Disciples and Church Relationships
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
1st Thessalonians 5:12-15
12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. 15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
We are studying through 1st Thessalonians, and for the last three Sundays, we have examinined various aspects of discipleship. We talked about the cost of discipleship and the rewards of discipleship and the life of discipleship in general.
Pastoral Support and Care
In verses 12 and 13, Paul mentions a subject that seems a bit touchy, in today’s society. Many charlatans preach as “mercenaries,” seeing it as an easy job with a fat paycheck.
If the church were not already treating us well, I would feel uncomfortable teaching this passage, as a pastor. Some churches fail in this area: This church once failed in this area, about 15 years ago.
A “Close-to-Home” Example:
Pat James was the founding pastor, but he was poorly paid to begin with, and his pay was based on a percentage of the giving. His pay was also capped at a value they declared as a “housing allowance.” Other than that, he was on Social Security, just as I am.
But: he lived in Nehalem, an hour away by car; so, there were extra costs involved in just getting here. And, sadly, the congregational giving was pretty skimpy at that time. The church was about eight months behind on his support when he told me that he needed to address the money issue. But he was ashamed to do so. He felt as though he was “begging,” or “squeezing the congregation” for money. (And it was a shameful situation! It never should have happened!)
I told him I completely understood how he felt and that he did not have to preach that sermon. I told him to stay home, and that I would address the topic of pastoral support. As it turned out, he was so destitute by then, that he did not have money enough for gasoline to get here, anyway!
I taught on the responsibility of the flock (including myself) toward Pastoral care, and I asked rather sharply, “am I being too subtle?” (And I saw several people shaking their heads, “No!”) One person approached afterward, and asked, “Where is Pat today?”
I flatly told him the truth: “He doesn’t have gas money to get here!” The man replied, “This is not going to happen again!” He and another man drove to the coast that day, and put a large cash gift in Pat’s hands.
Church giving picked up for a while, as a result, but, sadly, it gradually tapered off again. That was disappointing: I thought they had actually learned something. As it turned out, they had! It just took a while to change the established pattern.
God’s Word Bearing Fruit
But since then, things have changed. The church caught up on Pat’s pay, and they continued his support until both he and his wife, Jan, passed away. Richard Banham and I continued the work. The church began supporting missions quite heavily, while, for seven years, both Richard Banham and I were self-supporting, so as not to burden the tiny church in any way. And the church was growing!
But then, in January 2020, my means of support (the job I had held for over 30 years) ceased to exist…and then Richard died. Ann and I kept serving, still attempting to support ourselves by other means, but with very slim results.
However, I did not have to approach the church, “asking” for support: they approached me, and quite firmly told me it was not ok for us to be without support. The church offered us a housing allowance, the same as Pat had received, and not only have they never failed to provide it: they have given us “cost of living” raises, each year.
I am not a “church employee:” I cannot be accused of “just being in it for the money,” because, for the first twenty years I taught here, it was without pay. But the church has responded to us in love and mutual care, and Ann and I are truly blessed.
I have never felt that Ann and I were being judged or treated poorly: quite the opposite. The church has consistently treated us well. That is why I can comfortably teach this passage, because I am confident that I will not be misunderstood.
But: It isn’t Just About Money
Notice that it says. “esteem then very highly in love for their work’s sake.” Yes, that includes financial support, or, in some cultures it might include bringing food to their family. In a farming culture, the Church elders will probably not have enough time to tend their own gardens, as they are spending their time feeding the flock, or preparing to do so. Perhaps their people will work their garden for them.
It also might be emotional support: many pastors suffer from self-doubt and discouragement. The most encouraging thing they can hear, is that someone genuinely got fed, and is applying what they learned. Do they always have to hear such “accolades?” No! But if they feel that they are just “preaching into the void,” so to speak, and having zero effect, it can be pretty discouraging.
Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet” because the people to whom he was sent consistently rebelled against the Word that God spoke through him…and very few believed his message. He wept and agonized over Judah, for the constant rebellion of the leaders and the people, and their vicious, unreasoning attacks against him, personally.
Responding to the Word
Hebrews 13:17 says, “ Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
If you actually learn from and follow the teaching you are given, that allows your leaders to report with Joy to the Chief Shepherd that the flock is thriving. Chuck and I, and all the other leaders here, are filled with joy to see the response of the people in this little assembly. Eighteen to twenty people are regularly showing up for Bible Study! That is a sign of real health, and it is a thrill, to see people feeding on the Word. They are asking questions, taking notes and using what they are learning, in their outreach to friends, and in finding victory in their walk with God.
