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Thessalonians 5 v 12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over

When a preacher follows a series of sermons consecutively verse by verse there are certain issues that come up that he is forced to address. He cannot skip over certain verses because he finds them hard, or because he doesn’t feel able or is reluctant to expound God’s Holy Word on a particular subject. If a doctrinal problem or a thorny ethical or spiritual topic comes up then we are together obliged to approach God’s Word as His word to us at any given time.

This morning I have a difficulty. It is not a difficulty with Holy Scripture – because 2 Timothy 3 v 16 – 17 tells us

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

My difficulty is the subject material of the verses before us in 1 Thessalonians 5 v 12 – 13 and I wish that someone else was preaching this message this morning.

The Sovereign Lord God has called me to preach to you about how you are to treat me as your Pastor – this is what I may find difficult! I need your prayers to preach the truth in love – and I need your understanding to hear God’s inspired word, proclaimed by His servant, to God’s people here this morning.

Furthermore if you listen to God’s word about this practical area of church life as it would apply to how we relate to any elder in any Bible Believing Church – then the focus can shift from me your elder – to the instructions to us about any man of God who is called to eldership. Then you will be able to come to reflect and pray over this mornings sermon – and then apply it prayerfully yourselves.

I trust that we can then study the scripture this morning in an objective way as the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, speaks to us through His word.

Verse 12 of 1 Thessalonians 5 begins a new section – indeed it is the final section of the letter stretching through to the last verse, v 28.

12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. 15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. 16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. 25 Brethren, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

This whole section is about


and is of a really practical nature. This is not merely a tailpiece – a set of thoughts and words that Paul uses to round off his letter to these beloved Christians in Macedonia. He has not picked out a set of things to say at random. There is a unifying sense in these verses which contain many aspects of church life and what it means to be a local Body of the Church of Christ.

In these final verses there are three sections.

1. How Pastors and people ought to relate to one another – or The Attitude of members to the Church’s elders. Verses 12 – 13.

2. How members in the church should relate to one another – or the attitude of members to each other. Verses 14 – 15.

3. How the Word of God governs the Church’s worship of God – or the attitude of members to Corporate worship. Verses 16 – 28.

From these sections we can see that there is teaching and instruction for all of us of a practical nature. Even if we have been Christians for a long time we should ever be learning from the Bible what it means to be a church. If a church is functioning as it should, then every member will be playing a part. It is a fatal error to think that just to have or to appoint an elder/minister/pastor – what ever he is called – absolves the membership at large of any responsibility for the success or failure of that fellowship to be the kind of church that the Lord would have it to be. So Paul divides his final comments into these three sections to ensure first of all that the new Church at Thessalonica were made aware of their responsibilities; and secondly that every believer in Churches following those New Testament pioneering days, would also know their responsibilities – including us here this morning.

So let us approach verse 12 – 13 this morning –

1. How Pastors and people ought to relate to one another – or The Attitude of members to the Church’s elders. Verses 12 – 13.

12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

Before we get into the text some introductory thoughts about elders.

Churches cannot be maintained without leaders.

Wherever he went on his pioneering missionary journeys Paul ensured that any viable church that was planted was not left without leadership. He was careful that suitably qualified men were ordained as elders in each congregation. Acts 14 tells us this –

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Paul the missionary knew that churches need leaders. He had functioned as a leader in a plurality of elders in the church at Antioch. He and Barnabas were separated for the work of church planting in the first missionary journey – but there were still 3 elders left behind to pastor the church at Antioch.

Down its 2000 year history the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has wavered unsteadily between two extremes of what have been called ‘clericalism’ and ‘anti clericalism’. Both extremes are unbiblical. What are they?

Clericalism is a situation in which the elders and pastors keep the reins of power in their own hands. They monopolise all pastoral leadership, they do all the preaching and ministry, and are put on a pedestal so to speak. They are treated with deference to an exaggerated extent while the so called ‘laity’ are sat upon. Able men and women in the congregation are excluded from exercising their appropriate, Bible directed, God given ministries. And all the ordinary church member is needed for is to fill the pews and contribute in the offering! This is clericalism and it is unbiblical and extreme.

At the other end of the spectrum of error is a reaction to clericalism – called anticlericalism. Those who hold to this position look at their Bibles and identify Paul’s model of the body of Christ in which every member of the local church, like every member of the human body, has a particular and distinctive function. There is nothing wrong with this except that some who hold this view come to the conclusion that clergy, full time, paid or otherwise, in any shape or form, are redundant and are not needed. In this view everyone is a minister, although in some anticlerical circles only every man is a minister. Those who hold this view appear to be members of a group who could be called “The society for the abolition of ministers.”

While on the one hand this group is to be applauded for seeking to establish Paul’s pattern for the church; yet they ignore totally the design of the Lord Jesus Christ the chief Shepherd, that He has delegated to undershepherds or Pastors the privileged oversight of the flock which he purchased with His own blood. How easy it is to sometimes throw out the baby with the bathwater!

The Biblical truth is this.

