Posts Tagged ‘helping the weak’

 Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We are coming near to the end of 1 Thessalonians and today we launch into Paul’s final section of instructions to them. He has already dealt with:

  • Sex, or how we are to control our own bodies in holiness and honor.
  • Mutual love, or how we should give generously to the needs of others. And how we ought not take advantage of such generosity to become idle busybodies.
  • The resurrection of the righteous and how the dead in Christ will not be left out, but will come with Jesus when he returns to be resurrected.
  • And then last week was the day of the Lord, that is, the judgment that will come upon the world when Jesus returns. And how for those who are ready for his coming it will be a day of deliverance and salvation.

Let’s take just a moment to look at this last set of instructions –

 Overview of 5:12-22

These verses might seem like a grab bag of instructions, with no rhyme or reason, short sentences on numerous different topics, but this isn’t true. For instance our verses today, 12-14b, have to do with relationships within the church:

A. With leaders – We ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge 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.

B. With each other – Be at peace among yourselves.

A1. With those who struggle – And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak.

The rest of the material, also has an order to it:

  • Relationships with everyone (including outsiders) vs. 14c-15. We are to be patient with all and do good to all.
  • Relationship with God: vs. 17-22, talking about praise and prayer, and prophecy in the congregation.

Let’s look now at our verses, where Paul addresses three sets of relationships within the church. He tells us first of all to –

Respect Christian leaders

“12We ask you, brothers and sisters to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Paul is talking here about those who were functioning as elders among them. (Perhaps better proto-elders since the church is so new. These were likely leaders of households, who had leadership experience and who were also devoted to the cause of Christ. We even have a name for one of them – Jason, as we read in Acts 17:5. The use of plurals shows that there are several leaders in Thessalonica.)

And we have in these verses a good description of what Christian leaders or elders do.

  • They “labor among you.” This word “labor” means hard work or toil. It is often used by Paul for the work of ministry (1 Corinthians 15:10; 16:16; Romans 16:12; Colossians 1:29).
  • They are “over you in the Lord.” The word here can be translated as “rule, lead or manage you,” or also as “cares for you” or “gives aid to you.” These dual meanings present a nice description of the role of a shepherd, one who leads and also cares for those in their charge. “In the Lord” means they are leaders in the Christian community.
  • They “admonish you,” which has to do with teaching, correcting and warning when someone is on a wrong path.

  It’s easy for there to be tension between leaders and church members.

– Leaders make decisions, all of which are not popular.

– Leaders give direction, which not all will agree with.

– Leaders have authority, and not all like it that some have authority.

– Leaders teach and even correct, and this can make some mad.

 And, of course, there are many stories of grumbling and the undermining of leadership in the Old Testament.

There isn’t any indication of tension in Thessalonica. It’s just that Paul knows these things can happen, and so Paul deals with this forthrightly. As church members they are to “acknowledge,” or it can be translated, “respect” their leaders. They are to acknowledge their leadership and position of authority. And they are to “esteem them very highly” – to think highly of, or hold them in the highest regard. 

Why? Not because of their personality, their social status, or wealth, or worldly accomplishments. The reason is “because of their work” laboring in the Christian community. And this is to be done “in love.” Not as a tedious  obligation, but based on Christian love between believers in Christ.

So Paul give us instructions for relating rightly to Christian leaders. And, of course, this applies to me as well, since I am a part of an elder group here, and I also have leaders over me on the Conference level.

But let me ask, how is your relationship with your Christian leaders? And yes, I mean at Cedar Street. Is it governed by what Paul says here?

For my part, I would say, if you have concerns you can always talk to me or the Elders. And then we can work at whatever issues concern you. And remember, we cannot always tell when someone has a concern – so please communicate! Maintain good relationships with your leaders here.

Second, Paul tells us to –

Live in peace with one another

As Paul puts it here in v. 13 – “Be at peace among yourselves” as fellow church members. This same admonition can be found in different forms in lots of places in the New Testament. Here are some other examples from Paul:

  • Romans 12:16 – “Live in harmony with one another.
  • Romans 14:19 – “let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building.
  • Colossians 3:15 – “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11 – “live in peace”

Just as there can be tension between members and leaders, so there can be tension between members. We can easily offend or hurt one another. And this leads to several temptations. One is to be angry and break off the relationship. Another is to withdraw and be hurt within. And another is to sweep things under the rug and pretend that everything is OK (because you know that you are supposed to live in peace with one another).

But Paul is saying, actually have wholesome, healthy and good relationships with each other. I use this language, because the biblical idea of peace means wholeness and well-being, not just absence of conflict. So this means we have to deal with issues that arise in good and Christian ways. We must deal with hurts, disagreements and conflicts as they come up. Paul is saying maintain your relationships with one another.

Are you living in peace with your fellow believers? Think about this for a moment. Who do you not have peace with? Let me encourage you to act on Paul’s words this morning. Work toward peace with that person. In a spirit of love and forgiveness, seek healing in the relationship.

Finally, Paul tells us to –

Help those who struggle

“14And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak.” Now although this verse may seem to be particularly directed to leaders, in terms of what they do, it is really directed to the whole congregation. All are to be involved in these activities.

  • Admonish the disruptive idle. As we saw in chapter 4:11-12 some were not working but were living off of the generosity of others. And since they didn’t work, they became busybodies getting into the affairs of others and being disruptive of the community. The Thessalonians are to teach, correct and warn these because they are out of line. (We have Paul’s example in chapter 4:11-12 – “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands . . . and be dependent on no one.” He is even more direct and blunt in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 – recommending church discipline for those who don’t listen.)
  • Encourage the fainthearted, those who are worried, discouraged, fearful and in danger of giving up. Paul has already told them to encourage those who are grieving excessively those who have died (4:13) and those who have excessive fear of the day of the Lord (5:11). And certainly given their persecution, life would have been difficult – social rejection and economic difficulties because of their faith. Whatever the reason, they are to encourage them to be strong, to not give up, to keep moving forward!
  • Help the weak. This is very broad. It could be physical weakness, social or economic weakness or spiritual weakness. Whatever the case, they are to help their brothers and sisters in the Lord in whatever way possible. They are to give of their strength to strengthen them.

Let me ask you, do you help those who struggle among us? We too are to admonish those who are on the wrong path, whatever that might be. We are to help them by teaching and warning them.

We too are to encourage the fainthearted. Do you keep an eye out for those who are down or discouraged to lift them up and help them move forward?

Do you help the weak among us?

Let me end by saying that this passage reminds us once again of the importance of our relationships with each other in the church. Today Paul gives us strong encouragements to tend to our relationships and to keep them healthy, whole and functioning – with our leaders, with each other and with those who struggle. May God give us the courage and the wisdom to do just this.

(The teaching of Jesus found in Mark 9:33-50 is most likely being alluded to in these verses. Jesus talks about those who are the greatest – the 12, the leaders. Their work is to humbly serve even the lowest among them. And he also talks about “little ones” with a concern about their stumbling and being lost. These need special care. And it ends with the command to be at peace with one another – Mark 9:50.)

 William Higgins

Read Full Post »