“Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well.”
People make mistakes all the time. “I’m only human” is the explanation we hear so often after someone has failed relationally, morally, or otherwise. It seems like we do not take sin as seriously as we should. We tend to think that we won’t fall prey to another temptation since we suffered dire consequences last time. How is that working for you?
The most recent events surrounding some leaders in the Hillsong church movement and those that have surfaced about a famous apologist, well known in Evangelical circles, prove painfully otherwise. In these verses, Paul instructs his readers to gently pursue restoring a fellow Christian who fell into sin back into a right relationship with God and those they have sinned against.
Paul gives two reasons for such tenderness. The first is not as obvious but is implied in the word “gentleness.” When we fall into temptation and succumb to its pressure, we feel ashamed, foolish, and heartbroken that we gave way to the flesh once more. If we were caught in it, the embarrassment and consequences following the particular sin could be a heavy burden to bear. So, Paul is expressing the need for us to humbly admit our sins to one another so we can mutually encourage and hold each other accountable in our Christian walk.
If we would be more willing to share our struggles and help others who are struggling with sin, we would be able to move forward in our walk of faith more confident, encouraged that we are not in this fight alone.
Prayer: Father, As much as we hate sin, we confess that we often fall into it. We often compound the issue by not being honest with others about our struggles. Holy Spirit, work within us a greater sense of honesty and humility so that we can mutually encourage one another along the way. Amen.
BRIEF RECAP: In our previous study, we looked at some of Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians regarding those men who were spiritual leaders in the church. In verses 12-13, he instructed them to “recognize those who labor among you,” and to “esteem them highly, in love, for their works sake.” He then made the plea for there to be peace within their local congregation. We will focus on verses 14-15, where the Apostle expresses how these folks are to treat each other within their fellowship.
14 “We urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the [a]unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek what is good for one another and for all people.”
FOCUS ONE: Paul’s list of appeals found in these two verses are:
Admonish (warn) the unruly (undisciplined).
Encourage the fainthearted.
Help the weak.
Be patient with all.
Do not repay evil for evil.
(But) always seek what is good for one another.
This is a list of continuing responsibilities that each one of us has toward one another. If your church has a church covenant, you will probably notice that these items are expressed, in some form, within it.
So, let’s spend some time on each one, fleshing them out a bit, so we can become better equipped to love and serve one another as is fitting those who claim the name of Christ.
Admonish (warn) the unruly (undisciplined).
I think that we can all agree that such people need mature, loving accountability. It appears that some of the people in this newly formed church were neglecting their daily duties. They quit work and were not providing for their families. Most likely because of their misunderstanding or misapplication of things that Paul had taught them regarding the Lord’s return when he was with them (1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:1-3). This problem even had to be addressed in the Apostle’s second letter (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12).
You may remember that earlier in this letter Paul encouraged them to lead a quiet life, attend to their own business, work with their own hands, and behave appropriately to those outside the church. It appears that some people were not listening to those commands and needed to be admonished.
His next appeal is to encourage the fainthearted. These are people within the local church body that tend to become discouraged and depressed more quickly than most others. Such Christians need someone to come alongside them and share encouraging words; to say and do things to encourage them and cheer them up. The idea seems to be one of attempting to stimulate such people into pressing on in the “good fight of faith,” in other words, encouraging them to persevere!
“help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
FOCUS TWO: Helping the weak is next on his list. Some within the church did not lean on or press into the Lord as much as they should’ve for their spiritual needs. Of course, it should go without saying, but I will say it anyway, we are all weak and need the support and strength that comes from other believers-but some Christians need it more than most. So Paul calls for a “supportive ministry” to help these people.
Paul’s concern is regarding moral and spiritual weakness, not physical weakness. In their case, it might have been issues related to a shrinking back from the persecution they were enduring (3:3-5). Or, it could have related to their giving into various temptations to immorality around them (4:3-8). Another possibility would be their weakness in exercising Christian liberty in doubtful areas; this happened in other churches (Romans 14:1-15). Quite possibly, it was not simply one over another, perhaps all of these things were happening. So, Paul urges those who are strong in the faith, actually, in these words, he expresses that such people within the congregation are responsible for supporting those among them who are weak.
Moving on, we find patience next on his list. “Be patient with all.” This statement actually could be viewed as a summation of the previous three. Dealing with unruly people, the fainthearted and weak among them, would not be easy. Sin is active in all of us and requires our utmost attention in combating it within ourselves. But now he tells them that they have to help others in their combat! And some people say that the Christian life is easy. Really?
It takes a particular disposition to deal with other people who may not like OR apply our help and counsel. You and I can easily fall into a spirit of anger and bitterness. The danger for those receiving patient love and counseling involves their lack of desire to receive and apply such help. Intentionally or unintentionally, a person may be leading those who seek to help into a spirit of resentment or bitterness. But this should not be the case among believers. We all need patient treatment from each other as we “grow up unto all things in Christ.”
15″ See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek what is good for one another and for all people.”
