As we continue this week to Learn to Discern we will take a look at a well known passage of Scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22. In this passage we discover a quick listing of things that are expected and commanded of us as we live the Christian life. The context finds Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica, a church within a major and influential free city. This church was struggling as Paul had been evicted from the city (Acts 17:5-10) and was now separated from them. Further there were false teachers who were trying to mislead the church about the second coming of Christ, teaching that those believers in their midst who had died had not gone to heaven because one had to be alive when Jesus returned in order to be with Him! They were in much need of learning how to discern and know the truth.
In chapter 5 Paul sets the record straight about the second coming and as he closes the book he exhorts the congregation that they are to: “recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.”
He has encouraged them to love and honor the elders who shepherd them in the church. And as we see, the greatest way that the church can show gratitude and love for their pastors is to be at peace within the Body! Indeed, there is no greater gift that a congregation can give their pastors than to be at peace and to walk together in love and harmony.
And then Paul tells them how to be at peace. There are a few things they needed to be ready to do in order to fulfill this exhortation. Verses 14 and 15 set out Paul’s guidelines for maintaining peace in the church: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.”
He starts in verse 14 by telling them that they must be ready and able to warn the unruly. The term used for warn means literally to reprimand. This refers to a willingness to confront a brother or sister in the Lord! But there is no connotation of anger, hatred, or vengeance. This is giving a firm and loving reprimand to one who is “unruly.”
The term unruly has two common uses in the Greek language. The first usage denotes marching out of ranks. It is as if you were in a line of soldiers marching and you got out of step – you stumbled and fell out of ranks. Not only would you ruin the formation but you would likely trip up others behind or beside you and the result would look like Laurel and Hardy in the Army! Another usage refers to those who do not show up for work. Have you ever had that happen? A co-worker does not show up for work. It puts more work and stress on everyone else.
Here then we see that the first step to maintaining peace in the church is for the church to be willing to warn those who are out of ranks or who are not showing up for work! Reprimand them. Warn them. Lovingly guide them back into line. This of course is a help to them and to the church as a whole.
Secondly, we see that Paul tells the church to “comfort the fainthearted.” To comfort here means to “speak calming words” and the term fainthearted means literally “those who are discouraged.” It is an interesting word which at its root speaks about one who has a “small mind in matters of faith.” It is to be like the disciples when Jesus rebuked them for having only a little faith. To be discouraged is to be small minded when it comes to trusting God! And when that happens in the church we are to comfort the discouraged. To speak calming words to them.
What words would those be? We are to not let any corrupt communication proceed out of our mouths but only that which is good for the use of edification that it might minister grace to the hearers (Ephesians 4:29). This means simply that we are to speak God’s Word to them! If this is a failure of faith then they need more faith and stronger faith and we know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). So when one in our midst is discouraged we need to minister to them with the Word of God.
Then Paul tells us that the next step to maintaining peace is found in upholding the weak. To uphold here means “to support or to pay attention to” and the weak refers to “newborns.” These are new believers who need to be helped and discipled as they learn to feed themselves from the Word! They need attention and support just as any infant would.
Often we do pay attention to newborn Christians until they get plugged into a program or Sunday school class and then we lose track of them. Too often churches that report large numbers of converts cannot find those converts a year later! Why? Because they failed to uphold and support them. We must pay close attention to new believers. Guard them. Pray for them and with them. And teach them. Remember, no matter how old physically a new believer is, he is still an infant and in need of attention and help.
Remember too from our discussions about milk and solid food that there are those who should be mature teachers of the Word but who because of their lack of discernment are still infants – they still need the milk of the Word. These too must be supported and encouraged to grow up in the Lord.
As Paul continues in this list we see that we are to maintain peace in the church by being patient with all. The term for being patient can be literally translated to have a “long spirit.” It refers to making a large sacrifice, to suffering long, and to bearing an offense without striking back. And how true it is that in order to maintain peace within the body we must be patient with all!
I also love that the word all here means just that. ALL. We are to be patient with everyone. No one is exempt from our patience. Whatever they do, we are to be long suffering. We are to be calm, cool, and forgiving. If they sin against us 7 times, or 7 times 70 times, we are still to forgive them. How can this be possible? If we are truly and really loving them then we will do this – there is no maybe about it.
To truly love our fellow believers, the members of the Body of Christ with whom we fellowship, we must be willing to warn them, comfort them, support them, and be patient with them. Notice there is no mention of self here. True Christian living knows nothing of self – it is a life spent and poured out for Christ and His Bride!
Today, remember these simple rules for keeping the peace in the church:
1. Warn the unruly.
2. Comfort the fainthearted.
3. Uphold the weak.
4. Be patient with all.
That should be enough to keep us busy, shouldn’t it?