Wednesday, June 10, 2015

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 : “A God centered Church demonstrates sanctified behaviour “

It has been a while  now since we  have considered  Paul’s first letter to the  Thessalonians.  So allow me to refresh your memories. We have been  considering this  letter  under the  general heading “ Portrait of a God-centered church”.  We are  using this letter as a kind of  mirror  to evaluate ourselves and to see how we are doing  as a church.  Be assured that it matters greatly  to God  how the church  is doing. From the epistles of the  NT  and the seven letters to the   seven congregations  in the book of  the Revelation to John we learn that it matters  greatly to God  how the local church (i.e. the sum total of the members of a local church) is behaving. For some churches the Lord Jesus  has no good words, but for other churches,   like this  church  there is much praise.   We  saw  that this church  manifested  the essential marks  of faith, hope  and love (1: 3), because the gospel had come to them not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1:5). The joy of the Holy Spirit was in the church (1:6) and  this church was  a real testimony to those around  them, as it  became known that they had  turned to God from idols to serve  the Living and True God (1:9). This was truly an obedient church and  the apostle Paul found it  easy to encourage them.
There were however  a few things in which they needed help  and instruction.  This is true  for us too, and for this reason we cherish the Bible which makes us competent and equipped for every good work (2 Tim.3:16) .
As Paul concludes his letter to the Thessalonians,  he  reminds them  concerning their future hope,   such as the resurrection  (4:13-18) and the  day of the Lord  (5:1-11)  and he urges them  to remain fully alert  and prepared for that day . I remind you that  this  day comes to us in two ways : either by the  literal second coming of Christ or by  our death.  The day  on which you die will be the day  in which your soul will be transported back to Him  who has made you (Ecclesiastes 12:7) and so it is important to be prepared for the day of your  death. It is important  to encourage one another (4:18) and to build  one another up  (5:11)  in the light of that day.    
And now in conclusion of his letter Paul  gives  a good number of  important  and practical  instructions which the church   ought to remember  as they  await  the coming of the Lord . All of these  instructions relate  to pleasing the Lord (4:1)  in the context of  a sanctified  life  lived within the church (4:3).   These  issues mentioned here   are of course  selective, but we will receive  these  exhortations  as  the Word of God for ourselves  today, believing that this is what the Holy Spirit wants us to hear and  obey.  In verses  12 – 15 we  find three  issues  addressed :
  • The matter of 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)
(next  time  we will consider  vv. 16 -25  under the heading : “Pleasing God through a life of prayer , joy and thanksgiving")

1. Sanctified behaviour through  respecting our leaders  

Vv. 12-13: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
Another   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 .”

Let us begin by observing  that the pastoral leadership  (note  the “plural” emphasis on pastoral leadership)  is given to the church by God  as a spiritual gift  (Eph. 4:11). How will  a proper  relationship with  such affect my spiritual development  and sanctification?  What is their role in my life?  And why should I respect them, esteem them  very highly in love, obey them and  submit to them …. ? 
We are of course assuming then that these  pastoral leaders do  their work  with the integrity required by   God and His Word [1] . This does not mean that  members  must submit to their leaders uncritically   if  they discern them to be  in error.  However it does mean that  members must  not do so in an rebellious  or independent spirit, but in love and  being willing  to work towards biblical agreement (Phil 4:2). This being said , here are the reasons  why  we should  esteem  our pastoral  leaders : 

(i)                 Because they labour  (Gr. kopiaō) among you :   The  word means “to work to the point of growing weary “.  The pastoral ministry  can be  tiresome  work, and one of the reasons  we are to respect our leaders  is  because they  often  labour among us to the point of exhaustion.  Going  with God and going against a world that  holds   the hearts and minds of so many people  captive  can be exhausting. The last  50 years have seen unprecedented shifts in religious, moral, social,  ethical and economic  conditions and these have greatly  challenged  the way  traditional pastoral ministry is done. Postmodernism  has brought  about a  dismantling of  biblical and traditional  values  and as  a result of  this  our society has experienced  much brokenness  as people have been tempted to the limit,   as they have experimented with  all sorts of new freedoms. As a result pastoral work has become  labour intensive  as  God’s sheep need much  healing – Pastoral  work is to be  done with  utmost patience  (2 Tim 2:24-26 ; 4:2) . A Shepherd  leader needs to be patient  and not short tempered  and rude. That  continual  self- restraint   can be  hard on the soul of the pastor. It is hard to maintain a balance between toughness and tenderness.  Furthermore,  pastors   who committed to  doing  ministry in a biblical way  must  truly  labour [2] in preaching and teaching  (1 Tim 5:17). Preparing sermons  means  preparing  the heart and mind, for no preacher can truly  preach until he has first preached to himself . That is hard work – subduing one’s own heart is hard work!

(ii)                They  are over  you in the Lord :  (“overà Gr.proistemi  lit. “ to stand before”  – hence to lead/rule).  Paul reminds  us  that  our shepherd  leaders rule in the congregation by the Lord’s  appointment  and  therefore by His  authority. On this account  they  have  great  levels of responsibility  and therefore  they  shall be judged more strictly by God if  they  fail in their duty.  (1 Peter  5: 1-4; James 3:1)
(iii)             They are  called  by  God to admonish you :  (Gr.  “noutheteo” – 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.  

How should we respond to  our pastoral  leaders or  elders ?  
Paul says  that they should be esteemed highly in love  because of their work . So, we should make a good start  by not making  the job of the pastoral leadership  any more difficult than it already is.  Unfortunately it seems that faithful leaders  are often  badmouthed , maligned and ridiculed[3] . We should really thank God when we do have faithful leaders, and value  them  as such.  So , make it  your duty  to encourage them in their work.  Listen to what they are saying. Follow their leadership  as far as  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 pastoral 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  being contrary  and to  be co-operative  and submissive to their  appointed leadership.
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 :

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. “ (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 ESV)

a.  Admonish (warn)  the idle :  “idle”  is probably better translated  as  “unruly/ disorderly /undisciplined[4].   When we see someone going astray in this way , 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 such  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. The word translated  “faintheated”   literally means “ small souled [5].  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 ;  tired  of living faithfully; 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  the weak.[6]  Lit. those “without strength”.   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/  self -supporting   after they  have experienced setbacks  e.g. divorce ; illness;  being advanced in years;  bereaved –   times when people  cannot help themselves  and  don’t know how they will cope.  etc . These are times when people need someone to help them. 

d. Be patient[7] (lit.  long suffering) with them all:    In some respects this may be the most difficult of them all.   We  tend to  be  so impatient with people . 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 amount 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. This was not the way of Jesus.  He  taught us  to love our enemies (Matt  5:38-48) . Paul instructs us to “not avenge ourselves, but to leave it to the wrath of God.” (Rom 12:19).  

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 enough about you-  to turn your from wrong and to encourage you when you are burnt out or stand with you when life knocks the legs out from under you?  

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 .

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. And may we be enabled to give testimonies in time  as to how the Lord has helped us  as we  have chosen to obey Him . Amen.

[1] 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 ; Titus  1:7-9
[2] Same word as  in  1 Thess 5:12 - kopiaō
[3] This was Paul’s experience  and it is described in 2 Corinthians
[4] Gr. ataktos  - not keeping order ; a military term, denoting not keeping rank; insubordinate  
[5] Gr  oligopsuchos  lit. “small souled “
[6] Gr. Astheneō lit.” to lack strength “
[7] Gr. Makrothumia : long- suffering

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