The Responsibility of Relationships
The Lord Jesus is coming again. This is the basic theme of Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian believers. The Lord Himself shall come down from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and we shall meet the Lord in the air and so be with him forever. And all the people said: Amen! Whether we are asleep in the Lord or alive at his coming, we shall be gathered up when He comes to redeem His Church from the world.
Paul had answered the question of the hour put to him by the believers at Thessalonica. But Paul, always believing that theology should have a practical side to it, shifts the emphasis from the theology of the 2nd Coming to the nitty-gritty of daily living in light of the 2nd Coming. Paul is concerned that these believers know that the Lord is returning for them. He is also concerned about how they live while they wait for this glorious event to take place.
In vv. 12-22 of chapter five, Paul gives the Thessalonian Christians some final instructions on living while they wait for the Lord's return. It’s solid advise for the church even today!
- While you’re waiting for the Eschaton, live responsibly in relationship with other believers.
- While you’re waiting for the Lord’s return, rejoice always.
- While you’re waiting for Jesus to come again, pray without ceasing.
- While you’re waiting for the 2nd Advent, give thanks in all circumstances.
- While you’re waiting for that Glorious Day, don’t quench the Spirit.
- While you’re waiting for the Day of the Lord, don’t despise preaching.
- While you’re waiting for the Promise of the Parousia, tenaciously cling to what is good, and shun evil.
My first inclination was to expound ever so briefly upon all seven directives. But you don’t want to listen to a three-hour sermon, any more than I want to preach one, so let me direct your attention to vv. 12-15, which teach us how we are to relate to other specific groups of people in the Body of Christ.
The two greatest commands, on which, according to Jesus, everything else in church life depends, are concerned with relationships—with God first, and one another second. It is because God is so concerned with the creating of the church as his community, that so much of the New Testament deals with relationships. Jesus spent about three years seeking to build a small group of followers into a true community. Virtually 45% of the letters of the New Testament are about how we should get along with one another.
With this in mind, let me outline for you tonight, three specific groups of people within the Body of Christ, and how we are to relate to them.
I. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW WE RELATE WITH CHURCH LEADERS
- "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves." (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, ESV)
- one of the most important relationships in the church is the relationship between church members and their congregational leaders
- sadly, some of the most serious and persistent problems in the church today revolve around a congregation’s relationship with its leaders
- how do church members relate to their pastor, the church staff, deacons and other elected leaders?
- how should the church react to these various leaders?
A. THE APOSTLE SPEAKS TO QUALIFICATIONS WHICH EARN RESPECT v. 12
- 1st, a church leader earns respect by diligently laboring among the flock of God
- the word labor here refers to hard, manual work which requires exhausting toil and produces sweat
- spiritual leadership is difficult and weighted with responsibility
- whether it's a pastor's relationship to his congregation ...
- whether it's a Sunday School teacher's relationship to their class ...
- whether it's a deacon's relationship to his families ...
- all are to be hard-working servants of the church
- 2nd, a church leader earns respect by exercising charge over the flock of God in the Lord
- in a Baptist Church, when we call a Pastor or staff member, or elect those from among the congregation to positions of leadership, we are in essence giving them a certain measure of authority over our lives
- we are committing to such people the responsibility for the congregation’s spiritual well-being and the advancement of God’s Kingdom in our community
- “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.” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV)
- watching over the flock of God ought to be a joy
- sadly, as some of you know from your own experience, watching over the flock of God, too frequently leads to groaning
- the word groaning here in Hebrews 13:17 means to sign often and deeply
- ILLUS. It’s what Jesus does every time the disciples just don’t ‘get it’
- the implication is that church leaders are to be shepherds and not CEOs, ministers and not bosses
- ILLUS. An ancient Israelite shepherd would go before his sheep to lead them; he would not drive the sheep in front of him. Church leaders should lead the people of God in the same way: feeding, protecting, and guiding them.
- it is in the Lord
- Christian leaders should also remember that they have been given responsibility for tending a flock that belongs to God, not to themselves
- leaders are not to exercise their authority like dictators, potentates or primadonnas
- ILLUS. Remember Diotrephes? He’s the reason the Apostle John writes his third Epistle. Here was a church leader who had asserted a heavy-handed leadership over a congregation to its harm. The Apostle describes him as one who likes to put himself first. This, of course, is the anthesis of biblical church leadership.
