Are you as a Christian under the authority of leadership in a local church? Have you committed yourself to a local gathering of God’s people?
As Paul pens this next paragraph of his first letter to the Thessalonians he addresses the entire congregation. They have a relationship with their leaders and with the various types of individuals found within the congregation. They are not left to follow their own promptings, but guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul clearly instructs them.
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who word hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.”
Let’s pause there. Genuine spiritual leaders within the congregation work hard in the variety of duties allotted to them by the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. They have authority–they are ‘over you in the Lord,’ and part of their duty is admonishment. This may come through preaching, teaching, perhaps a personal conversation where the spiritual condition of the sheep mandates the action of these undershepherds.
The ‘sheep’ are to show respect. This is not a blind submission, as cult leaders demand, but a willing engagement to the correct use of authority. We are called to accept correction, acknowledge authority, and actively respond to the admonishment that is publicly or privately given.
In a world where everyone’s ‘opinion’ is seen as equally valued, there is a growing disrespect for authority. Sheep, charting their own pathways, love to wander. They easily go astray and then require additional ‘shepherding’ by those charged with their care. Why not heed the earlier admonishment? Why not line up with God’s planned biblical authority?
“Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.”
Do you love your leaders? Do you speak respectfully of them and pray for them as they work with you and with others? Although this group had only been assembled for a few months, Paul knew that some of the men had been called to a leadership work. Perhaps, following the pattern of Acts 13, they had been set apart by the Holy Spirit for the work to which He had called them. He doesn’t detail the work, but rather demands a loving regard by those who benefited from their labours.
The church includes both leaders and the congregants, the shepherds and the sheep. Within the flock there were those who were idle, timid, weak, even some who were tempted to be revengeful. Paul lays out Spirit-led instruction for dealing with all of these sectors of the congregation. (I’ve highlighted in red the various groups to whom he addresses action.)
“Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”
This part of the paragraph is for the entire congregation. The leaders have their duties, so do those who are led. How Christians ‘get along’ matters. Assessments must be made of the conduct of each other. Yes, we are called to ‘judge’ not in a self-righteous way (prohibited by Matthew 7 where Jesus warns about the ‘log’ in one’s own eye), but by observing the lifestyle conduct and then determining the correct response.
Some need warnings, others encouragement. Some need help, all need patience. Revenge is not acceptable, kindness is always in season.
All of this will take the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Our first and more ‘natural’ response needs to be replaced by the Spirit-directed godly response. Collectively we are called to serve Christ and to represent him within the community where we are blessed to live. A watching world notes such love where broken lives are restored, wanderers are loved enough to be pursued and there becomes a grace-filled community within the village, the town, the city where God has called his people to live.
Let’s plead with God to make us a grace-saturated community, part of the new ‘kingdom’ Christ came to establish. Well might we may ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ It all reflects God’s call to His children to be ‘under authority.’