Ephesians 4 v 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

There is a work of ministry, a work of service for all the saints with the express intention that the body of Christ be built up – edified – “edify one another” as we found last week in verse 11.

On top of this there is Christ’s direction that the church be led by elders. Paul, writing by the inspiration of the Lord Jesus Christ, says in Titus 1 v 5

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

And James under the same inspiration directs believers to the church elders –

James 5 v 14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

Let us this morning notice that we are to find God’s word in between the two extremes of clericalism and anti clericalism. And if any of us have come from a different church background that held to either of these extremes let us desire this – to be fully persuaded that a Biblical pattern is clear in scripture and we may have to abandon some of our dearly held views and attitudes. With regard to Christ’s teaching about Pastors and elders and their rightful place and function in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul has much to say in the New Testament. Often Paul identifies elders by their activities rather than by giving them names. But this does not mean that they did not have a name or title. In the Acts 14 passage read a moment ago the word PRESBUTEROI appears translated elders. But as we shall see shortly in Acts 20 they are called EPISKOPOI variously translated pastors, overseers and bishops. But it is not our brief from this portion of scripture in 1 Thessalonians 5 to prove the existence of elders – rather we must concentrate on our responsibility to submit to God’s appointed leaders.

He describes them in verse 12.

The Church at Thessalonica had 2 elders – at least. We find their names recorded in

Acts 20 v 4 And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.


Acts 27 v 1 And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band. 2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.

Secundus and Aristarchus had the burden of leadership at Thessalonica. Timothy must have brought some news to Paul that they were having somewhat of a hard time leading the church – particularly with some members who refused to work for their living. We have seen this from the clues given in chapter 4

11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; 12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing;

And from what he will say in verse 14 of this chapter –

14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

There may also have been other problems in the church which can only be deduced.

However Paul takes the opportunity to speak to the church members –

12 And we beseech you, brethren,

To beseech is to ask. Brethren here does not exclude the sisters – ADELPHOI refers to male and female believers here. There are no less than 7 times that the apostle uses BRETHREN in this chapter – you will find them here in v 1, 4, 12, 14, 25, 26 and 27. It is an affectionate term – as is more fully expressed at the beginning of the letter in Chapter 1

3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; 4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

Brethren beloved – loved by God, saved by God, joined together by God in brotherly and sisterly love together in the local church. How wonderful it is when any church, any assembly of believers are able to enjoy love between each other which is not just stated but practised as well.

Paul was keen to maintain this. And to this end he encourages the brothers and sisters to do 4 things with relation to their elders –

1. KNOW those who work hard amongst you.

2. RECOGNISE that your leaders are OVER you in the Lord.

3. SUBMIT to those leaders who teach and admonish you.

4. HOLD your leaders in the highest regard – in love.

Someone has put it even more succinctly –

1. Good elders work hard. 2. Good elders have authority. 3. Good elders are not spineless. 4. Good elders deserve recognition, affection, appreciation and loyalty.

Let us think about these 4 points one at a time.

1. KNOW those who work hard amongst you.

to know them which labour among you,

This word to know is a common word in the Greek. One of its meanings, as here, is to acknowledge, to respect and appreciate true worth. There is a big implication in Paul’s careful language here – that the members at Thessalonica had not realised, as they should have, the rightful position and worth of their elders. They are therefore called upon to KNOW them, respect them better. Some Christian churches treat their elders very badly. I am glad and thankful to say that this church is not one of them.

I was reading recently a booklet that made observations about such churches where it seems that their pastors cannot do anything right.

If the pastor is young they say that he lacks experience; If his hair is grey, he’s too old for the young people.

If he has five or six children he has too many. If he has none he is setting a bad example.

If he preaches from notes his preaching is dry. If his sermons are extemporary then he is not deep.

If he uses too many illustrations he neglects the Bible; If he doesn’t use enough stories he isn’t clear.

If he preaches the truth he is offensive. If he doesn’t preach the truth he is a hypocrite.

If he fails to please everybody he is likely to hurt the church and should leave. If he does please everybody he has no convictions.

If he drives an old car he shames the congregation. If he has a new car he is setting his affection on earthly things.

If he preaches all the time then the people get tired of hearing one man; If he invites guest preachers, he is shirking his responsibilities.

Now these may be exaggerations – but they do illustrate the possibility of an attitude towards the ministry, the eldership, which needs to be corrected. This Paul does here

to know them, respect them, which labour among you,

A man may be doing his best as a faithful shepherd and may be experiencing the Lord’s blessing on his ministry; he may even have the approval of the congregation as a whole – and yet there always seems to be some person, or group, who will find fault, tear him apart, oppose him by doing things behind his back and scatter seeds of discord by undermining his actions and leadership. Paul therefore asks the brethren, the members to

know them which labour among you,

The word labour in this phrase usually refers to physical toil – hard and exacting work which leads to exhaustion. Do elders and pastors work this hard? Many think that pastors earn a full week’s pay for one days work! Yet the people of God have the right to expect that those whom they trust with a position of responsibility and leadership work diligently. Good elders work hard.

