Sermon for Sunday, March 26th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Psa 133:1-3 ESV] 1 A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
New Testament reading:
[1Th 5:12-15 ESV] 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.
[Luk 22:24-30 ESV] 24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
I’ve decided to break down Paul’s “final instructions” here at the end of the 1st Thessalonians into two parts. Today we’ll look at verses 12 through 15, what I call “Church instructions” and then next Sunday, Lord willing, we’ll continue with verses 16-22 on “Personal instructions.”
I hope this division is not too forced. It is not clear that Paul is making a break from one grouping of instructions to another, but the first few do relate to the church and the relationships among the members. And the second group of instructions apply to each person within their own character and actions.
I. Respect and esteem your church officers (v. 12-13)
It is interesting that at this early stage in the church, and with just a 3-week visit of Paul to the city of Thessalonica, they already have rulers in the church.
Of course, it is natural and necessary to have church leaders. And they must be chosen and specified; it must be made clear who is in charge. Otherwise there could be various persons competing for the role.
So there are rulers of the church. And it is plural. This is a point we Presbyterians are always keen to note. There is not an all-powerful Bishop telling everyone what to do, but there are multiple men who rule the church together. Paul says “respect those who labor among you.” That is plural. “Those” not “him” or “the one,” but “those” plural.
And it is clear that this “labor” is the work of the church. These same men are those who are “over you in the Lord.” They have that position as overseer of the church and shepherd of your soul. Yes, of course, Jesus Christ is the ultimate shepherd, but pastors are to be lesser shepherds, pointing you away from danger and providing you with healthy spiritual food.
Now, these rulers, those who “labor among you” and are “over you in the Lord,” they also ADMONISH people.
To admonish is to “warn or reprimand someone firmly.”
Oh, people don’t like that. But it is the role of the church leaders to do so.
And what does Paul say the people should do in respect to the leaders? Should we conclude that church leaders are mean, controlling, and uncaring people? No, we are to RESPECT those who labor among you. And ESTEEM them.
Now, I’ll tell you something about ministry. Something I wasn’t thinking about much when I was called into this path in life. Pastors often find out that people don’t like them. When I was a pew-sitting member in churches earlier my life I would go to church, and enjoy it, and then leave. The pastor (I’ve heard from many others and experience myself) and the elders, have work to do such that the church and various issues at the church are rarely far from their mind. And, when a person doesn’t like something at the church – whether the style of music or the color of the carpet – they’re apt to take it out on the leadership of the church.
This is the exact opposite of what Paul tells us. We are to RESPECT and ESTEEM the leaders of the church.
I’m very concerned for church-hoppers. People that hop from church to church, either shopping around for years or quickly departing when they have some disagreement with the church. I’m concerned for them personally, concerned for the churches they depart with a wake of destruction, and concerned for the churches that are next on their list.
Respect and esteem of the leadership of the church would end the carousel.
So the book of Hebrews says:
[Heb 13:17 ESV] 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.
II. Be at peace among yourselves. (v. 13b)
Well, then what about relationships between members in the church?
We are to respect and esteem the church officers. What are we do with fellow church members?
Paul says “Be at peace among yourselves.”
So we have in our membership vows, the promise that you will seek the peace and purity of the church.
A small issue between people can quickly expand and embroil an entire church. Don’t let this happen, but seek peace between brothers.
[Heb 12:14 ESV] 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
A friend of mine wrote something online this week that captured my attention. And I can share this because none of you know her. She’s the wife of a fellow seminary brother of mine, and lives in another country now.
“Today everything felt off and not right. I got news of a person passing away that hated me with a passion. I can honestly say I tried to reconcile with this person even a year ago. They wanted to take that hate to their grave and they did. On the flip side I am ending my day full of peace with my two little girls by my side. I am thankful today for all the gifts God has given me. Life is too short to hold grudges against your family. Remember all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God . It’s never to late to forgive someone who has wronged you, until you die. Then it’s too late. Have a blessed night friends and family.”
So Paul says “Be at peace among yourselves.”
This is hard to do, and some people don’t want to reconcile. But, as Christians we MUST. It is not optional. We are to forgive 7 x 70. We are to forgive our debtors as Christ forgives our debts. We are to forgive those who trespass against us as Christ forgives our trespasses.
We are to be at peace with one another.
We are to owe no one anything; to pay our debts. And to pray for our “enemies.” Even, “don’t have enemies.”
The Psalmist David said “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
Let us, and this is one of my most fervent prayers, dwell in unity.
III. Admonish the idle. (v. 14)
Well, Paul then says “Admonish the idle.” And you might say “what happened to dwelling in unity?”
