Author: Ron Graham
In 1 Thessalonians 5:11-24, there is a clear code of conduct that ensures a healthy happy church life for disciples of Christ who band together in any locality.
There is nothing difficult or complicated about these seven modes of behaviour. If ever there is "trouble" in the church, it can usually be traced to a failure to put one or more of these principles into practice.
All seven of these "rules" are basically dealing with attitudes. Most of the intractable problems in the church or Christian household are attitude problems, and just about any attitude problem is covered by the seven points above.
Some of these will be your strengths, and some will be your weaknesses. Make it your business to maintain your strong points, and strengthen those points in which you are weak.
Of course you cannot do this in your own strength. You can see solutions, and you can make resolutions, but you need God's help to keep them. The last two verses of our reading show that God is the one who "will do" what you lack, and his faithfulness will replace your unfaithfulness. Only when you are wholly sanctified by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as every Christian is able to be, can you maintain these lovely and godly attitudes and thus transform your life.
Paul says, "Encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are already doing." Some translators use the word "comfort" instead of encourage. This is the Greek word parakaleo, which is related to the nouns parakleesis and parakleetos, the latter being applied to Christ and the Holy Spirit as our helpers and advocates (John 14:26, 1John 2:1).
There are two kinds of encouragement we are to offer each other. One is to provoke and stir up (Hebrews 10:24), the other is to console and comfort (Hebrews 10:25). It is the latter that Paul has in mind in 1Thessalonians 5:11, and it is important for us to know when this kind of encouragement is needed as against the other kind. There are times when disciples need a pat on the shoulder and a gentle, sympathetic word of comfort. Instead some well-meaning person will try to Revelation them up with a "pull yourself together and get on with it" kind of speech. That kind of encouragement, when misapplied, can in fact be discouragement, so let us be careful about this.
Paul requests that we show a particular attitude toward the teachers in the church. "Appreciate those who diligently labour among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction. Esteem them very highly in love because of their work."
One of the common problems in the churches is that those who honestly and sacrificially give of themselves to the Lord’s work are taken for granted. Sometimes they are even mistreated by a small element in the church while the rest look the other way. A true disciple of Christ will always show love, respect, and gratitude to those who instruct them in the word. In this way there is mutual support and a building up of one another.
Next Paul says simply, "Live in peace with one another." This involves a number of things which all good disciples make part of their nature: unselfishness, fairness, tolerance, empathy, consideration, truthfulness, forgiveness, maturity, etc. Most of us know what is required to live in peace, and we can do these things when we choose.
The people we choose to live in peace with are often harder to get on with than those we refuse to live in peace with. Yet because we are kind in our judgment of those we like, we overlook their faults. Thus we have a double standard, one for the people we like, and another for the people we don’t like. It goes something like this...
|The person you don’t like is...||Whereas the person you like is...|
|nasty and irritable||under a lot of stress|
|bossy and a control freak||strong and a born leader|
|selfish, in his own little world||dedicated to his work|
|money hungry and materialistic||blessed with a nose for business|
|lazy and hedonistic||knows how to enjoy life|
|an arrogant know-it-all||intelligent and well informed|
|a wimp and a sook||sensitive and very caring|
|rude and unsociable||one who doesn’t suffer fools gladly|
|never has time for anyone||extremely well organized|
|hard on his kids and the dog||a good disciplinarian|
...And so the list could go on. We chuckle at this, but showing partiality in this way is one of the commonest causes of unrest and disunity between people, and a good disciple will square up this kind of crookedness in his thinking.
"Admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone." Making a proper judgment of a person’s "problem" we can then make an appropriate response. Is a person wilfully disobedient and rebellious, or are they discouraged in battle, or under contrary influences that are hard for them to resist? When we understand their situation correctly we know how to approach the problem (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6).
Paul says, "Seek after what is good for one another." This is contrasted with the opposite attitude, repaying one another with evil for evil. The payback system is common in relationships. Under that system, people do the right thing by others because they know if they do the wrong thing there will be payback and revenge. How much better it is to do and seek good for others as a first principle, rather than just doing favours as insurance against trouble.
Paul often uses many words to elaborate upon a point he is making. But here he is succinct."Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks." This kind of attitude and action is God’s will for those who are in Christ. It is a positive way of living. Paul says a similar thing in Philippians (Philippians 4:4-7).
""We should neither discourage people from expressing what they believe to be God's word, nor on the other hand accept as gospel everything they say without a test. Paul says, "but examine everything carefully...". But we should also apply what we find to be true. Paul tells us to hold fast to what is good, and get well away from what is wrong in any shape or form (Greek eidos from eideo to see). We should apply God’s word conservatively, taking account of how things look to others as well as how things are in truth. In this way we will follow a good discipline with the maximum influence for good.