On the last two occasions we have spent much time looking at the wonderful future that awaits all those who are Christians. The anticipation of Christ’s second coming. It is good and right that we should look forward to it and that we should live in this life / this present world with our eyes on eternity.
However, it is possible to become so preoccupied with the future that we neglect the present responsibility. If we become stargazers and neglect our present duties we have completely missed the point of what the NT teaches about the return of Christ. It would seems that this was something of a problem with certain people in Thessalonica and Paul gives guidelines for living in Chapter 4 and now at the end of the letter he gives more instructions – this time related to the congregation particularly.
At first sight it might seem that these are just a random collection of instruction but they do group together around certain issues relating to congregational life.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.
Who are these people who the congregation are to respect and hold in high regard?
Paul describes them in three ways those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you – He is not talking about three distinct groups of people but is making general comments about those who have leadership responsibilities within the congregation.
He is not talking here about paid clergy – there was not such thing in the early church.
In other places Paul and the other apostles appointed leaders – that does not seem to be the case here. Rather it appears that these leaders have emerged because they are working within the congregation but were not being given the recognition they were due.
In the Greco-Roman culture of the 1st Century there were many civic and social clubs and associations and there was a very strong link in these groups between wealth / status and leadership. Those with the money and title got the leadership roles.
The NT teaching on leadership cuts right across this practice – the key qualification for leadership within the Christian church is not wealth or status but giftedness for ministry. At least that is the theory; in practice it is not always so.
So what Paul is saying to them that they should recognise and respect those who are actually doing the ministry and not simply those who have money or the gift-of-the-gab and enjoy being in the limelight.
Why should the leaders in the church be recognised and acknowledged and respected? Because they are better than everyone else is? NO!
Because they are the most gifted in the congregation? NO!
Because they are more spiritual? NO!
There is a little phrase we must not overlook –“in the Lord” – Everyone who is a Christian is “in the Lord” and each has been gifted by the Lord – If a person is gifted to lead then that is God’s sovereign gift to them. It is their God-given responsibility “in the Lord” to lead and it is the congregation’s God-given responsibility to follow.
In other places like 1 Timothy and Titus Paul has clear directives for leaders BUT here he is talking to the congregation, telling them their responsibilities.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. (NIV)
ILLUS.: I went to Sunday School from the time I was about 3 years old. For nearly 30 tears I have been involved in leadership of some kind – SS teaching – Youth work – missionary – elder / pastor – some of you have a longer experience. Not much changes really. Programmes change and locations change but basically whichever church you go to you will find the same people – they just have different names and different faces.
Same in Paul’s day – those who were lazy / timid / weak / spiteful /encouraging / patient / kind / etc……
All these words use are very full of meaning – a sermon in each one – as is often the case the English word is inadequate to convey the full meaning.
Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (NIV)
After all our goal is to become more like Jesus and reflect the character of God – Exodus 34:6 6 …., “The LORD, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
Remember the Thessalonians Christians were under tremendous pressure from outside persecution – the temptation for retaliation was great, The Christian response is to be “Love your enemies”. If that is how Christians are to behave towards outsiders then how much more so to fellow believers.
Paul is talking about the need of individuals – BUT note that he is addressing the whole church – NOT just the leaders. Everyone has pastoral responsibilities.
We talk about worship / about knowing God / feeling God’s presence etc…
What is important to realise is that God often makes his presence felt through his people.
It is as the weak are nurtured, the distressed cared for, the fearful encouraged that the presence of God is experienced – even in the disciplining of those who required it.
Ministering to those who have deep needs or hurts, as Paul urges here, can be very difficult because people seldom respond or heal or grow as fast as we think they should. That is why we need great patience.
ILLUS.: When you go shopping whether it is for a hamburger or a new car you the customer choose what you want and when you want it. Consumerism teaches us to demand WHAT we want and WHEN we want it.
If we are going to be genuinely patient with people we have to renounce the tyranny of our own agendas. The idea that we should NOT have to wait on anything or anyone is another form of self-centred selfishness.
Patience values others enough to give them time and space to fail, learn develop and mature.
Vengeance is another form of self-centred selfishness. It usurps God’s prerogative – Romans 12:19 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (NIV)
Our revenge is selfish – it is usually trying to justify our wounded pride.
Paul’s call – which echoes Jesus’ call – is to patience and kindness to all. We will not be perfect at it but hopefully when we fail others will be patient and kind towards us. BUT it is MY responsibility to be patient and kind irrespective of whether or not others treat me like that.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
Rejoice // Pray // Give Thanks – all three are God’s will in Christ.
Be joyful always – Paul is not talking about an emotional state of never ending happiness – he is talking about an attitude of heart towards God.
Joy is not something that we can turn ‘on’ and ‘off’ like a tap. To walk about with a permanent Cheshire cat grin is not what Paul has in mind. That would contradict what he has said in Romans 12:15 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (NIV)
Rather to rejoice always is to see the hand of God in whatever is happening AND to remain certain of God’s future salvation. It requires that we have a perspective on life that is God’s perspective – convinced that God is at work on behalf of his people- We can be thankful and rejoice that God will fulfil his purposes for us.
This kind of attitude arises out of his theology – We can rejoice / pray / give thanks in all circumstances [not necessarily for all circumstances] only if we believe that God is in control and is at work on behalf of his people. Thus even death, as awful a reality as that may be, is NOT the last word because Jesus died and rose again.
The test of our faith is not so much seen in the rejoicing and giving thanks when things are going well BUT rather when we can rejoice / pray / and give thanks in the midst of difficult and trying circumstance – like the Thessalonians under persecution.
Do we genuinely believe that God’s salvation is of more value than any difficulties /or opposition we may face now?
The let us rejoice in Him and give thanks.
Are we really persuaded that God will deliver his people and bring justice on their behalf?
Then let us pray with persistence and patience, waiting and watching expectantly for God to act. Just like the persistent widow in Luke 18 who kept on asking until the judge granted her request.
Are we genuinely convinced of the truth of Romans 8:28 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
If we are then we need to demonstrate that by giving thanks in ALL circumstances.
We need to believe with our heads that God is King and express that belief with our hearts. One of Charles Wesley’s hymns captures both of these – belief and expression.
v.1 Rejoice the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore:
Refrain: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
v.4 Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord and judge shall come
And take his servant up to their eternal home:
In these verses that rejoicing and giving thanks are based on and are also and expression of our conviction that God really is KING – and that he will come to take us to be with him for eternity.
The test of this conviction that God is my King is seen not only when life in pleasant but also when it is difficult.
Christopher Idle has a Hymn based on this passage:-
As sons of the day and daughters of light,
no longer we sleep like creatures of night:
for Jesus has died that with him we may live;
by all that he gave us, we learn how to give.
One body in Christ, let all play their part:
the lazy be warned, the timid take heart;
let those who are hurt never pay back with wrong,
but serve one another: together be strong!
Be constant in prayer, at all times rejoice.
in all things give thanks – let God hear your voice!
alive to his Spirit, alert to his word,
test all things, and hold to what pleases the Lord.
May God who first called, gave peace and made whole,
preserve us from fault in body and soul:
our Lord Jesus Christ keep us firm in his grace
until at his coming we meet face to face.
Part 2 next time………..
4. The Congregation and The Holy Spirit – v. 19 – 22
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. (NIV)
The Congregation and Its Leaders – v.12 – 13
– work hard.
– discipline when necessary.
Give them the respect & recognition God expects.
The Congregation and The Individual – v. 14 – 15
The Congregation and God – v.16 – 18
The Congregation and The Holy Spirit – v. 19 – 22