Lesson 20 - With Respect Toward Those Over Us - Part 1 (series: Lessons on 1 Thessalonians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Tom Lowe

Lesson 20: With Respect Toward Those Over Us (1 Thess. 5:12-13)

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (NIV)
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for 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.

Paul thought of the local church as a family. Each member was born again by the Spirit of God and possessed God’s nature. Paul says, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4). They were all part of God’s family. The child of God needs the church family if he is to grow, develop his gifts, and serve God.

Without leadership, a family falls apart. The father is the head of the home; the mother stands with him in love and cooperation. The children are to obey their parents. This is the order God has laid down, and for us to disturb this order is to ask for serious trouble.

God has ordained leadership for the local church. It is true that we are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28{3]); but it is also true that the head of the church has given gifts to people, and then given these people to the churches to exercise His will (Eph. 4:7-16). Just as the flock needs a shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-5{2]), so the family needs a leader.

At this point, someone might ask, “What responsibilities do the brethren have toward their spiritual leaders?” I believe Paul has answered that question in verses 12 and 13, where he identifies four specific things we should do―accept them, appreciate them, love them, and obey them.

Lesson 20

(5:12) Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.

The first instruction Paul gives to his brethren in Thessalonica is this: “Acknowledge those who work hard{1] among you” We might say, accept them.. They are God’s gifts to the Church. They have spiritual authority from the Lord and we should accept them in the Lord. They are not dictators, but leaders and examples. As they follow the Lord, we must follow them.

Since it was evidently Paul’s practice to ordain elders in every church (Acts 14:23{4]), there is no reason to doubt that He refers to those who hold this office. But to persuade the Thessalonians to “know” (i.e. recognize and respect) them for what they are, he prefers to describe them by the work they do. This is the heavy toil of leading them in the Lord and admonishing them (Col. 1:28) by the word of encouragement, when this is sufficient, but also by that of rebuke, of reproof, of blame, where these may be required.

The second teaching that the apostle discloses to them is found in the same phrase―“Acknowledge those who work hard among you” We might say, appreciate them or respect them, which implies the idea of knowing fully and appreciating their true worth.. There is nothing wrong with honoring faithful servants of God, so long as God gets the glory. Spiritual leadership is a great responsibility and a difficult task. It is not easy to serve as a pastor, elder, deacon, or another spiritual leader. The battles and burdens are many, and sometimes the encouragements are few. It is dangerous when a church family takes their leaders for granted and fails to pray for them, work with them, and encourage them.

Here is the third commandment and it seems to belong with the first two: “Know” or understand those who teach the Word of God. It means we should recognize or “acknowledge” them for the work they do for the Church and the church members.

It is hard to understand who Paul is talking about when he refers to those “who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you,” if it isn’t the office-bearers in the church. Now, all members should be caring for one another, but if he has picked out a particular group, who would they be other than the office-bearers? The addition of “in the Lord” also seems to point us to office-bearers in the church, while at the same time it adds the idea of the spiritual fitness of things. This is not a cold, external authority, but one employed in the warmth of Christian bonds. Being “in the Lord,” it is an authority to be used for the spiritual good of believers (2 Cor. 10:8), and not to give the office-bearers the opportunity for lording it over them (Luke 22:25-27).

(5:13) Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

The next thing the apostle Paul tells them may be the most important and the other three may rest upon it; it is “love.” Love is so very important because, if you love those who minister to you, then you will accept them, and you will appreciate them and the work they do, and finally, you will obey them.

As brothers and sisters, the leaders are “among us”; and as leaders, they are “over us in the Lord.” This could be a very strained relationship apart from true Christian love. For a pastor to be “above” and “over,” at the same time demands grace and the power of the Spirit. If he gets out of balance, his ministry will be weakened and possibly destroyed. Some church members want the pastor to be their buddy, but this weakens his authority. On the other hand, if he emphasizes only his authority, he could become a selfish dictator or simply the cold voice of authority. Love is the characteristic Christian attitude to people, and this should be shown in the church.

“Obey them” is the last bit of advice that Paul has for them― “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Heb. 13:17). We must, according to our power, give to the necessities of the souls and bodies of men: God will accept these offerings with pleasure and will accept and bless the offerers through Christ. The apostle then states what is their duty to living ministers; to obey and submit to them, so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God, made known in His word. Dear friends, you can’t have everybody running the church. You can’t have everybody running any kind of organization. There must be a certain one with authority. There needs to be one who is the leader and who is followed. With that arrangement, you can have peace. But when everybody is trying to play his own tune, you have anything but harmony and peace.

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