Rightly Relating in the Local Church
1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
Theme: Two principles for rightly relating to others in the local church so you will contribute to its spiritual growth. This is why the truth we learn in these verses is so important to grasp and put into practice, because the body suffers when they are neglected. The dictionary definition of a . . .
Principle: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.” The behavior called for in these verses is absolutely crucial as a foundation for a healthy church.
I. You must understand your responsibilities to Church leaders vv. 12-13a
Now before you think to yourself, “that sounds awfully self serving pastor,” please remember that I’m not the one who wrote this . . . nor is there likely a direct correlation of these leaders compared to typical leadership in the church today. However the principles we learn here still have application for today.
In the first two verses Paul makes . . .
Two Requests of the Thessalonians needed for Rightly Relating to these leaders
The opening words indicate this is a “request” to them as his “brethren,” once again highlighting the primary relationship with them; yet the request implies an exhortation. The usual word for exhortation is used in verse 14 and both words were used together in 4:1.
Two observations about the requests are important to clarify in order to sincerely fulfill them.
1. The beneficiaries of the requests are their own leaders v. 12 This is on whose behalf the requests are made. Like the Thessalonians, each congregation has a responsibility to those leaders who minister to them.
Notice that those who benefit from the appreciation are not identified by a title or position, such as pastor, elder or leader, but by what they do: the roles they fill in the church. It’s “because of their work” (v. 13b). The one group of leaders perform all three activities. The beneficiaries are identified first by . . .
a. They “diligently labor among you” – the word suggests hard work, striving mentally or physically as they toil among those in the church; it’s the same manner of work Paul and his missionary team had demonstrated among them in 2:9. The language also implies a plurality of leaders in the church, not a single pastor – “those who diligently labor.” Leaders who lack this character quality of hard work will be suspect among the flock as it is expected of them all. In the early church, those referred to here were in all likelihood not full time paid pastors, but probably men who worked regular jobs and then gave of themselves to the church also, much like lay elders do today. An argument may even be made that this refers to those in the community who were of greater social and economic status with the means to care for others in the church. In 1 Corinthians 16:15-16, a similar exhortation is given regarding the household of Stephanas (READ). Also,
b. They “have charge over you in the Lord” – while the word translated as “charge over” might connote the idea of concern for or protection and care of, the idea of governing or leadership should probably not be excluded. It is most commonly understood this way in the NT, as indicated in the English translations of it in 1 Timothy. If this group did indeed include those among them of greater wealth, then their ability to tangibly care for others in the flock might also be understood. However proper pastoral care also must exercise a charge over those “in the Lord;” this is the sphere in which they carry out their charge. Pastoral ministry is to care for the spiritual needs of the church as well as overseeing physical or material assistance when appropriate and possible. Today, this is the privilege and duty of church leaders and specifically the role of elders in 1 Timothy 5:17 (READ). An argument can be made for the sense of pastoral care in the word, “rule.” Elders who do not properly care for the spiritual needs of those in the flock can not rightly be said to “rule well.” They also must do the same thing at home (3:4-5, 12); Hebrews 13:17 also speaks to this same issue (READ). A third activity they carry out is . . .
c. They “give you instruction” – the word for “instruction” means to admonish or warn and is used to correct those in error or counsel against an improper course of action. The word implies blame on the one being admonished and suggests some of the Thessalonian believers were at fault. We read it again in verse 14 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 clearly uses it in this manner (READ). 1 Timothy 5:17 also states (READ) (cf. v. 7; Galatians 6:6)
Church leaders who are characterized by these ministry traits then are to be honored among the flock in how they are treated, which leads to the second observation about the requests, that is . . .
2. The essence of the requests are commands to obey vv. 12-13a This is what is required of them. The first is . . .
a. “Appreciate” them v. 12
Literally the word is normally translated “know” or “recognize,” though the connotation in this verse is usually understood as to honor or respect, as some of the English versions translate it. The idea is to acknowledge or recognize the merit of those who do the work of the ministry in the local church. Now if the group referred to is understood as those believers of greater means, then the exhortation here is to recognize them since they are the ones who toil, offer protection and care and admonishment to the flock. Of course today, every faithful pastor and lay elder ought to be properly acknowledged among the congregation he serves in for the same essential functions.
