Friday, November 20, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

V12-15 – 12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Vincent Cheung opens his commentary on this passage by saying, “V12-15 provide instructions that are necessary to maintain the strength of a congregation’s internal stability as well as its testimony before the world. Paul here refers to the church leaders, the believers, and ‘everyone else.’” He asks the Thessalonian brothers to “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.” Paul must have set up a church leadership hierarchy during his brief stay in Thessalonica, such that he probably refers here to elders and other leaders. Perhaps Jason and Aristarchus may have been in view. They are to be respected, loved, since they “work hard,” and they are to be held “in the highest regard in love because of their work.” Calvin notes, “This work is the edification of the Church, the everlasting salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and, in fine, the kingdom of God and Christ. The excellence and dignity of this work are inestimable: hence those whom God makes ministers in connection with so great a matter, ought to be held by us in great esteem.”

In v13b, Paul says to “live in peace with each other.” He most certainly has in mind Christian unity here, especially between pastors and laymen. Cheung says, “Believers consist of individuals from different nations, races, genders, and social, financial, and educational backgrounds. When they come together, these differences are not obliterated. When unbelievers are able to maintain unity among themselves, it is because they celebrate their differences and practice tolerance. The basis for this unity is common humanity. In contrast, when believers come together in unity, they practice reconciliation. The basis for this true unity is common faith in Christ… Our peace is not one that tolerates incompatible principles and practices, but it is one that confronts them and demands their conformity to Christ. Paul tells his converts to ‘warn those who are idle.’ We are to disapprove, entreat, reprimand, and even threaten those who do wrong. The basis for this is not the inherent superiority, the strong opinion, or even the mere assertiveness of some believers over others, but it is the authority of Christ, to whom all are accountable. On this same basis, we are to ‘encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.’”

V14 and following refer to the entire congregation, not just the leadership. We know from this passage (and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7,11) that idleness was a problem in Thessalonica. It is thought that because these Christians thought Christ’s return to be imminent, they stopped working. Paul’s instruction is to sharply reprove (“warn”) them. For the timid, Paul commands encouragement; the weak need help, Paul says; and all of the congregation members need patience.

There are two final commands in v15 – not to seek revenge and to show kindness. Christians ought to seek justice, but not personal retaliation. Elsewhere, Paul quotes the Lord as saying, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19-21; Hebrews 10:30). And Paul will elaborate on the justice of God’s revenge – He is the avenger – in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.

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