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Leadership #10 - 1 Thessalonians 5

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

Teaching Moments

1. Chapter 5:12 begins a series of general exhortation. It is an exhortation to the whole church with 5:12-13 regarding a particular set of leaders and 5:14-15 more generally the inter-congregational relations
within the church (mutuality). Notice how the beginnings of verses 12 and 14 are similar. The structure indicates that they are addressing the same group but about two different items. The first regarding leaders, and the second regarding mutual relationships within the church.

2. It is unfortunate that Paul does not specifically identify the group he is talking about in verse 12. It would have erased all doubt if he had just said "elders" or "evangelists" or something like that. But, alas, he does not. Let's first try to understand what the text calls for and then perhaps we can identify the group about which he is speaking.

3. There are three participles in verse 12, all governed by a single article: "the ones [plural] who labor...rule...admonish..." The singular article seems to indicate that Paul is thinking about a particular, identifiable group. We can at least say, "leaders," in the church. Each of these verbs identify a function for this group.

   a. They "work hard" or labor which indicates a strenuous effort to the point of weariness. It is not a passive activity, but one that engages the energies of the leader.

   b. They "rule" or "are over you" is a more difficult verb. It may indicate either the exercise of leadership or direction (as in 1 Tim. 3:4,5,12; 5:17) or of care and assistance (as in Romans 12:8; 16:2). I don't think they are simply financial patrons because they also "work hard among you" and "admonish". Consequently, it is probably the function of direction, even "ruling." It has the ideas of leading, caring for, and protecting. "In the Lord" reflects a kind of spiritual authority invested in these leaders.

   c. They "admonish" which includes the idea of instruction in correct behavior and belief. This reflects a teaching role in the body.

4. Who are these people? Elders, evangelists, both? One function is certainly used to describe the function of elders in 1 Timothy 5:17 (rules well). I think we can understand this text to refer to elders at the very least. But perhaps they are not called "elders" here because Paul has something more in mind as well, perhaps inclusive of evangelists or his own fellow-workers. I think we can say that this at least includes elders. We will study evangelists at another point in our study.

5. What is the congregation's responsibility toward them. Two things are identified. In Greek it is one sentence. We are to respect and esteem leaders in love for their work's sake. This recognition and esteem should result in "peace" within the church. There is the potential for conflict between leaders and followers, but peace goal.

   a. To "know" (recognize or respect) the leaders. Perhaps it is best to think in terms of recognizing their responsibilities and gifts. This reflects a relationship with the leaders. Thus, the text says to know "those who labor among you"--it is not an absentee leadership.

   b. To "hold them in highest respect in love" involves the use of an emphatic term. These are leaders are to be held in the highest esteem or the highest possible regard.

   c. "Their work" in v. 13 is identified by the verbs in v. 12. The church must recognize and esteem these leaders because of the nature of their work. Their function is important for the body and the body must recognize them. It is not their power that evokes this response, but their work.

6. Verses 14-15 address how the congregation treats each other. Notice that one of the things we are to do for each other is also one of the functions of the leaders: to warn or admonish. The verb "warn" in verse 14 is the same as the verb in verse 12 for "admonish." The leaders do not have an exclusive function, but a leading function. The church is to have a mutual concern for each other's spiritual health, particularly in this context for those who are idle. The idle or undisciplined are the willfully irresponsible who neglect their responsibilities.

7. The list of mutual responsibilities is to the point: (1) warn the idle; (2) encourage the timid [the discouraged, the beaten down, the faintheartd]; (3) help the weak [spiritually, physically or financially]; (4) be patient [restrain from anger...suffer long with a person] with everyone.

8. Verse 15 speaks to a particular problem in this community; or a potentially volatile one given the situation of the Thessalonian church. Retribution was a temptation in a persectuted church, toward each other perhaps, but probably primarily for those outside...the persecutors. Be kind to everyone, not just to each other. We do not seek vengeance; God will pay back in his own time (cf. 2 Thess. 1:6-10).

Discussion Questions

1. In verse 12, what are the functions of this group of leaders in the church?

   a. What do you think is the practical meaning of "work hard" here? What images does that conjure up in your mind?

   b. What does is mean to say that these group of leaders is "among you"? What is the significance of saying "among you."?

   c. What is the practical meaning of "who are over you in the Lord"? What image does that conjure up in your mind? Some translations say "rule". What does that mean?

   d. What is the significance of saying "in the Lord" in this connection? Does this imply some kind of spiritual authority or a particular sphere in which these leaders care for the church?

   e. What is the practical meaning of "admonish"? What kinds of settings or contexts does Paul perhaps have in mind? How would you see a group of leaders "admonishing" a church?

   f. How does our preconceived notions of what an eldership does or doesn't do affect the way we understand the meaning of these terms?

2. In verses 12 and 13, what are the responsibilities of the church regarding these leaders?

   a. Literally verse 13 tell us to "know" our leaders. Some translate "respect". What do you think the significance of this is?

   b. How does a congregation come to "know" their leaders? What kind of relationship is this describing?

   c. What is the practical meaning of "hold in high esteem or regard"? What does that look like in a local congregation?

   d. Why the exhortation to peace? How can that be a problem in leadership/membership relationships?

3. In verses 14-15, what is the responsibility of the membership to each other?

   a. Can anyone give an example of where they have seen any one of these particular instructions at work in a church? [for example, where the church helped the weak, or where a person who was depressed was encouraged, etc.].

   b. What do these verses communicate about the nature of Christian community?

   c. What attitudes underlie Paul's instructions here? What impressions of the Christian life do these commands give you?

   d. How can we encourage these attitudes in the Cordova Community Church? What practical things can we do to shape this community into the kind of one that Paul expects here?

4. What would you say to the members of the church about Cordova's leaders? What exhortation would you give the flock about their relationship to the elders in the light of what Paul says here? Give a contemporary exhortation for this church.

5. What would you say to the members of Cordova church about their relationship with each other? What exhortation would you give the flock about their mutual relationships in the light of what Paul says here? Give a contemporary exhortation for this church.


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