Preached by Mike Aiken
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
This morning we are going to finish our sermon series on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians who lived in a city called Thessalonica which is in modern day Greece today. Last week Benjamin ended with a story of his family waiting in line to board a train and he painted the picture of how hopeless that situation can be. Because of God’s doing we are in Christ, in his salvation train, so to speak, and it is going to reach its destination. Jesus has rescued us by his grace and he is going to finish what he started by coming back in judgment and to set up the new heavens and new earth. In the meantime, until Jesus comes back in person and bodily, we live in the in between, “the already and not yet.” Verse 11 is one of the clear connections with our passage today: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” In these final instructions and a benediction, we see that God wants the believer in Jesus to experience “peace.” Peace is the theme that runs throughout vv. 12-28. As one commentator, G.K. Beale, has made so clear, peace is bookended in this passage (see vv. 13, 23). Bookended means peace is found at the beginning and the end of this passage, and I am convinced in my reading of this passage that peace is predominant. It is the thread which runs throughout this section. So what is peace and how are we to experience it? It is God’s will that we experience peace. Peace means harmony and God brings this about by his grace. He has graciously given us instructions and a benediction which by his design will bring peace. Lets now look at our “road map” for today’s sermon. 1. Final instructions which bring peace and 2. A benediction which brings peace.
1. Final Instructions Which Brings Peace-vv. 12-22
a. Be at peace with your leaders-vv. 12-13
Respect your leaders-v.12. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” The leaders in view here are probably elders who are the guardians of doctrine and ethics. As Paul and his companions established churches they appointed a team (a plurality) of elders in each church. There is strength and accountability in numbers. There is shared leadership with elders. Acts 14:23 “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
It is important to know what the work of an elder is. It is the hard work of shepherding the flock. “Labor” in v. 12 points to the hard work of shepherding. It involves teaching, warning, counseling and rebuking when necessary. It is not an easy job. Pastors just don’t work on Sundays. The word for “respect” has the basic idea of “knowing” and here respect for our leaders in the church should come about as we know what they do. The elders of the church are charged with shepherding God’s flock which needs fed the teaching of God’s word, protected from false teaching and from wolves who will lead them astray, and healing from spiritual attacks by our enemy the devil. All these activities are hard work. Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Richard Phillips gives this insight about pastoral oversight: “When Hebrews 13:17 calls for obedience to church leaders, the author gives this reason: ‘for they are keeping watch over your souls.’ Many Christian have security companies that watch over their homes and possessions. When such a company calls for new locks or windows, the homeowner dutifully responds. Others have financial experts who watch over their money, and when a stockbroker recommends a sale of stock, the action is immediately taken. Pastors and elders watch over the immortal souls of God’s people. How eagerly should submission be given, especially on clear biblical grounds, when the church leaders admonish us, calling for change or increased motivation for the well-being of our souls!” This point is convicting! How eager are we to listen to our leaders who watch over our souls? God wants there to be peace between leaders and the flock they oversee.
The text says the leaders “are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” The authority the elders have over the flock is from the Lord. They are working as under shepherds who are doing what the Lord wants for his flock. The sphere in which they work is “in the Lord.” We as sheep go astray and the Lord has called elders to the task of admonishing the sheep which means we are to instruct and warn the sheep based on God’s word. The way elders carry out this responsibility is important. The apostle Peter gives these clear instructions of how elders are to shepherd: 1 Peter 5:1 “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Many things stand out in this passage but a few are worthy of note such “willingly,” “eagerly,” “not domineering” (like a dictator), “being examples.” The way elders shepherd the flock is critical and they will give an account to the Lord for how they carry out their job.
