This is the thirteenth part of an ongoing series going through 1 Thessalonians. The first part can be found here.
"Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else." 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-15
This week is a great one in that it's about how we treat our brothers and sisters in our local churches. (The lessons from this can of course be extrapoulated to apply to others, but I think that Paul and Silas were clearly giving specific instructions to help a church mesh better.) I think all Christians (myself very much included) could use this lesson as a good refresher and reminder to be more mindful in how we interact with our brethren, both for our good and definitely for theirs.
"Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you." This makes me think of the people who have and continue to encourage me. When I first started reading this sentence I was automatically thinking leaders in the church, but then I felt the Spirit was calling me to read it again and I realized that while the leaders can absolutely be in this position, often the people who are working hard, caring for us in the Lord and admonishing us are not as obvious as the leaders in the church. When I really thought about it a few people came to mind and I realized I need to go more out of my way to acknowledge them. I really appreciate those people who care enough about me to come alongside me and care for me, where would I be without them? I might thank them and the hard workers, but as for those who admonish me, well I definitely need to be better about that. That is I have somewhat of a reputation for not taking criticism well. Which I hate, because while I admit I am not great at receiving it I honestly do appreciate it when it's given in love. Many, many, many times I have meditated over works given to me by a wise brother or sister and had it change my walk with Christ for the better... but I admit I tend to try to let my actions be my acknowledgement. Perhaps it's pride but rarely do I go to the critic and say thank you for the correction, you were right. And I think that this verse encourages us to do exactly that.
"Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work." It hits me that this sentence highlights one of the things I think modern Christians, especially bustling busy ones, tend to lose sight of that the Lord has taught me through pain and correction and struggle. And that is that the Lord does not define work the same way the world does! That is, it often overlaps, but this sentence when preceded by the last verse make it clear that caring for people in the Lord and admonishing them is work to God, and work that makes people need to be held up in the highest regard. Now in the case of ministers and such we might acknowledge that, but coming those not in "full time ministry" we often dismiss and disregard the work that God has given them unless is more clearly "work" as we are used to seeing it defined. But investing in the lives of our brothers and sisters is not just clearly work it's work that makes the apostles say those who engage in it should be "[held] in the highest regard in love" because of it! So we should all take this seriously and also probably pray that God can help us engage in so helping the brethren around us.
"Live in peace with each other." A clear cut statement. Yet how hard that often is for Christians to do! Why is that? Honestly, I think it is because it is clearly a good and holy thing to do so our sin nature and the one who tempts us are clearly antagonistic against it. Remember if you just "go with the flow" when it comes to many things Satan will clearly try to pull you downstream from where you're meant to be! Instead we need to be deliberate and choose peace by choosing love.
"And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone." While previously the first verse of this week addressed the strong, this is more for the weak. I love that the first clause is "those who are idle and disruptive". The reason I love that is it's not just talking about idleness, though there are other passages that address that. Idleness by itself, while not a good thing, is not the issue. It's that the idleness can cause disruption in the church and the community. This is likely the gossiper or the complainer, though disruption can come in many forms. Idleness by itself is a detriment to that person, accompanied by disruption it's a sore in the church and so the apostles tell us to warn those who are in this place of their life. Next we are told to encourage the disheartened... my Spirit tells me that's been me a lot lately. Not at the moment, but like in the recent past. Encouragement is so necessary, but it often requires people going out their way. But when you are disheartened any encouragement is so much better than none and it really makes a different and is worth the effort! "Help the weak" Oh this is vague but also powerful. Spiritually we often recognize those we perceive as weaker than ourselves and how we respond says so much about us and where we are in Christ. Sometimes it makes us want to come along beside them and urge them to continue and reach for Christ. Sometimes it makes us a bit uncomfortable and we neither encourage nor discourage... perhaps pray, but otherwise leave them be.... and lastly if we're really not in a great place we might complain about their lack of strength. We treat the weak as the disruptive and act as though their weakness is a folly. In this we fail Christ in that we forget that we are all deeply flawed and all were weaker than we were and through Him all those in Him are promised to one day be perfected. Therefore our weaker brethren should not be disdained, that comes from a place of pride and lack of love, but instead seen ones we need to rush to encourage along the path so that they grow in strength and towards the mature stature of Christ. Of those three approaches I have done all three at points in my life and with different people. Sadly, the third is the most common one I have seen in the church, with the second remaining second, and the first, that is what this passage actually commands, coming in last.
Lastly in that verse it says "be patient with everyone"... it doesn't say be patient with all but the idle, or all but the backsliders or the back stabbers or the depressed or the annoying. It says be patient with everyone. So whenever you feel yourself lacking patience instead of lashing out, pray to God to give you patience... I definitely need to take my own advice in this, often!
"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else." Ah, what a powerful verse! I really wish and hope we live this one out!! So often we are legitimately wronged or hurt and we act out in our flesh and think that it is only what the other "deserves." But of course that is against the gospel of grace! When the Bible tells us to crucify our flesh what is is very really telling us is we need to kill the fleshly impulses that say "give back in kind!" and instead operate and live in the Spirit which tells to forgive as we were forgiven, to love as we are loved, and to consider others better than ourselves. In this we will be directed and changed to do what is good for each other and everyone else. In this we will be transformed into the likeness of Christ and show ourselves to truly be His.