will care about you enough to turn your from wrong and to encourage you when you are straying from the truth?
Let’s take this text personally and pray that the sanctifying grace of God will empower us in each of these areas :
- Give thanks to God for your leaders. Encourage them.
- Be a Peacemaker and not a disturber of the peace.
- Bring someone back who is heading in the wrong way .
- Encourage a fainthearted person this week.
- Help a struggling Christian this week.
- Determine not to be impatient. Resist the hostility and aggression of the world and practice the patience, the love and the kindness of Jesus.
- Take the wind out of your enemy’s sails by saying something good to them this week
May the Lord be with us as we believe the sanctifying power of our crucified Lord to be at work within us, and as we do these things by faith alone for the glory of God alone.