Regard your leaders-v.13. 1 Thessalonians 5:13 “and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” Recently this body of believers applied this to Jason and Natalie Abbott and their family. We had a special time on a Sunday evening where we shared with the Abbotts how much we appreciated them. Many of us sent cards, gifts, sang songs, and gave words of appreciation both privately and publicly. I believe the Lord was glorified in the way we showed our high esteem for their work among us these last 7 years. The mental anguish of pastoral work is exhausting. It is hard to appreciate how difficult the job is of balancing family with caring for people and their many needs. “To esteem” is to “regard” and we are to regard our leaders very highly in love because of their work. Again, it is the work of the elder that is being highlighted not that you like their personalities per se but you know they are working hard for your spiritual growth. Colossians 1:28 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Paul knew better than anyone the cost of being a leader. As an apostle he experienced hardship many of us cannot relate to. Paul tells the Corinthians this:2 Corinthians 11:24 “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” The burden of people problems and patently trying to bring about reconciliation of conflict is a heavy weight elders carry on their hearts. People leaving because you did your job of loving them by pointing out a sin they needed to repent of. And in the American church we have the consumerist mindset that our culture is deep into. When people don’t like something in one church they leave to go get their “needs met” in another church. When the church is viewed like a store that exists to meet the consumers needs we are in big trouble. This is part of our current context in which we minister, and pastors feel the pressure to compromise and overlook sin so we don’t lose members. Over 30 years ago I experienced this with one of my congregants. He was a wealthy man and whenever he was upset one of my fellow leaders would talk to me. One day I had to confront him about an immoral situation he was involved in. He was highly offended that I confronted him with the matter, and he confessed to it but wasn’t going to repent. So the outcome was not what I had hoped, but this is just one instance that makes pastoring so hard.
Notice that we are to esteem our leaders highly “in love.” When love increases there is a healthy appreciation of our leaders and the result of this is peace (v. 13b). Remember, peace is what this passage is about and these instructions when obeyed will bring about peace by God’s grace. “Be at peace among yourselves” is not disconnected with what is before and after it. Peace or harmony is what God wants there to be between believers and their leaders and God wants that peace to be among fellow members of the body of Christ as well as vv. 14-15 make clear.
b. Be at peace with each other-vv. 14-15
Admonish the disorderly-v.14a. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle.” “Brothers” refers to “brothers and sisters in Christ.” In verse 14 God is showing us how to relate to different types of people. The first group of people are to be admonished or warned for being “idle.” The word for “idle” is better translated “disorderly” or “disruptive.” These people are characterized by being undisciplined. Idle can give the picture that they are inactive, but on the contrary these people are actively being “busybodies” when they should be working (2 Thess. 3:11). One of the areas Paul had to correct in the Thessalonian churches was believers who had a false view about Jesus’ coming. They either thought he had already returned or knew exactly when he would return, which are both false views about the second coming of Christ. The result of this false teaching was not working a job and then being dependent on others to meet their financial needs. Paul addresses this serious situation which gives us another example of when to exercise church discipline. These people were disorderly and needed to be disciplined so that they would repent and get back to work and be a good example to the unbelieving world. By not working these believers were giving the gospel and the Lord’s church a bad name. This teaches us that our sin affects many people not just ourselves. There was a man named Alexander who was convicted of a crime and the emperor at the time, Alexander the Great of Macedonia, said the man needed to change his name because he was not worthy to have such a name with the crime he committed. So it should be with us who wear the name of Christ- “Christian.” Yes we are unworthy of his name in and of ourselves, yet God calls us to walk worthy of the calling he has called us to walk. He has given us the Holy Spirit who enables us to walk orderly. The gospel does not call us to a disorderly life but to one of discipline and order. God saves us to do good works. They are the evidence of our faith in Christ. Faith without works is dead! (James 2:26)
Encourage the fainthearted-v.14b. Some of us get discouraged easily and need the encouragement of the gospel. Do you know someone who is discouraged right now? Make it a point to minister to them this week. Send a card or make a visit. Pray for them and tell them you are praying for them. King David was discouraged from being chased by King Saul and his good friend Jonathan “helped him find strength in God” (NIV- 1 Sam. 23:16).
