1Thes5v12to28: FAMILY VALUES
Introduction. Read 1Thes5v12to22
Paul commences the final paragraph of his letter to the Thessalonians: Now we ask you, brothers ... . v12. This is a reminder that the local church is a family. It is not an exclusive club, a spiritual supermarket or even a gathering of friends. Fellow Christians are our brothers because they, like us, have been adopted into God's family on receiving Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. In this passage Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some of the values that should characterise the family of God.
He deals with:
(1) Family leadership. Now we ask you brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. v12and13.
Ideally the leader of a natural family is the father who should be respected by his children for what he does. A good father will prepare, protect and provide. He will prepare his offspring for society by teaching them what is socially acceptable behaviour. He will protect them from danger as far as he can. He will provide for their material and emotional needs.
Church leaders should be respected for doing pretty much what a natural father does: teaching what is acceptable behaviour to God, protecting against erroneous beliefs and evil practices and providing loving support to all those who need it.
We should not be over influenced by our leader's looks. Some ladies are inclined to idolise a dashing, handsome pastor. Self-confidence and self-belief can impart an air of authority that is difficult to resist. We need to remember self-confidence is a distinguishing feature of the con man. A likeable, loveable, charming personality, such an enormous asset, yet no real guarantee of responsible, effective leadership. Remember the example of Absolom. He won the hearts of the people and staged a rebellion against his father.
The quality in a Christian leader that should be respected and regarded is hard work. Sadly this is by no means always the case. Charles Dickens in his novel, 'Little Dorrit', illustrates how easily people are deceived. Mr Christopher Casby was a property owner. He was called, 'The last of the Patriarchs' on account of his magnificent head and impressive demeanour. Dickens writes of him: Nobody could have said where his wisdom was, or where the virtue was, or where the benignity was; but they all seemed somewhere about him. He was a fraud! The success of Christopher Casby's business was almost entirely down to Pancks who: Was dressed in black and rusty iron grey; had jet black beads of eyes; a scrubby little black chin; wiry black hair striking out from his head in prongs, like forks or hair-pins; and a complexion that was very dingy by nature, or very dirty by art or a compound of nature and art. He had dirty hands and dirty broken nails, and looked as if he had been in the coals; he was in perspiration, and snorted and sniffed and puffed and blew like a little labouring steam-engine. Pancks went huffing and puffing about Casby's business quite disregarded by everyone - but he was the driving force behind it. He also turned out to be an unlikely hero!
Warren Wiersbe wrote some bitter comments in one of his commentaries about hard-working, self-effacing, genuinely humble pastors who got taken for granted by their flock. When they were replaced by some flashy, self-important, autocratic minister the members of that self-same flock fell over themselves to co-operate.
Still not everyone is deceived! I wonder what you think children appreciate in a teacher? A surprising number value competence; they value a teacher who actually teaches them something. I valued and respected the last pastor we had at our church in Brockley because this is what he did. I hope you value your minister for the same reason.
(2) Family harmony. Live in peace with each other. v13.
Paul gives some tips for living in harmony and unity:
(a) Warn the unruly. And we urge you, brothers, to warn those who are idle. v14.
The Greek word translated, 'idle,' is actually a military term that means marching out of step or getting out of line.
A soldier marching out of step is liable to put others off and disrupt an entire squad's marching rhythm in the same way that a person singing out of tune will disrupt congregational hymn singing.
The biggest and most persistent problem teachers face in England is disruptiveness. Hard line disruptive pupils will ruin the teaching experience of those who want to learn. Few teachers want purely passive students who are content to soak up information. No teacher should set out to stifle initiative, dampen enthusiasm or discourage creativity. It is good if pupils question the teacher or even challenge him over some of the ideas being taught. In my experience some of the most thoughtful, insightful and creative pupils were also the most obedient and sensitive to the needs of others.
So a balance must be struck in the church. It is sometimes good if the old ways of doing things are questioned. We need people with initiative, enthusiasm and creativity in the church. However, we don't want people who are different just to draw attention to themselves. Paul was very unhappy with those Corinthians who wore their hair like the opposite sex to emphasise their freedom in Christ. Christians who want to be the centre of attention and are prepared to go to any lengths to get their own way are a menace to any church. Another type of Christian is one who belongs to the awkward squad. Such people seethe with discontent and set out to produce discontent in others. The worst kind of trouble arises when Christ's clear command to love one another is ignored because of personal animosity. The Corinthians were suing one another in the pagan law courts.