- Diotrephes was not overseeing the church in the Lord
- congregational leadership must always, always, always be expressed in the Lord
- “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, ... not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2–3, ESV)
- one of the high callings of a pastor or teacher or spiritual leader in the church is to help others in the congregation to grow in their faith, and in their relationship with the Lord
- spiritual growth comes primarily by preaching, teaching, and sharing the Word of God
- this implies that members need to display a teachable spirit toward their leaders
- ILLUS. Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "It takes two to speak the truth—one to speak, and another to hear."
B. THE APOSTLE SPEAKS TO OUR RESPONSE TO CHURCH LEADERS
- 1st, we are to respect and appreciate them for their hard work among us
- church work, whether it be teaching a class of 5th & 6th graders, keeping the church clean from week-to-week, or visiting the sick can be hard work
- ILLUS. Hospital visitation with Bob Moles.
- church work can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting work
- if you don't think so, just talk to anyone here who has worked in Vacation Bible School!
- ILLUS. When Linda and I lived in Adrian, we had young adult woman who was asked to serve as chairperson of the Hostess Committee. Her chief responsibility was organizing fellowship meals and the annual Senior High School Baccalaureate Dinner. Michelle had grown up in the church. When she was asked to serve she was excited about taking over the responsibility because she had some fresh ideas that she wanted to implement. Well, this was a Baptist Church, and Michelle should have known that Baptists don’t often deal with change well. Every time Michelle did something, one of the “more mature” and “wiser” ladies of the church would approach her and say, “Ya know, Michelle, we know you mean well, but this is how you ought to do this.” Translation: “You’re not doing it like I would.” And these same ladies were so surprised when Michelle decided not to chair the Hostess Committee the next year.
- “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV)
- the NIV says Hold them in the highest regard in love ...
- this is the more literal translation
- those who serve in the Body of Christ need to receive affectionate recognition for the labor they are providing
- the only time many church workers ever hear anything about their service is when someone thinks they didn't "do it right" or "the way it's always been done before"
- I think this is one of the main reasons why churches loose so many valuable workers year-after-year
- we fail to love them and value what they are doing
- to esteem someone means to value the worth of that person to the organization
- for some reason we have come to believe that if a person is truly humble about their place of service that we shouldn't spoil their spiritualness by affirming them in what they are doing
- after all, they're simply doing what they are supposed to be doing, right?
- the Apostle Paul understood that those who labor in the Lord's work need affirmation by those around them
- they need to believe that those whom they serve feel that their labor has some eternal significance to it
- it is dangerous when a church family takes their leaders for granted and fails to pray for them, work with them, and encourage them
II. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW WE RELATE WITH THE BROTHER IN THE PEW
- "... Live in peace with each other." (1 Thessalonians 5:13)
- Paul's thought structure here is very abrupt
- he turns our attention toward the person sitting next to us, or across the aisle, and commands us to live in peace with each other
- suddenly, almost as an afterthought, Paul sneaks in this pointed admonition "Oh, and while you're at it, get along with each other, too."
- ILLUS. William Hendriksen, in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, writes that the Apostle Paul is telling the church members to stop your carping at one another.
- it’s in the imperative mood which means it’s a command
- it’s in the plural which means it every member’s responsibility
- it’s in the present tense which means do it now
- no, that’s not the command
- Paul commands you to be at peace with your fellow believer weather-or-not they reciprocate
- much of the dissension in modern churches is traceable to church members disobeying these commands
A. THERE ARE THREE KINDS OF PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH TODAY
- there are those who pitch in and do the work of the church
- there are those who cop out, and watch while others do the work of the church
- there are those who habitually gripe about the first two groups no matter what they do or don't do
- live at peace among yourselves is a relevant statement for the church today
- nothing is more vital to a church's ministry than an inward harmony and unity among the people of God
- "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3, NASB95)
- that doesn't mean that we will always agree on everything that comes before the church
- it does mean that we will choose to love and fellowship with the one we disagree with
B. PEACE REIGNS IN A CONGREGATION WHEN THERE IS GENUINE ACCEPTANCE OF ONE ANOTHER
- Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount...
- "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
- non of us has yet matured into the fulness of the stature of Christ
- we are all still in the process of becoming what God intends for us to be
- until that time arrives, we need to have patience with each other and forgive one another when we fail to live up to expectations
- in other words—cut the other believer some slack!
- ILLUS. I love the bumper stickers you used to see that said, "Be patient, God ain't finished with me yet!"