Remember this, the trouble is caused NOT by the person who is admonishing, but by the person who is idle. The one admonishing is seeking for their to be peace. They want to dwell in unity. But the unity is broken by the idler.
I had a housemate once that was unemployed. And he may or may not have been looking for work. And it seems to myself and my other housemates that he spent the entire day playing video games in the main room. Well, we might think of the previous advice in this epistle to “mind our own affairs,” but we can’t overlook the impact the idler has. In the case with my roommate it meant no one else ever had control of the TV remote.
In the family, or even in the church, an idle person is taking advantage of others.
Apparently the trouble with idle people in Thessalonica continued after Paul wrote this letter, because in his second letter to them he said this:
[2Th 3:10-12 ESV] 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
The idler is to be admonished, encouraged, even commanded to work.
This doesn’t mean we all need gainful paid employment. Some may be working as mothers, others may be disabled or retired from the 40-hour work week, but all should seek productive work, not being idle nor being a busybody. People tend to get into trouble when they don’t have a job.
And there is so much to do out there. Never in world history have there been so many jobs available. And even if you don’t want to work for someone else, you can volunteer, you can garden, you can pray, you can “work” in a thousand ways to the benefit of yourself and others.
No one should doubt that we have overdone it in our entertainment culture. While entertainment in itself is not sinful, we have a serious imbalance in our culture. Some people live as if their goal is to be entertained. TV, movies, video games …. and that’s it. But there is more purpose in life. It is unhealthy physically and spiritually to be idle. We must work with our hands and with our minds to provide for ourselves, for others, and for the church.
Another translation of this word is “the unruly.” Admonish those who lack order, who cause disruption; whether by their idleness or the meddling. We might say “admonish the troublemaker.”
IV. Encourage the Fainthearted (v. 14)
Then Paul says “encourage the fainthearted.”
The King James actually has this word translated as “feeble minded.”
If the idle and the proud need to hear the Law, then the feeble and humble need to hear the Gospel.
The focus of the message varies by the person and situation. Some need to be corrected, some need to be encouraged.
How do we “encourage the fainthearted”?
Let each person know that they are loved, and that we truly desire to see them at church.
Let each person know that we are praying for them.
Give alms to the poor, those who are unable to work by case of injury or age.
Invite one another to participation in events, at the church, in the community, or with your family.
Let us encourage one another.
We just had 3 sermons on encouragement.
We know that we are to praise good works and desire them “more and more.” And we know that we are to encourage one another with the Gospel, that their sins are forgiven in Christ, and encourage one another that all who believe will be together blessed on the Day of the Lord, the return of Christ.
V. Help the Weak (v. 14)
If the “fainthearted” are the “feeble minded” then the “weak” are the feeble in body. And Paul says “help the weak.” Help those without strength. The KJV says “support the weak.”
[Act 20:35 ESV] 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
So Luke there in Acts is not talking about giving gifts at Christmas and having more joy in giving than receiving. He is speaking of true sacrifice, giving for the support of the weak.
Now this passage is speaking about the physically weak, but it is also true that we should support the spiritually weak. They too need encouragement and support.
VI. Be patient with them all. (v. 14)
Patience. Our patience is often tried. But we must try to maintain it. We must not lose our tempers.
Matthew Henry says of this part of the verse:
We must bear and forbear. We must be long-suffering, and suppress our anger, if it begin to rise upon the apprehension of affronts or injuries; at least we must not fail to moderate our anger: and this duty must be exercised towards all men, good and bad, high and low. We must not be high in our expectations and demands, nor harsh in our resentments, nor hard in our impositions, but endeavour to make the best we can of every thing, and think the best we can of every body.
This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is a high calling. Self-control. Patience. Fruit of the Spirit.
We are to be patient with the troublemaker and patient with the feeble-minded. These are different sorts of patience. For the troublemaker we must admonish them and perhaps again and again, without getting upset. And for the feeble we must bear with their inability, understanding that they may never be able to pay us back in any way. We must be glad to help and to encourage them.
VII. Do good, not evil.
Then, in almost a summary of all that has preceded, Paul says in effect “Do good, not evil.” Verse 15 says “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
[1Pe 3:9 ESV] 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
And the Apostle John says:
[3Jo 1:11 ESV] 11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
Let us keep our focus on the good things of the God. Let us bless one another, seeking peace, taking care of those in need, bearing with all in patience.
These are commands not only for the rulers of the church, but for all.
There are no degrees of Christianity, but all are called to this highest calling.
And as Paul reminds the Thessalonians, so I remind you today of these commands. For we need constant reminders.
Respect and esteem your church officers.
Be at peace among yourselves.
Admonish the idle.
Encourage the Fainthearted.
Help the Weak.
Be patient with them all.
Do good, not evil.
And in all this I pray that the Holy Spirit guides us.