Defending the Elders, but Holding them Accountable.
“Esteeming them highly in love” also includes defending the leaders against attack.
1st Timothy 5:19, 20 say that we are not to “hear” an accusation against an elder unless there are two or more witnesses there to hear the accusation. No gossip or backstabbing! But: if it turns out that there is sin involved, the elders involved are to be rebuked publicly, not hushing it up or “sweeping it under the rug.”
Peace among the Flock
Notice that peace among the flock is the next thing mentioned. Division, strife, and gossip are symptoms of spiritual disease: Such behaviors are not healthy! Paul encourages the believers to be at peace among themselves.
God judges the Flock when they mistreat one another.
7 And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.
18 Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?
19 And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.
20 Therefore thus saith the Lord God unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle.
21 Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad;
22 Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.
The verses just before this passage (v. 1-10) call for the shepherds to feed, protect, heal and comfort the flock. God judges unfaithful shepherds. But, when Christians behave in a manner that damages other believers, whether intentionally or simply through careless responses, it destroys the peace and unity that God has created. More importantly, it dishonors the Lord, personally. So, He brings judgment on the Flock.
Results of Failure to obey God
Years ago, two men asked me why, when visitors came to their church, they never stayed long, but soon disappeared, never to return. I knew nothing about their church, so I replied in the form of an analogy:
I said, “If young children invite their friends over for dinner, and, after coming once or twice, they no longer will come, it usually is due to one of three things:
- There was no food on the table,
- Older children were mistreating them, or
- Mom and Dad were fighting.”
They looked at each other for a moment, and then replied, “Two, out of three!” (I still knew nothing of their church, but obviously something was seriously wrong.)
We are called to peace!
And in Ezekiel 34:1-10, the shepherds were given a list of seven definite responsibilities toward the flock. They are to:
- Feed the Flock,
- Strengthen the Diseased.
- Heal the Sick,
- Bind up the Broken,
- Bring back those who have been driven away,
- Seek the Lost, and
- Defend the Flock against Predators.
If the shepherds are collectively doing their jobs, in unity, and if the flock is behaving rightly before the Lord, then we can expect to have His blessing. If not, then, to whatever degree we are disregarding God’s Word, we can expect to see His blessing diminished. That is simply the truth.
Paul listed six concepts for Christian behavior: (v.14, 15)
He exhorted us to:
- Warn them that are unruly,
- Comfort the feebleminded, (the “faint-hearted”—not a reference to “dementia”)
- Support the weak,
- Be patient toward all men. (Greek does not include the word “men:” it says “all.”)
- See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but consistently
- Follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
Warn the Unruly:
Galatians 6:1 tells us how to restore one another to fellowship, and warns us that our motive has to be restoration…never condemnation or harsh criticism. This is a matter of the “self-healing” of the church’s small injuries or misalignments. (Think, “over-the-counter” as opposed to “prescription.” This is to happen between all believers. It does not require an elder stepping in.
Comfort (encourage, or console) the Faint-hearted
Many believers (especially new believers) may feel quite unsure about their position in Christ, let alone their condition as a disciple. The result may be that they very timid about the spiritual battles they face. Until they understand that the war was won at the Cross, and that they are secure forever in Christ, and that they are truly born again as the genuine children of God, (not adopted like a stray dog,) they will need our encouragement and comfort.
Support the Weak
Romans 14:1-7 and Romans 15:1 spell out who the “weak” believers are: and God lays upon the stronger believers the responsibility to support (not to judge) the weaker brethren.
Be Patient toward All
We all have our idiosyncrasies, and we are all exhorted to be patient with one another, just as we are also commanded in Ephesians 4:2 to forbear one another (put up with one another) in Love.
Don’t take Vengeance!
Don’t give others a “taste of their own medicine.” Don’t “render evil for evil.”
Follow that which is Good, toward believers and unbelievers.
This has to be an ongoing, day-by-day, lifestyle choice. It is an integral part of our collective testimony as believers. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”
If we can consistently apply all of the above, we will continue to enjoy good health as a church.
Lord Jesus, draw us into a closer walk with You, and alert us to the changes you want in each of our lives. Help us to grow strong as Your disciples.