FOCUS THREE: When we are angered or disrespected, our natural inclination is to retaliate or inflict injury, in some way, on the one who hurt us. Paul understood this natural, fleshly tendency within human nature, even among Christians, so he exhorts these people who are immature in the faith, but growing, to “not repay evil for evil” (v. 15). In other words, do not retaliate or seek revenge on someone who wronged you.
The desire will most likely be strong, but we must resist it. In those times when we feel like “getting even,” we must remember that our Lord spoke against it in Matthew 5:38-42, and so did the Apostle, in more detail, in Romans 12:17-21!
“(BUT) always seek after that which is good. . .” After dealing with what is harmful or just so much against our nature, Paul gives them and us an alternative, a better way to expel our energy! The Apostle told the Philippian church to “not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). We must remember that the offender’s welfare, or person in need, should be our prime objective. We should think of Jesus on the cross, not only for our encouragement but also for an example to follow. His selfless, sacrificial love for sinners, you and I included, is a fantastic example of self-denial that we need to be reminded of and strengthened with. This is true if we are going to be able to walk with such integrity and compassion among our brothers and sisters in Christ and those in the world around us.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
1. Does your church have a church covenant? If so, read through it and see how well it lines up with these scriptures and others you find during your personal study time.
2. How are you doing regarding caring for others within your local church? Do you receive instruction well? What might have to change in your heart?
3. How do you handle being wronged by someone? Do you harbor resentment or bitterness towards others? What other scriptures can you find that can help you in this area?
A brief recap: The church at Thessalonica was maturing, they were growing in “the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and Paul was aware of it. Spiritual growth is progressive and should never be stifled or assumed to have come to completion in our lives as long as we breathe on this side of heaven. Paul’s desire was for these folks to continue growing in their love for and obedience to Christ.
In our previous study, I talked about Paul’s encouragement and exhortations for these believers to “excel still more” in what they already were practicing, brotherly love. Paul knew something that we need reminded of: there is always room for improvement!
In the following two verses, Paul gives more instructions on how they ought to conduct themselves, but this time concerning those outside the church. Remember, in our last study I pointed out that two themes emerge (Love of the brethren and their behavior among those outside the church), and two groups are now mentioned (insiders and outsiders). Paul here begins addressing our second theme and its relation to those outside the church.
11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you, 12 so that you will [a]behave properly toward outsiders and [b]not be in any need.
FOCUS ONE: What ambitions do you have for your life? What goals are you seeking to accomplish? Do they include any of these Paul mentions in verse 11?
Live a quiet life.
Mind (attend) your own business.
Work with your hands.
Before we move on in our study, we need to understand what Paul means by these three things. Paul is not saying that believers should take a vow of silence and not verbally communicate with others. He implies that believers should actively pursue living a less frantic life, not a less involved one. Not a silenced life but one undistracted from their walk with God. (1) “A person who is constantly on the move is frequently a bother to other people as well as somewhat distracted from his/her own walk with God.”
By minding your own business, Paul is expressing the obvious. Proverbs 25:17 says: “Let your foot rarely be in your neighbors house lest he become weary of you and hate you.” This instruction is connected to the latter in that a meddlesome spirit often accompanies a hectic life! We are to be active in keeping our affairs in order, not meddling in others.
The third instruction to work with your hands implies that idleness was becoming a problem among the Thessalonians. They lived in a Greek culture that degraded manual labor, while Christianity “viewed it as an honorable pursuit.” Since most of the Thessalonians earned their living with their hands, Paul encourages them to continue to do so and avoid the snare of idleness.
FOCUS TWO: What appears at first to be a change of topic, from loving others to behavior, actually isn’t! Paul seeks to help these believers understand that everyday habits of living manifest love or the lack of it towards others. Such behavior towards those on the inside manifests love for one another in how we esteem each other more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Paul also knows that such behavior does win the respect of non-Christians (outsiders). People appreciate those who do not take advantage of them.
To sum this up, Paul seems to be advocating for personal responsibility in the Christian life. Personal maturity is powerful evidence of a maturing love for others. Those on the inside as well as those on the outside!
From the subject of love to what seems quite different and unrelated-how we live in our communities, we find that they are not as diverse as we thought. Perhaps nothing disrupts peace and unity within a church more than its member’s unwillingness to participate in and shoulder their part within the local community. How does it impact a local body of believers when some of its members make no effort at their own support while taking advantage of other member’s generosity? It appears that Paul gave these exhortations because some of these folks may have been misapplying the truth’s taught by Paul when he was with them concerning the Lord’s return. But Paul makes it clear that our Lord’s return is never an excuse to evade our current responsibilities.
Paul wants their love for others to mature, and so he pens these goals for them because he knows that they are worthy objectives that will help them mature in this area of their Christian walk. These goals are worthy objectives for us today as well.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
If you were to evaluate your life outside the walls of your local church, would your testimony be helpful or hurtful to non-Christians in your community?
In light of Paul’s divinely inspired words, how might your current ambitions need to be adjusted for you to grow in gospel love for others?
What other biblical goals might you add to this study that will help you mature in your walk of faith?