************ Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 7, 2001
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
"Respect Those Who Work Hard Among You"
Topic: LeadershipOn this installation Sunday it is good to know this. This is a reminder, congregation, that we do not esteem those in church office because of who they are – for those in church office are no better and no worse than anyone else in the church; rather, we are to esteem them because of the office they hold.
Title: No Excuse
Those of you who are elders and deacons, there are many reasons why God would not want you, but don't worry. You're in good company!
Moses: he stuttered, he had a temper, and he was a murderer. David: he was too young, his armor didn't fit, and he had an affair. John Mark was rejected by Paul. Hosea's wife was a prostitute. Amos' only training was in the school of fig-tree pruning. Jacob was a liar. Solomon was too rich. Abraham was too old. Timothy had ulcers. Peter was afraid of death. Lazarus was dead. Naomi was a widow. Paul was a murderer. Jonah ran from God. Miriam was a gossip. Gideon and Thomas both doubted. Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal. Elijah was burned out. Martha was a worrywart. Mary was lazy. Samson had long hair. Noah got drunk.
But God doesn't require a job interview. He doesn't look at qualifications or lack thereof. He doesn't hire and fire like most bosses. He doesn't look at financial gain or loss.
Satan says, "You're not worthy."
Jesus says, "So what? I AM."
Satan looks back and sees our mistakes. God looks back and sees the Cross and Spirit of Christ.
Sure, there are lots of reasons why God shouldn't want us as leaders in the church. But if we are in love with Him, if we hunger for Him more than our next breath, He'll use us in spite of who we are, where we've been, or what we look like.
I Problems in the Thessalonian Church
A We need to ask why Paul thought it necessary to write the words of our text?
(1Th 5:12-13) Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. (13) Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.Why does Paul ask the Church at Thessalonica to show respect for those in church office?
The obvious reason is that there were those within the Church of Thessalonica who failed to show respect and regard for those in church office. There were those within this Church who did not support the church officers in their work. There were those within this Church who even opposed the work of those in church office.
To understand what was going on we need to backtrack for a moment and take a look at the problems within the Thessalonian Church.
B It is clear from both the book of 1 Thessalonians and the book of Acts that the Church of Thessalonica received opposition from the Jewish community of that city. One part of the Jewish campaign was a personal attack on Paul himself. They charged that Paul had no real love for his converts. They further charged that Paul had never been motivated by any genuine concern for his converts and that his main motive was personal gain or profit. We need to realize that there were many so-called preachers at that time who took advantage of the fluid situation in the early church to personally enrich themselves. Within this kind of situation it was easy for the Jews to charge that Paul too was a wandering impostor. The Jews didn't want to discredit just Paul, of course. Above all they wanted to discredit Paul's message about Christ.
The problem was that some within the Thessalonian Church began to believe these charges. And, they began to question not only the character of Paul but also the message of Christ that he had preached to them.
C Another problem that was faced by the Church of Thessalonica was the opposition of the Gentiles. Under their opposition the Thessalonian Church was being persecuted. And, because of this persecution some of the Christians were starting to fall away, to slip away, from the faith.
D We know that members of the Thessalonian Church had some doctrinal errors as well. Chief among them were their views on the second coming of the Lord. It seems that some believed that Jesus was going to return during their lifetime. When some of them died they began to question if Christ was even going to return at all. And, they wondered if the loved ones who had died were going to miss out on the events of the great day of Christ's return.
Their mistaken view about the date of Christ's return had two consequences. First, work was viewed as being unnecessary. After all, if Christ is expected to return soon, why bother with work, with laying aside for a rainy day, with planning for the future? The result of this was that some within the church did nothing to support themselves and had to live on the charity of their fellow believers – which created resentment on the part of those who ended up supporting them. Second, those who were not working became idle busybodies; they had nothing else to do. So they interfered in the work of others, gossiped, criticized, and meddled in affairs that did not concern them. This, of course, did great damage in the church.
E The City of Thessalonica was a typical Greek city of the first century. This means that sexual morality was very lax. Converts were taught that those who are in Christ are to be different from the world. But the pressure from their culture to engage in sex outside of marriage was very strong. Accordingly, more than one member of the church fell into sexual sin.
II The Work of Church Leaders
A How do all these problems fit in with our text for this morning? The leaders of the Thessalonian Church tried their best to deal with these problems. But some within this Church did not appreciate these efforts. Some within this Church failed to show respect and regard for those in church office as they tried to deal with these problems. Some within this Church did not support the church officers in this work. Some within this Church opposed and resented this work of those in church office.
B Let's take a closer look at the work those early church leaders were doing.
Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica that those in church office are "those who work hard among you." The word that is used indicates the hard labor of those who have toiled till they have become weary in the service of the Lord. Paul frequently used this term for Christian ministry (1 Cor 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10). In other words, church office required hard work on the part of those who were in it.
