The Christian’s Hope, Part 14

In this week’s message, THE PURSUIT OF HOLINESS I (1 Thes. 5:12-15) we started to look at God’s concluding remarks to us in the book of First Thessalonians.

In way of brief review, the Lord wants our faith to grow and be established in the light of His return for us (1 Thes. 3:2, 5, 7, 10, 13, etc.). Because of this, Paul sent them a helper (1 Thes. 3:1-5); then he sent them God’s Word (1 Thes. 3:6-8); he prayed for them (1 Thes. 3:9-13); and finally, he urged them to continue doing what the Bible said- walking in such a way as “to please God” (1 Thes. 4:1-12; 2 Pet. 3:17-18; 2 Cor. 5:8-9; Heb. 11:6b, etc.). The Holy Spirit then comforted them with the fact that Christ would one day suddenly return for them catching them away (i.e. the “rapture”/ ἁρπάζω harpázō in the Greek): first raising the bodies of their lost loved ones who had “died in Christ” physically from the grave to a glorified state and then “in the twinkling of an eye” (i.e. one-fiftieth of a second) transforming the bodies of us “who are alive and remain” also to glorified state forever (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:12-20; 51-54; Rom. 8:30; 1 John 3:2-3, etc.). And God further comforted the church with the fact that we as part of His family (forgiven by grace) are not “appoint[ed]… to wrath” to include “the day of the Lord” when He begins pouring out His wrath on the planet because God will lose none of His children when He comes (1 Thes. 1:10; 5:1-9; John 10:29; Rom. 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:21 vs. Rev. 15:1; 16:1, etc.). That is, because all Christians are saved “by grace,” He will take each one of us up in the rapture “WHETHER WE ARE ALERT OR ASLEEP” (i.e. ‘asleep’ here is katheúdō- the third time the Lord uses this word in chapter 5 for a Christian who is living a life independently from Him, 1 Thes. 5:6-7; 1 Cor. 3:1-15; 1 Thes. 5:10-11 NET, etc.).

It is in view of this unimaginable grace and goodness of God over all of His children, the Lord then calls us again to holiness so we live for Him today and are not caught sleepwalking when He returns (1 Pet. 1:15-21, John 3:16; Rom. 6:1-2, 15-16; 2 Pet. 3:17-18; Titus 2:11-14, etc.). As Dr. Lutzer correctly stated, “The goal of… biblical prophecy is to change our lives, moving from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of holiness and from the love of the world to the love of God.” (1 Pet. 1:13-16, etc.).

So, in view of all we know, God implores Christians “to recognize,” that is, value and appreciate, their spiritual leaders (e.g. pastors/elders/deacons, 1 Thes. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9, etc.). Without the family to protect and provide for him or her, a child of God would suffer and be unable to grow the way the Lord wants (John 17:21; Eph. 4:12-16, etc.). And just like with regular families, the church has design and order from God for it to function well and not fall apart (1 Thes. 5:12; Eph. 5:18-6:4, 1 Thes. 5:12-13; Matt. 28:18-20, etc.). Notice here the Word says, “recognize those” (1 Thes. 5:12). In the first century, there was always a plurality of leadership with more than one leader appointed in even the smallest congregations, and this design was by God (e.g. Phil. 1:1, Acts 14:23, etc.). Scripture also shows us here these men are placed there “by the Lord” (1 Thes. 5:12), and the Bible shows us they are actually gifts from Him for the church family’s well-being, protection, and growth as they “labor among” and “over” (i.e. lead) the fellowship (1 Thes. 5:12; Eph. 4:7, 11; James 1:17, etc.). Part of this leadership role means they have to “admonish” the church with the whole counsel of God’s Word so everyone there can grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (1 Thes. 5:12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Thes. 5:12; Acts 20:26-28; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; Prov. 29:25, etc.). God then calls the body of Christ a second time to value these men: “esteem them very highly in love” (1 Thes. 5:13). While it is true some church leaders may not command much respect, the reason for valuing their position is given here by God: “for their work’s sake” (1 Thes. 5:13). Because they are lifting up the very Word of God which is Spirit and life, it is dangerous when a church family takes for granted their leaders and fails to pray for them, work with them, encourage them, and “obey” them “in the Lord” (1 Thes. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17, etc.). Obeying their leaders “in Christ” pleases the Lord who has placed them there and brings the promise of “peace” in the church (1 Thes. 5:13; Gal. 5:22-23, etc.). The idea here is to maintain peace rather than to initiate peace. Peaceful conditions existed in the Thessalonian church, but they had to continue. “Much dissension in modern churches is traceable to church members disobeying these commands” -Dr. Wiersbe (1 Cor. 3:3, 13:4; James 3:16, etc.).

