Do You Get Along with Others?

Explore the Bible Series

February 1, 2009


Background Passage:  I Thessalonians 5:12-28

Lesson Passage: I Thessalonians 5:12-28




During seminary years, I studied preaching under a splendid Christian gentleman named Dr. Jesse Northcutt.  This dear man taught me a great deal about public communication, and much of what I have practiced in the pulpit I learned from Dr. Northcutt.  Our classroom attention often focused on practical application of the sermon text.


The good professor impressed on his students the importance of properly, compassionately applying the text to the everyday experience of their hearers.  Sermons, he reminded us, were not merely theological addresses, nor were they seminary lectures on a particular passage of scripture.  The Bible does not exist as a platform for preachers to display their theological expertise.  Rather, sermons should help God’s people understand and live the message of the Bible.  I still value the lessons I learned in Dr. Northcutt’s class, but this notion of practicality did not originate with my esteemed seminary professor.


In most of his New Testament epistles, the Apostle Paul devoted considerable care to helping believers understand the implications that sound doctrine has on Christian conduct.  Indeed, our lesson passage evidences Paul’s profound concern for the practical godliness of the Thessalonian Christians, and modern readers are wise to heed the apostle’s closing words to his friends. 


Another professor under whom I studied, Dr. Fred White, told his Greek students to make sure their Bibles were “bound in shoe leather.”  By this, of course, he meant that God’s people must know the experiential power of the gospel.  May this lesson outline help, in some small way, all of you to flesh out the practical implications of all we have learned from our study of I Thessalonians. 



Lesson Outline:


I.                   Paul’s Exhortations (vv 12-22): Paul earnestly admonished the Thessalonian church to respect their leaders.  If our chronology is correct, these folks had only followed the Lord for a short time (a few months), but church leaders had already emerged.  The apostle does not, in this text, refer to them as elders, but clearly he had some such organization in mind.  Perhaps the office of pastor or elder had not fully evolved in this very early period of church history (just twenty or so years after the death and resurrection of Jesus).  Whatever the case, Paul asked his readers to respect (this verb has the sense of taking note of and hearing these men) their leaders.  Church members may do great damage when they refuse to listen to their leaders, and Paul may have heard distressing reports about some people refusing to follow the leadership of the elders.

A.    The three-fold responsibility of church leaders (v. 12)

1.      labor: This participle denotes strenuous toil.  Pastoral work is not easy.  It demands a great deal from those who undertake such responsibility.  Perhaps no other work demands so much of its practitioners. Many church members do not understand the difficulties of pastoral work, and they should take time to consider the nature and hardship of the work. This labor includes preaching and teaching, pastoral care, and church leadership.

2.      oversight: This means “to stand before” or to “exercise spiritual authority.”  Church leaders must, in gentle and loving ways, genuinely lead the congregation.  It is disastrous for unauthorized persons to marshal power through gossip, innuendo, or ecclesiastical “power-plays.”  Again, it appears that some of the Thessalonians may have undermined the authority of their leaders, and Paul gave no quarter to this kind of unseemly rebellion.

3.      admonition: This word denotes “correction”, ‘counsel”, or “warning.”  Some of he Thessalonians refused to hear the counsel of their leaders.  When confronted, these dissenters may have rejected the correction.

B.     The believer’s two-fold responsibility to church leaders (v. 13): Churches often have a keen awareness of the pastor’s responsibility, but may easily forget their responsibility to the Lord’s servant.

1.      “esteem them very highly in love”: Respect and love must characterize the church’s attitude toward its leaders. Leon Morris wrote, “Leaders can never do their best work when they are subject to carping criticism from those who should be their followers.”  Dear reader, I can speak to this with some authority.  I have been in a pastor’s family my entire life, and most church members, I have observed, prove most encouraging to their leaders.  However, in most congregations, some persons serve as a constant source of heartache and trial for their pastor, thus doing great harm to the Lord’s servant and work.  Pastoral labors are difficult under any circumstances.  They bear the spiritual weight of everyone under their spiritual care.  Most godly men bear that responsibility willingly and joyfully . Others, in contrast, add a greater and unnecessary burden to their leaders.  When your pastor thinks of you, does he do so with joy or heartbreak?

