"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. 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 5:12–28).
MUCH is said today about COMMUNITY, about the great need for community, about the need to create a community within the local church. Community is not some philosophical/esoteric thing for Christians to talk about, dream about. It’s not something to manufacture or fabricate.
Biblical Community is a very real way of living.
Paul closes his first letter to the Thessalonians with a series of requests, exhortations and commands — NOT to the leaders of the church in Thessalonica — but to the community of believers as a whole. In those requests, exhortations and commands, the Holy Spirit gives to us a clear picture of a living, breathing community of believers.
"We ask you, brothers"
I think it’s so important for us to see how Paul didn't wield his apostolic authority here. The verb used here, "ask," is one that would be used by a friend making an urgent appeal to a friend.
"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you"
Respect: This is not bowing before the pope and kissing his ring. "Respect" comes from the Greek word eidō. The Latin equivalent of this Greek word is "video" (I see). Thayer Definition: To see, to perceive with the eyes, to perceive by any of the senses, to perceive, notice, discern, discover. In its most obvious meaning — the community of believers is to KNOW by observation those who labor and teach. This is simple but huge.
Paul told the elders of Ephesus: "And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30).
Paul wanted the community of believers to be able to say, "Hey, wait a minute — Is this guy in leadership? And if not — why are people following him and where is he leading them?"
KEY QUESTION: WHO is it that they are to know by way of observation and in turn respect and appreciate?
"Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you those who labor among you"
Labor: To exert oneself physically, mentally or spiritually, work hard, toil, strive, struggle
We find this word used in Matthew 11:28: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "And Simon answered, 'Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!'" (Luke 5:5).
"Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching" (1 Timothy 5:17, NLT).
So, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, was talking to those in that community of believers who were NOT in leadership.
He was informing the community how they were to relate to those who lead.
But in doing so — the Holy Spirit was informing those who DO lead and teach about the NATURE of their task and the EFFORT they should exert in it.
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).
HERE’S THE DEAL: If you’re in ministry, if you’re in leadership, if leading doesn’t cost you, if leading isn’t fruitful — it isn’t ministry, and it’s not real leadership. Leading is not a thing that won’t drain you, that won’t draw on all of your resources.
FOR THOSE BEING LED — for the community of believers at large, the Holy Spirit was saying that they were to observe the effort of those leading and teaching and appreciate them for it. They were to recognize and appreciate leadership not by their title but by their service.
"Over you": pro-is-temi. From pró = "before, over" — hístemi = "put, place, stand" literally means those who are put or placed before you or over you.
It describes one who presides over others and exercises a position of leadership (rule, direct, be at the head of.)
"He who leads (stands on the first place), (lead) with diligence" (Romans 12:8).
This is important and so relevant to 21st-century western church culture. The Holy Spirit was informing this 1st-century community of believers to recognize that those who lead were not over them by virtue of natural things. They weren’t over them because of talent. There weren’t over them because of their wealth. They weren’t over them because of their influence. They weren’t over them because of their popularity. They’re over them — but they were just saved sinners like anybody else in the community of believers. They were over them — but they were sheep in the flock of God just like anyone else. They did not apply for the job — they didn’t attain leadership. They were placed; that’s what it means: hístemi—"to be placed in front of, to be placed over."
"Those who are over you in the Lord and admonish you"
Admonish (Noutheteo): The idea is to counsel someone to avoid or cease an improper course of conduct, literally "to put in mind," which means that it was the continual undertaking of those in leadership.
"Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears" (Acts 20:31).
How continuous was that?! How non-stop was that?! How prolonged was that?! Three years — day and night — with tears! I say this with all humility, as one who stands as a leader “in the Lord.”
It is hard work!
It’s hard! It’s hard because it is not (by nature of the work).
You’re confronting them. People see you — and think, "Oh boy, it’s Pastor Richard — And he’s going to tell me what to avoid — again. I can’t wait."
And that’s why Paul asked these believers (he wasn’t asking the leaders — he was asking the community of believers) to observe those leading the church in Thessalonica, and as a result, respect them because they have spiritually, physically and emotionally spent themselves in the work of leading, teaching, warning and reproving that community — and the individuals within it.
"And to esteem them very highly in love because of their work"
"Esteem" is an interesting word. It has two basic meanings in the New Testament:
In Acts 7:10, it’s used to describe a governor. A lot of times the best way to understand a word is to think of its antonym. The opposite of this word is diakonos, meaning "servant." The picture is that of one leading his or her mind through a reasoning process to arrive at a conclusion. In this context, they were to give careful thought in regards to respect and esteem. What a huge word, a huge concept for the 21st-century church culture.
We live in a culture that is QUICK to LAVISH esteem and respect on “personality."
Personality or celebrity does not disqualify an individual from leadership or ministry — but it surely doesn’t automatically qualify them for the incredible weight and responsibility of pastoral leadership.