2. RECOGNISE that your leaders are OVER you in the Lord.

and are over you in the Lord,

Many people cringe when they get to this phrase. Many are the free spirits who say that no one is going to tell me what to do – no one is over me – I am under the Lord – or something similarly trite.

This would be an understandable attitude IF the elders in a church committed the crime pointed out by Peter in 1 Peter 5

1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

The crime is verse 3 – elders are not to lord it over others like the Gentile rulers did with their pomp and circumstance. On the contrary elders are to follow the superb example of the Chief Shepherd the Lord Jesus Christ – He said this –

Matthew 20 v 25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the pattern. No one would dispute that he, the Lord of Glory, is over His church – and yet at the same time He is the pattern of the humble servant leader of the flock. A Christian elder is a servant with a genuine measure of Christ-given authority over the flock. The rule of an elder is compared with the rule over a family – the rule of a concerned parent. Loving authority not Popish demands for obedience. In our scripture reading this morning we saw the qualifications for eldership in 1 Timothy 3

4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

Pastoral care is parental care. Those who are over the church must never forget the Lord’s teaching on leadership – humility in authority – because the authority comes from Him, the humble Master.

3. SUBMIT to those leaders who teach and admonish you.

and admonish you;

Paul says that elders have a duty to admonish if they are to show that they are not spineless. Elders need to have backbone in order to warn those who are about to go off the rails. This is the meaning of NOUTHETEO – the tone of this word while it is a brotherly term it is also BIG BROTHERLY. It is not to shame someone to be admonished but to warn – to rebuke when wrongdoing is apparent. It is closely related to teaching as it is in Colossians 1 v 28

Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:

Admonish means to “to put into the mind” or “training by the word.” It is distinguished from another word PAIDEUO which means to “correct by discipline”. The difference between admonish and teach seems to be that ADMONISH has mainly to do with the things that are wrong and call for warning – whereas TEACH has to do with the impartation of positive truth. We can see an example of the difference in the case of Eli and his sons in 1 Samuel 2

22 Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 23 And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. 24 Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD’S people to transgress.

Eli remonstrated with his sons but he failed to admonish them – God told Eli his fault recorded in the next chapter 1 Samuel 3 v 13

For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.

Elders are first of all admonished themselves – they are instructed and warned by the scriptures – 1 Corinthians 10 v 11 indicates that the scriptures are written for our admonition – all of us – including elders.

An elder’s duty then is to gently but firmly warn and to point out the consequences of foolish and sinful behaviour to his fellow believers in the church.

To summarise what Paul is saying in verse 12 – members of churches are to

1. KNOW those who work hard amongst them. 2. RECOGNISE that their leaders are OVER them in the Lord. 3. SUBMIT to those leaders who teach and admonish them.

Finally given that elders are all that they should be, the 4th thing by way of response to eldership is this –

4. HOLD your leaders in the highest regard – in love.

13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.

Elders are not to be treated like royalty. Neither should they be flattered. On the other hand they should not be treated with contempt as though they were mere employees of the church. They are to be held in high regard. Elders should also be appreciated for their work’s sake. There is nothing more helpful to an elder than to be appreciated – not to inflate his pride, but to encourage him to go on. Paul mentions love too – therefore elders deserve affection simply because the members see how hard they work and what demands are made on their time and energies. The Apostle wants the elders to be loved and not simply to be regarded as the cold voice of authority. In other groupings, of management and employee scenarios then the relationships tend to be formal and distant.

But in the church it is to be different. Love is the characteristic Christian attitude to people, which should be shown in the church. And agape love is not a matter only of personal liking.

This will be a two way process. As the elder works out of love for the flock and in the interest of the flock, so the flock responds with love and appreciative affection. This is the recipe for progress in a church, where Pastor and elders and members work in happy harmony together and elders enjoy the church’s loyalty. There must be mutual regard here. Pastor Phil Arthur says “It is right to insist that leaders do not ride roughshod over the sensitivities of the church members – and equally right to insist that the members do not thwart the plans of the elders with belligerent obstructionism.”

And it is on this account that Paul ends this section with this phrase

And be at peace among yourselves.

Peace enables leaders to do their work well. Where all of the church membership including the elders are striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4 v 3) then there will be proper and harmonious relationships between the elders and the members. Paul is not directing that the members are to be at peace with the Pastor – but that the whole church community – all the membership including the elders, should live at peace with each other.

Now as I said earlier there is a need this morning for you as members to work these things out in your own lives.

From my perception I can say that the membership are in the main aware of Paul’s teaching here, but how good it is to be reminded of our responsibilities as Church members together – towards one another.

May we all absorb this scripture in verse 12 and 13 and dedicate ourselves to living it out in the days to come.

Paul tells us

And be at peace among yourselves.

We must all be peace makers and peace keepers.

May the Lord God help us all as a church to relate well together and so glorify His name in our community.

For then the peace of God which passes all understanding will not only keep our hearts – but will also make sure that people will notice that we are different – and they too will want to be part of the household, the family, with the Lord Jesus Christ at its head.

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