After asking the church to esteem and obey their leaders, God then asks both church leaders and all members to minister to one another in love (1 Thes. 5:14; Eph. 4:15-16, etc.). The Holy Spirit then holds up several brothers and sisters who are in need of special care within the family of God:

  1. The “unruly” are people who are careless, out of line or order (1 Thes. 5:14a). In the culture of that day, it was applied to a soldier who would not keep rank but insisted on marching his own way. Contextually, we see it applies to those rebelling against leadership (i.e. 1 Thes. 5:12 & 13). We also see the Greek word for “warn” in verse 14 (nouthetéō) is the same word for “admonish” in verse 12 used exclusively for leaders to do. While all believers are to “speak the truth in love” to each other, it falls first to the pastor/elder/deacons to deal with this problem in an effort to maintain peace within the church (2 Tim. 4:2, Titus 1:10-13; Eph. 4:12, 15, etc.). “Unruly” can also mean ‘idle’ or ‘insubordinate.’ Scripture says such a person must be “warned”/admonished IN LOVE in an attempt to wake him or her up (2 Tim. 2:25-26, etc.). While such a person rarely thinks he needs the help, he or she is actually sleepwalking as the body of Christ is hurt from their discord via words and/or actions (1 John 1:9; 1 Thes. 5:6, 10, etc.).
  2. The “fainthearted” are people that are on the verge of giving up and throwing in the towel (1 Thes. 5:14b). They are starting to sleepwalk with spiritual things. The term in Greek actually means ‘little-souled’ as the child of God in this condition looks on the dark side of things and focuses on the negative. “Fainthearted” can also mean “feebleminded” in that this Christian is not thinking rightly about God’s Word or their identity in Christ. -ANY OF US CAN BE FAINTHEARTED, as we face the storms of life losing our focus on Jesus (1 Cor. 10:12, etc.). Such a hurting brother or sister does not need to be warned but “comforted” (1 Thes. 5:14). The word comfort means to come near and speak life- speak God’s Words to them to get their eyes back on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2; Rom. 10:17, etc.) They need cheering up and stimulation to press on! (Eph. 4:15-16, etc.).
  3. The “weak” means a deeper level of need than the fainthearted (1 Thes. 5:14c). While the fainthearted are about to give up, the “weak” have already done so! The Greek here shows us these are people who are ‘impotent’ and ‘sick’- without much strength at all. With these people the body of Christ is called to “uphold” them (1 Thes. 4:14). “Uphold the weak” literally means, ‘Hold fast the weak!’… Support them! Help them! Don’t let them continue to fall! Once again, the Bible shows us THIS CAN BE ANY OF US as we face the challenges of life (1 Cor. 10:12; 2 Tim. 2:12-13, etc.). “Weak” here really means ‘weak in faith.’ This is also why God’s Word in 1 Thessalonians chapter 3 verse 1 to chapter 4 verse 12 was all about establishing or strengthening a child of God’s already existing faith. The Lord wants our faith to grow so we will not lose our firm grasp on the truth, and be ready for His return (2 Pet. 3:17-18 NET). Pastors and church leaders can not meet all the needs of the flock. In fact, the Bible says pastor/elders are to “equip… the saints for the work of the ministry” with the Bible, so they can build one another up in love (Eph. 4:12, etc.). We also see here a greater sacrifice (in love- i.e. “the labor of love”) is needed for the “weak” person who is suffering a greater need (1 Thes. 1:3; 5:8, etc.). Such a person often times cannot be reasoned with; he or she has to be ‘lifted up’ through meeting physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. The “weak” child of God here must be revived, sort of speak, in the love and truth of God (Rom. 6:11, Gal. 2:20, etc.).
  4. Be patient with all” summarizes the preceding commands. It takes patience to raise a family, and some of the ones struggling the most today may be used most by God in the future (Eph. 4:32; 1 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:22, etc.). When we as the body of Christ uphold one another in love we “fulfill the law of Christ,” and are walking in the good works God has made us for (Gal. 6:1-5; John 17:21, etc.).

The opposite of patience is retaliation in some form and verse 15 is an additional command from our Lord we are to pursue as His disciples: “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (1 Thes. 5:15). We as Christians are to watch our motives not only among ourselves as believers but with “all,” that is, also the unsaved world around us (1 Thes. 5:15; 1 Pet. 2:17; Matt. 5:38-42; 18:21-35, etc.). This means we are to give place to God to accomplish His justice in His timing and way (Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30; Ps. 97:2, etc.). We are promised, even among Christians, Jesus will set the record straight when He returns for us (1 Cor. 4:5, etc.).

When we as children of God set our hearts to “pursue what is good,” making it our goal “to be well pleasing to Him,” the Lord does the work from within- filling us with joy and also expectancy for Jesus’ return (1 Thes. 4:1; 5:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; Eph. 2:10, etc.).

As with all authority, if a pastor, elder, deacon, or other church leader violates the clear teaching of Scripture, Christians are called “to obey God rather than men” (e.g. Rom. 13:1-3; Acts 4:18-21; 5:29, etc.). The plurality of leadership established by God at the birth of the church helps protect local fellowships from erring leaders. The Bible also shows us all such men who serve in leadership “must give account” to God as ones who “watch out for the souls” of their congregation, and in that way, the Lord also shows us they will “receive a stricter judgment” before Jesus (1 Pet. 5:2-3; Heb. 13:17; James 3:1, etc.).