"It is not enough that pastors be respected if they are not also loved. Both are necessary; otherwise, their teaching will not have a sweet taste.”– John Calvin
"I have always appreciated people who love the Word of God because I have found that they become my friends. One of the things I have so appreciated about my radio ministry is the number of friends that God has raised up for me across this country. Many of them have written to say their home is open to me (of course, I can’t accept all those invitations), but when I am in their town, they do nice things for me. They reveal their love. When they reveal that love to me—and I’m hard to love—it reveals that they honor the Word of God since I teach the Word of God." – J. Vernon McGee
This is a HUGE concept—and it’s lost on a significant slice of modern church culture because we live in a society that loves to make celebrities of those in the pulpit, that loves to put celebrities and personalities in the places of leadership. But in the mid-1st century A.D., the local church loved and esteemed very highly those who labored and taught them because it was a costly position. Those in leadership were the first to be arrested in the mid-1st century A.D. They were the first to be fed to the wild beasts. They were the first to be thrown into the boiling oil. THAT’S WHY those who ruled well and taught well were worthy of double honor (double income). They were risking their lives to be the point man in a community of believers!
"If a Christian can't esteem and love their pastor, they should either get on their knees and ask the Holy Spirit to change their heart or put themselves under a pastor they do esteem and love."– David Guzik
The mindset of each believer in the community of believers is to be one of continual and complete dependence on and yielding to the Holy Spirit.
"Be at peace among yourselves."
Literally, "live in peace." This is not a suggestion but a command for this to be their lifestyle.
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Paul’s next words are a practical way to preserve and maintain peace.
"And we urge you, brothers"
Paul uses the word "brothers" some 60 times in his writings. Twenty-seven of those 60 times is in his two letters to these believers in Thessalonica. I believe it’s because the church in Thessalonica was so young.
The word Paul uses for brothers is Adelphos — "from the same womb," begotten of God, by the will of God, by the Word of God.
AGAIN — The Holy Spirit was incredibly deliberate here.
He wanted these young believers — this young community of believers to understand the very NATURE of this community in the midst of an environment hostile to the Gospel.
"And we urge you, brothers, admonish (warn) the idle (unruly), encourage the fainthearted (KJV – feebleminded) help the weak, be patient with them all." It doesn’t say: "We exhort you, pastors." It is an exhortation to the community of believers at large. This was corporate responsibility. It echoes Paul’s words to the Colossians
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).
Admonish: "warn," the idle (unruly).
This is not just talking about those who are hard to lead. It was a word commonly used in the military in describing a soldier out of step — or an army moving in disarray. Then it was further applied to those who quit the ranks and did not perform their duty.
This is so crucial— It does not necessarily mean that someone is doing a bad thing, but they are doing their own thing.
If the devil can’t undermine a community of believers through blatant sin, THIS is the way he comes at them, by way of the person who isn’t leading people to do a bad thing, but rather someone wanting to do their own thing and getting other people to march in step with them.
It is the responsibility of the community of believers to warn those that are marching out of step. Because IF you don’t WARN that person who is not at his or her post, marching out of step with the vision and mission that Jesus has for that community of believers, they will end up like an inefficient, undisciplined army in battle.
"Encourage the fainthearted" (KJV – Feebleminded)
Fainthearted is a compound Greek word. Oligos: "puny in extent, degree, number, duration or value.
Psuche: soul, mind
It’s a reference to those who really struggle with believing that God loves them — or struggle to believe that God can use them. They’re just small souled. But the truth is that God has begun a good work in them, and the community of believers is to comfort them. "Encourage" is a BEAUTIFUL word.
This is not just for me or the guys in leadership — this is for YOU, the community of believers at large to individually come alongside — with your mouth — and speak kind words that will encourage that small-souled individual.
“Help the weak."
The word "weak" describes a state of limited capacity to be something or do something. It’s used literally of physical weakness. (We find this word most in the Gospels.)
But it’s also used figuratively of weakness in the spiritual arena. Weakness — in an area of the flesh. Weakness — in regards to liberty in Christ. Remember how Paul wrote of the weaker brother who couldn’t eat meat? What are you to do with that person? Well, they’re weaker in the faith. Don’t stumble them. Don’t use your liberty to be a cause of stumbling to someone who is weaker.
There are those who are weak in their understanding of the doctrine of the Christian life, and they have not yet been set free by the truth.
Whatever it may be, Paul says to the community of believers at large to HELP them!
"Lay hold of the weak" with the idea of supporting them. That demands a little extra effort — a phone call — an invitation to lunch — a quiet talk about their needs.
This is addressed to us all. We are all to watch out for one another like this.
I love how the Lord has directed us here at our church Metro to have that time between worship and the Word to rub shoulders and have coffee on a Sunday and dinner on Monday nights. There was a Monday night early on when a particular sister ask me, “How can I pray for you?” When I thanked her for her prayer she said, “Well, I could tell. I looked at you. I could tell you needed prayer.” And I said: “Well, that’s one thing about me — You won’t have to look far to know whether or not I need prayer. Just look at my face. You’ll know when you need to fall on your face and start praying.”
"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."
Makros: long, distant, far off, large
Thumos: temper, passion
The picture of this word is that of a person who takes a long time before fuming and breaking into flames towards those who fail!
"See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone."
When we think of the kinds of people that make up a living, breathing community of believers — the responsibility of the community of believers to LIVE in relationship to their leaders and to one another — we discover that REAL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY can only be lived BY the SPIRIT — THROUGH the SON — TO THE FATHER. It’s ALL ABOUT JESUS
"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).