- working with people—even Christian people—is a long-term project
III. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW WE HOW WE RELATE WITH THOSE IN SPIRITUAL DIFFICULTY
- "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone ese."/ (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15)
- building a new church building today is a very costly undertaking
- but building a genuine Christian fellowship within a Body of Believers is even more costly
- in vv. 14-15 the Apostle Paul outlines some of the steps involved in building a durable fellowship of believers
A. WE ARE TO ADMONISH THE IDLE
- the word idle in this passage originally described a soldier who would not keep rank but insisted on marching his own way
- this is the guy whose always out-of-step with everyone else!
- what the Apostle is saying is that we are to warn the troublemakers
- evidently some of the Thessalonian believers—spiritually speaking—were like insubordinate, undisciplined, and disorderly soldiers
- the Army’s term for such individual is goldbricks—a soldier, who avoids assigned duties or work; a shirker
- the Apostle Paul is referring to those believers in the church who have neglected their congregational duty, while enjoying the benefits of the church at the expense of others
- may I make a painful observation?—the church today is full of spiritual free-loaders
- these are people who want all the benefits of church life, but who want none of the responsibilities that enable the church to carry out it's ministry
- Tithing? That's someone else's responsibility
- Serving? Teaching? Ministering? That's what the paid staff is for!
- ILLUS. Some time ago I watched a show on the History Channel about the Iditerod Sled Dog Race that is held in Alaska each year. They were interviewing one of the dog mushers who was describing the difference between dogs. He told the interviewer, “You have to know your dogs well, because sometimes you’ll get what we call a ‘dishonest dog’. These are the huskies who learn how to ‘fake it’. They pretend they are working hard by leaning against the harness without really pulling.”
B. WE ARE TO ENCOURAGE THE TIMID
- some members of a local congregation need just the opposite of admonishment
- they need a quiet word of encouragement
- the word timid in this passage means short of soul
- it refers those who are fainthearted people and tend to become easily discouraged
- they need some encouragement
- there are some in the church, who if they just got some encouragement, would make wonderful teachers
- there are some in the church, who if they just got some encouragement, would become powerful evangelists and testifyers of the faith
- there are some in the church, who if they just got some encouragement, would surrender to preach, or teach, or go to the mission field
- “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, ... but let us encourage one another ... ” (Hebrews 10:23–25, NIV)
- Proverbs 15:23 says, “A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word.”
- isn’t that true?
- it’s a delightful thing to receive a timely and encouraging word
C. WE ARE TO HELP THE WEAK
- this is a reference to those who are spiritually weak
- these are the members of our congregation who have not yet learned to lean on the Lord as much as they should for their spiritual needs
- until they do, they need strong support from other believers
- the verb help in this passage can be literally translated; “Hold fast to the weak!”
- we are not to let them fall
- we are to stand by those who are facing a difficult crisis
- nothing tests a believer’s faith like a crisis or difficult circumstance
- we are not always up to the test
- sometimes we need the help of others who are strong in the faith to stand by us until the crisis is past
- ILLUS. With the price of gas so high these days, the novel idea of car-pooling has reemerged. We need to take a lesson and begin carepooling.
D. WE ARE TO BE PATIENT WITH EVERYONE
- while other Christians are the primary focus of patience in this context, this charge is general enough to include all people
- the church is full of all kinds of people
- many—if not most—are lovely and lovable most of the time
- then, there are the others
- being patient with the idle, and the timid, and the weak can sometimes tax our patience
- dealing with such saints requires nothing short of the love of God produced by the Holy Spirit
- the opposite of patience is retaliation in some form
- retaliation is simply not an option for a Christian
- “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9, NIV)
- ILLUS. The old adage, “I don’t get mad; I get even” is rhetoric that does not belong upon a believer’s lips."
When will Jesus come again? No one knows. Our responsibility is not to know the time of His coming. Our responsibility is to live faithfully while we wait for that great event. Faithful living involves many different relationships. It involves relationships with church leaders, and with fellow believers— some of whom have some real needs in their lives. We need to strive to mature in all of these relationships.
I like the definition of the church given by theologian Andrew Kirk:
"What the New Testament means by the Church is not an institution which owns property, performs rites and organises meetings, or even one that plans strategies to evangelise unreached people. Rather, it is a group of ordinary people who, because they are experiencing the immense grace of a compassionate God, are learning how to overcome hostility between people, forgive and trust one another, share what they have and encourage one another in wholesome and joyous relationships."