This is a reminder that Christian ministry is not for those who are lazy. Those who are lazy and shiftless have no place among the leadership of the church. Those who are not willing to invest of themselves and their time have no place in Christian ministry. Based upon this verse, John Calvin went so far as to say "that all idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors." Christian ministry, Christian leadership, church office, involves hard work.
Now, I want to say to you who are in church office that it is possible to get by with doing little or nothing. But, then, you are not doing the duties of your office: you are not visiting the sick, you are not comforting the afflicted, you are not helping the poor, you are not encouraging the widow or the orphan. To do a good job in church office requires time, it requires commitment, it requires hard work.
Furthermore, this labor, this hard work, is not to be approached with a spirit of resentment – either on your part or on the part of your family. Rather, it is meant to be a labor of love. It is to be done out of love for God, love for His church, and love for the individual members. Those in leadership positions are to do their work in the same spirit as Christ – Who taught and healed and prayed and suffered and died – all of it – out of love.
C Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica that those in church office are also those "who are over you in the Lord." In the Greek the phrase that is used here has two meanings. First of all, it refers to the showing of pastoral care and concern. Second, it refers to the exercise of authority and direction. When we combine the two meanings, we see that God calls those in church office to care for and supervise the church.
And, they are to do so "in the Lord." This means they have been called by God. This means the authority of their office comes from God. This means that God has gifted and equipped them for office. This means that their work is spiritual work. This means their work has to do with souls. This means their work has eternal significance and eternal consequences. Elders and deacons, have you ever thought of your work as having eternal significance and eternal consequences? When you work with people's souls you are working with eternity and for eternity. And, this means that the work of those in church office is not done in the world but only within the context of the church where Jesus is acknowledged as the Savior from sin and the Lord of life.
D Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica that those in church office are also those "who admonish you." This phrase is meant to sound brotherly – in other words, it is always done out of love and concern. Yet, it speaks of a big-brother, an older brother, a wiser brother. It means that those in church office are to give warning to those who are going astray or are in danger of doing so. They must warn about false doctrine, immoral lifestyles, selfish living, ungrateful giving, spiritual laziness, a lack of commitment, and so on. This work of admonishment involves the difficult work of church discipline too.
Now it is this last work, in particular, that raised the opposition of some church members in Thessalonica. It seems that back then, just like now, members did not appreciate correction and admonishment. It seems that back then, just like now, people didn't want to be told that they were wrong and needed to repent and change their ways. I told you once before of the story of Marian Guinn:
Topic: ChurchMarian Guinn's response is not all that unusual anymore, even within the CRC. Very few are the members who do not resent and resist the work of admonishment and discipline of those who are in church office when it is applied to them.
Subtopic: Excommunication from
Elders of the Collinsville Church of Christ denounced Marian Guinn for adultery before the congregation and forbade the 120 members to associate with her.
Marian Guinn responded with a lawsuit against the elders alleging invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Now get this: In depositions and pretrial hearings, Ms. Guinn acknowledged her adulterous relationship with Pat Sharp, a former mayor of Collinsville.
"It doesn't matter if she was fornicating up and down the street," her lawyer, Thomas Frasier said. "It doesn't give the church the right to stick their noses in."
III The Church's Response
A This brings us back to the Church at Thessalonica. How did Paul want the members of the church to respond and react to those in church office?
Paul called and calls for three things.
First, we are "to respect those who work hard among us." The word "respect" has the idea of knowing fully, of appreciating their true worth. Think of a precious stone.
Topic: ChurchThose in church office are like precious stones. It is only when members look at them closely that they come to appreciate their true worth and value for the church and kingdom of God.
Subtopic: Officers of
Title: The Value of Church Leaders
Before I left for Myanmar (or Burma) in November, 2000 Ruth was reminding me that her birth-stone is a ruby (you should know that Burma has the world's best rubies). By my suitcase she placed articles on rubies and what to look for when you buy one. I took the articles with me and read through them before going to the market. To determine the value of a ruby I must know it fully. I need to look at its color – the most valuable are a deep red. I need to know whether it is synthetic or natural. I need to know the size. I need to know whether there are any flaws or impurities in the stone.
B Second, Paul says we are to "hold them in the highest regard ..." What does this mean? To answer this, let me ask, how does a child react to a parent he or she has a high regard for? The child listens to the parent, obeys the parent, and considers the parent's wishes. In the same way, those within the church are to listen to, obey, and consider the wishes of those in church office.
Notice, this regard is to be shown "... because of their work." It is not the person that is important but the position. Consider, for a moment, how you would treat Bill Clinton if he was not president or Gray Davis if he was not governor. Would you pay any attention to them or listen if they were on the TV or radio? Probably not! It is the office, not the man, that we honor.
In the New Testament church honor is not given to people because of any qualities they may possess but only on the basis of the spiritual task to which they are called.
C Third, Paul says we are to do this in love. Respect and honor are to be shown not out of fear, not from an unwilling submission to the power of the office, but from love and gratitude for their service in the sake of the Gospel.
Listen again to what Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica – and through them – to us in Trinity. He says,
... respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. (13) Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
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