2.      ‘be at peace among yourselves”: This admonition may indicate some disagreements among church leaders, but it may reflect a general unrest in the congregation.  Whatever the case, Paul admonished his readers to seek peace.  The church’s battles should focus on the hardships of serving Christ in a hostile world, not on intramural debates among the Lord’s people. 


II.                Four Admonitions for Church Leaders (v. 14): It seems that Paul has the leaders in mind with these four imperatives, though, of course, these ideas constrain all believers.

A.    “admonish the idlers”: The idea points toward those who, taking advantage of the church’s generosity, are lazy.  The term came from the Roman military and described those who got out of line and did not fulfill their duties. 

B.     “encourage the faint-hearted”: “Feeble minded” (AV) doesn’t get at this Greek noun very well.  The word refers to those who may lack courage, especially in the face of trying circumstances.  Paul admonishes the leaders to infuse with courage those who cringe in the face of threatening circumstances.

C.     “help the weak”: Paul used a powerful verb, translated “help.”  This word denotes holding on to someone, and it reflects Paul’s conviction that leaders should assure suffering saints that they do not face their trials alone.

D.    “be patient with them all”: Morris points out that this quality is the opposite of “short-tempered.” 


III.             Admonitions for the Church (vv. 15-22)

A.    “See to it that none of you repay evil for evil”: Personal vengeance must not characterize Christian conduct.  The Lord Jesus commanded his disciples to “turn the other cheek” and “go the second mile.” 

B.     “seek to do good”: Meet evil with good. This command, of course, does not foster indulgence of sinful behavior; rather, it ensures that Christians always seek to follow the good and right course.

C.     “rejoice always”: Paul knew the sting the sting of suffering, but he had learned that adversity cannot stifle genuine joy.  He did not call the Thessalonians to delusional denial of their sufferings for the faith, but he reminded them that Christian joy transcends the hardships of life.  Joy, by the way, is more than an emotional state. It is a duty that Paul enjoined on his readers.

D.    pray constantly”: This text does not constrain believers to abandon their mundane responsibilities to engage in constant prayer (that would fly in the face of other directions he gave), but he did exhort his readers to consistent spirit of communion with and submission to God.

E.     “give thanks in all circumstances”: Note that the apostle did not encourage the Thessalonians to thank God for all circumstances, but he did ask them to express gratitude in all situations.

F.      “do not quench the Spirit”: The imagery of fire well reflects the work of the Holy Spirit, as on the Day of Pentecost. The verb tense denotes that this quenching was already taking place, and the Thessalonians were to desist from this destructive behavior.  Perhaps we should understand this command as related to other concerns Paul raised in this epistle: sexual misconduct, idleness, vengeance, etc.

G.    “do no despise prophecying”: Prophecy involved direct communication, through a human instrument, of the mind of God.  We know that prophets still appeared during the infancy of the church, and Paul warned his readers about the danger of failing to hear these divine messengers.

H.    “test everything”: On the other hand, Paul did not want to foster naïve gullibility, either.  The Thessalonians had to “assay” (rightly discern the value) things they heard.

I.       “hold fast to what is good”: Having assessed the value of prophecy, they must hold fast to those things that rang true.

J.       “abstain from every form of evil”: Evil surfaces in many forms, and believers must abstain from all forms of ungodliness.


IV.             Conclusion of the Epistle (vv. 23-28): As he concluded this letter, Paul, as was his practice, expressed warm hopes for his friends.

A.    Paul’s benediction (v. 23): The apostle prayed that the God of peace might sanctify the Thessalonians and preserve them until the return of Jesus.  He also reminded his readers of the Lord’s faithfulness.

B.     Final exhortations (vv. 24-27)

1.      “pray for us”: Paul coveted the prayers of his friends.

2.      “greet the brethren with a holy kiss”: People in the ancient Middle East, as today, often greeted one another with a kiss. Social inferiors would kiss their masters on the hand, and peers would kiss the cheek.  Usually, men, however, did not welcome women in this manner.

3.      “read this letter to al the brethren”: Paul ensured that this letter would fin a wide circulation; that is, he did not intend that only a handful of church leaders read the epistle  He called for a public reading of his thoughts.

C.     Salutation (v. 28): Finally, Paul pronounced a blessing of Christ’s peace on his beloved friends.