In addition to this, the congregation is also requested to . . .
b. “Esteem them” v. 13a with the additional adverb translated, “very highly.”
This is how leaders are to be regarded or considered among the congregation, which is literally what the word means and it is to be done “in love.” There should not be a begrudging attitude in granting this honor but genuine love “because of their work.” Once more, the presumption is that the recognized leaders are hard at work in the church making them worthy of such regard.
In 1 Timothy 5:17, the sense of “double honor” includes both this high esteem along with financial remuneration. It’s one of the passages that promotes the practice of paying a pastor.
These commands raise several questions however, not the least of which is how is a congregation to obey them?
While those spoken of in this passage were most certainly not full time paid pastors and may have even been the wealthier members among them who had assumed a role of leadership, there is little doubt that elders were appointed early on in the churches (Acts 14:23). As such, the principles of this passage may be broadly applied in a variety of ways.
You might ask, are we supposed to give the pastor and elders the preferred parking spot, respectful greetings, gifts on special occasions or what?
What consequences arise when these requests are not fulfilled?
What about those who are not pastors, elders or perhaps adult Sunday School teachers? Are we not to honor children’s workers or youth workers or the people who serve behind the scenes in the same way? What about individual ministry heads?
Since every local church is unique in its composition and circumstances, then these commands might be fulfilled in any number of ways. Tangible expressions of honor and appreciation are always appropriate, but then so are intangible gestures. Galatians 6:6 gives a general exhortation (READ). Some churches observe Pastor appreciation month or Sunday in October, some take advantage of Christmas or other special occasions to bless their pastors and leaders . . . and some do both. The important thing to remember is that such obedience by a congregation is pleasing to the Lord, just as diligent labor in church leaders by the leaders is also.
Some specific intangible ways of honoring leaders include simply being present at and engaged in the various ministries they diligently prepare for. Sunday mornings and evenings, Wednesday evenings and other times are a good example of this.
Another way of showing esteem is listening to Biblical counsel and the application of Scripture that leaders give and attempting to put it into practice.
When a church does not honor it’s leaders then the groundwork is laid for crippling the impact of the ministry those leaders are called to. In doing so, the congregation will likely sabotage themselves from receiving the proper shepherding they so greatly need. In the end, such neglect may lead to far worse consequences than merely discouraged and dishonored leaders, as the potential for gossip, complaining against and refusing to submit to them can easily follow. When that happens, leaders often depart and the continual decline and even demise of the church might follow; the church may even gain a reputation as a congregation that is rebellious and abusive of leaders. Such an end for the church is warned against in Hebrews 13:17 – “this would be unprofitable for you.”
While many others in the church deserve to be honored as well, just as Romans 13:7 teaches, this passage is concerned with the recognized leadership, as is evident by the description of them in verse 12.
The second principle for rightly relating to others in the local church is . . .
II. You must understand your responsibilities to Church members vv. 13b-15
The Necessary Exhortations for Rightly Relating to One Another
1. Be at peace with one another v. 13b Romans 12:18 gives a similar command directed toward “all men”
While this exhortation might be considered a fitting conclusion for how to relate to the leaders, such peace is required among all Christians in the church and deliberate effort must be made to this end. 2 Corinthians 13:11 comes to a close with similar words (READ). A lack of peace in the local church creates an environment where tension and uneasiness can easily set in and disrupt the growth of the body.
In addition to peace however, verse 14 draws our attention to another responsibility all church members have in the local body, that is . . .
2. Be involved with one another vv. 14-15 The exhortation “We urge you, brethren” indicates a shift in focus with slightly more authoritative language than the request in verse 12. The involvement called for requires being engaged in the lives of others for their benefit in a number of areas.