Help the weak-v.14c. Some of us are weak spiritually and we need help. Here the word help means to hold fast to someone. When a football player is inquired and can’t walk he needs people to help carry him off the field. In discipleship when people struggle with sin we need to help them by giving them Scripture, prayer and words that will help them be stronger. We need to not let go of those who are weak. The weak could be those who struggle with addiction with alcohol, drugs, food etc. One commentator says it this way: “Unless a wayward believer has hard-heartedly rejected all church authority and accountability, Christians should never give up but patiently bear with all manner of failings and weaknesses.”1
Be patient with them all-v.14d. It is easy for us who do not share in the struggles just mentioned to be impatient. May God give us the grace to be patient with others struggles as God is with us. We are confronted with peoples needs every day and we are being given a ministry opportunity by God to speak into their lives with whatever they need. Don’t be impatient with them. Bear their burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ as Paul said in Galatians 6:2. The law of Christ is love.
Don’t retaliate-do good to all-v.15. Retaliation is not something we need to be taught to do. As one Scout master used to tell me when I was under his charge, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” Have you ever heard it said that way? That does not reflect how God wants us to relate to our enemies. If you are mistreated you are not to mistreat those who were unkind to you. The Thessalonian church was persecuted and it would mean not hurting the enemies of Christ but blessing them instead.
c. Attitudes and actions which bring peace-vv. 16-22
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances-vv. 16-18. When we look at these three commands we may be puzzled how they connect. Our circumstances in which we are to be thankful may be very difficult. Maybe the loss of a job, or the loss of health, or a broken relationship and yet in the midst of these trials we are to be thankful. We are ever to keep our eyes on who God is and we can always be thankful for who he is and that he is sovereign over all circumstances and that Jesus is coming back. We are not to be thankful for every circumstance but to be thankful in the midst of it. The famous British preacher from the 1800s, Charles Spurgeon, nicely summarized vv. 16-18: “‘Pray constantly’ The more we pray, the more we rejoice. Prayer gives a channel to the pent-up sorrows of the soul; they flow away, and in their place streams of sacred delight pour into the heart. At the same time the more rejoicing, the more praying. When the heart is in a quiet condition and full of joy in the Lord, then also will it be sure to draw near to the Lord in worship. Holy joy and prayer act and react on each other. Observe, however what immediately follows in the test: ‘Give thanks in everything.’ When joy and prayer are married their firstborn child is gratitude. When we joy in God for what we have and believingly pray to him for more, then our souls thank him both in the enjoyment of what we have and in the prospect of what is yet to come.” (The Spurgeon Study Bible, p. 1616). Maybe your young and feel like your dreams may not come true (they may not). Maybe you are middle aged and see some or all your dreams have not come true and you have regrets. And maybe you are up in the “twilight years” and looking back and know your dreams are never going to come true. You have regrets and fears. Remember no matter where you are in life these verses are God’s word for you (As Paul Tripp has said, young people are like astronauts and older people are like archeologists).
Don’t put out the Spirit’s work but attend carefully to his prophetic word-vv.19-22. The church during this apostolic period was receiving new prophetic revelation which was on a par with Scripture. Prophesy from God was always true and was to be obeyed. Because of false prophets, the believers were to be discerning and to reject false prophesies which didn’t come from God.
2. A Benediction Which Brings Peace- vv. 23-24
1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
The God of peace will bring the work he started to completion (Phil. 1:6). The already is what God has started. The believer is regenerated and justified by God and has the Holy Spirit. We are not completely made holy in this life. Paul is praying that at the return of Jesus the believer will be completely holy and blameless. Words from Augustine’s autobiography called Confessions are helpful. He said, “My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will…You command continence; grant what you command, and command what you will” (Confessions, X.40). Augustine was asking that God would give him the grace necessary to do what he commanded. As humans with a sinful nature and not having the Holy Spirit, we are unable to keep God’s commands as God requires. We may keep them outwardly but our inner motivation is not to bring God glory. By God’s help we are able to keep his commands and the help he has given us is the Holy Spirit which every believer in Christ has. God has called us to be in his Son Jesus and he will continue to work in us to do his will until we die or Jesus returns. God is faithful and he will carry out everything he has promised to do for us in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
1 Phillips, R. D. (2015). 1 & 2 Thessalonians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (p. 242). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.