Monday, January 11, 2010

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 “A Life Pleasing to God through sanctified behaviour in the church “

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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.[1] 

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[2].   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 [3](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 :
  1. Give thanks to God for your leaders.   Encourage them.
  2.  Be a Peacemaker and not a disturber of the peace.
  3.  Bring someone  back   who is heading  in the wrong way .
  4.  Encourage a  fainthearted person this week.
  5.  Help a struggling Christian  this week.  
  6.  Determine not to be impatient.  Resist the hostility and aggression  of the world and  practice the patience, the love and the kindness of Jesus. 
  7. 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. 

[1] William Still : The Work of the Pastor , p14
[2] Gr. ataktos  - not keeping order ; a military term, denoting not keeping rank; insubordinate “
[3] Gr  oligopsuchos  lit. “ small souled “

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