(By Donrich Van Schalkwyk
Paul now shifts his attention from widows towards church elders and church leadership.
He starts off by saying that we should keep church leaders in high regard (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and that we should make sure that they are cared for. Paul proceeds to quote scripture from Deuteronomy 25:4 where he compares the elders (especially those in teaching and preaching) to an ox treading out grain.
The idea here is that an ox that treads out the grain will be allowed to eat from it as he does the work. So too should preachers and teachers be cared for whilst doing the work of God. There are many examples of this in scriptures:
Galatians 6:6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.
1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
He also points out how church leadership should be corrected, once more visiting the recurrent theme of holiness in the church. He makes sure to give clear direction on how to keep leadership accountable, because he knows a healthy church is accountable to one another. Paul ultimately stops at nothing and nobody to make sure the church beams of holiness.
He is so serious about holding people accountable that he urges us to publicly rebuke those who persists in sin. Imagine walking into church one morning and an Elder rebukes you in front of everyone for persisting in sin.
Paul understands that we now only see in partial and that one day we will all see in full. There is no time for our self-righteous pretence. We are all sinners and it is our responsibility to keep one another accountable. Even if you hide it as best you can, one day it will all be revealed for all to see. Paul knows that publicly rebuking someone might just be the thing that sets them free.
James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
We have been called to walk in the light and to grow in godliness. We need to be willing to die to ourselves in every regard, not letting our image get in the way of knowing God.
Mark 2:17: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Some Questions To Consider:
- Do you hold leadership in high regard, or are there maybe some resentment/disappointment/anger that you need to work through?
- How can you better care for the eldership of our church?
- Do you allow your image to get in the way of knowing God?
- Is there sin in your life that you feel God is calling you to confess to those around you?
Throughout 1 Timothy we discover the kind of leaders God is calling us to be. It should be remarkably encouraging to meditate on the delight of God towards leaders who faithfully serve him. However it should also evoke the fear of God inside us when we consider the call to leadership. It is not an easy task, and we must remember the hope we have as we serve (1 Tim 4:10). I love Hudson Taylors phrase and think it apt to end with here; “lets go forward on our knee’s.”
How should a community of believers (a church) treat someone in their community who is persistently disregarding the clear instructions on how to live a God honouring life?
These people Paul is referring to have been persistently disregarding the apostles teaching on what a right response to the gospel looks like in life. This person or group of people had already been urged to change through his first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and are disregarding the life modelled by the apostles (vs7-8) & the apostles teaching (vs10).
So how should we handle such a person, where there is disregard for the clear will of God in terms of some serious misbehaviour? 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives us five practical guidelines on when, why and how discipline should be exercised:
(These 5 points are inspired by John Stott’s commentary on Thessalonians)
- The need for discipline arises when there is consistent deliberant disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture. The issue is not ignorance regarding God’s will, but a disregard for God’s will and a disregard of the appeals of the community of faith.
- The nature of the discipline which was required by the apostle was a measure of social exclusion because softer approaches had been disregarded already by the person(s). Discipline should start soft and private, but becomes more more insistent and public in nature if people persist in their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Persistent unreported of disobedience should result in some degree of exclusion (‘not to be associated with’ see vs6 & 14), the congregation was to ‘take note of that person’ and together to not ‘mingle or associate with’ them (vs14). The phrase used can have differing degrees of exclusion, ranging from total separation (as in 2 Corinthians 5:9-13) to more moderate avoidance of free and familiar fellowship (as at Thessalonica) according to John Stott.
- The responsibility for administering discipline to a persistent offender belongs to the congregation as a whole. Paul does not address his instructions merely to the elders of the Thessalonian church. Leaders may need to take the initiative, but then a corporate response is needed by the whole church membership.
- The spirit in which discipline is to be administered must be friendly, not hostile. It is to be done ‘gently’ (see Galatians 6:1-2). In 2 Thessalonians we find the apostle saying; ‘Do not regard him as an enemy’ (15a) rather the spirit here is to, ‘warn him as a brother’ (15b).
- The purpose of this discipline is positive and constructive. Although being excluded will result in shame (vs14b), the intention however is not destructive but meant to cause the person(s) to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their sin and repent. John Stott says; “Paul’s intention is not that he be excluded from the community, but reinstated in it.” We remember that Jesus’ instructions on this matter was that our desire should be that we could win our brother/sister back, be reconciled (Matthew 18:15-17)!