In the small church to which I belong there have not been many who marched out of step but old Jack was one such case. He would pray at inordinate length at our prayer meetings even though he was told to be shorter. Worse still he had a bee in his bonnet about worshipping on Saturday rather than Sunday. He would spend the greater part of his prayer asking God to open the eyes of his dear friends at Brockley to the truth. Jack was also inclined to tell God that if he was put in charge of world affairs he would soon knock men and women into shape. Knock being the operative word! Needless to say Jack's behaviour did not make for peace. I didn't handle the situation very well! I used to bring Jack to church in my car. After he had been particularly belligerent and obnoxious I slammed on my brakes and said, "Look Jack you can shut up and I'll take you to church or you can carry on and I will take you back home." He never came to church again. A sorry tale indeed!
(b) Encourage those inclined to give up. Encourage the timid.
There are always Christians who are tempted to give up. When Christian in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress had climbed Hill Difficulty he met two men running towards him. The name of one was Timorous and the other Mistrust. They, too, had climbed Hill Difficulty but they decided the further they went the harder it got. Mistrust told Christian, "Just before us lie a couple of lions in the way, whether sleeping or waking we know not; and we could not think, if we came within reach, but they would presently pull us to pieces. Christian pressed on but when he saw the lions was on the point of turning back even though the stately palace, Beautiful, was not far distant. Christian was saved by the porter of the lodge whose name was Watchful calling out: "Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith and for the discovery of those who have none: keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come unto thee.
The church needs its Watchfuls - men and women who keep pilgrims in the narrow way that leads to life.
The one event on school sports day that used to really find competitors out was the 1500 metres. A sizeable proportion of the entrants sadly overestimated their ability to run this distance. There were always three or four who set off at a great lick and were well ahead after the first lap. By the final lap they were in a dreadful state - in extreme distress. Most had slowed to a walk. However, as they entered the final straight their friends and fellow team mates were by the side of the track urging them on - willing them to make a dash for the line. The vast majority of those encouraged in this way discovered reserves of stamina they did not know they possessed and galloped desperately toward the finish.
The book of Hebrews was written to prevent Jewish Christians from giving up and going back to Judaism. Some believers need a lot of encouragement to keep them true to Jesus especially when there seem to be lions in the way. Paul knew how important it was to finish the race. He wrote to the Philippians: But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. Phil3v13and14.
(3) Hold fast to the weak. Help the weak.
When my father was in the final stages of Parkinson's disease he was very weak. His legs began to go. I took him to chapel as long as I could. I held him up; I clung on to him when he stumbled; my strength was his.
This is not the way of the world. Head teachers are encouraged to identify weak teachers and to sack them. There is no longer any question of carrying the weak. It is the same in business.
Jesus had some weak links among his disciples. He didn't dispense with any of them! Peter denied him, Thomas doubted him and Philip didn't know him! Jesus held fast to these men and helped them in their weakness. Eventually they were able to witness boldly and effectively for Jesus.
We must hold up those weak in faith. The weak can draw strength from Christians who are strong in the faith. In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress a whole group of rather sorry Christians - Mr Feeble-mind, Mr Ready-to-halt, Mr Despondency and his daughter, Much-afraid - drew strength from Mr Great-heart - and completed their pilgrimage to the Celestial City.
(4) Be patient with everyone.
A few Christians are like some of the children I taught: slow to learn, slow to improve and apt to repeat their mistakes.
Now some would say I was not very patient with pupils of this ilk. Certainly, if I had spent several minutes carefully explaining to a class how I wanted its members to proceed, I did not respond calmly to the little sprog who put up his hand to say, "Mr Reed, I don't know what to do." I was prone to hit the roof.
Even Jesus was exasperated with his disciples at the end of his earthly ministry. When Philip said, "Show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus replied, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" Jn14v8and9. Paul was pretty irate in his first letter to the Corinthians when he dealt with the failings in the church. See exposition on 1Cor4v6to21.
I think, perhaps, what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians is: Don't give up on anyone. Although I was a fiery-tempered teacher and apt to blow my top I did persevere with even the most obtuse of pupils. I was long-suffering and never wrote anyone off. Jesus persevered with Peter and Thomas. He even invited Thomas to inspect the nail prints and to thrust his hand into his side. Paul did not abandon the Corinthians to their errors but made great efforts to correct them.
The only way to achieve harmony in the church is for those who are mature in the faith to show patience with those who remain babes in Christ.
(5) Be kind. Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. v15.
It is relatively easy to be kind to those who are kind to us. It is far harder to persist in kindness toward those who do not seem to appreciate it.
Every Christmas I make a considerable effort and send out about 150 cards. I try and write a few words of cheer in each card and also enclose my annual letter. See 2012 annual review. If I do not receive a reply for two successive years the offending party is struck off my Christmas correspondence list! This is not the spirit Paul wanted the Thessalonians to display.
One evening as I drove my mother and Mrs Vincent to chapel the two ladies got to discussing poor old Alice. Alice lived next door to a feckless couple of layabouts. Mrs Vincent said, "Alice is always doing kind things for her neighbours. Last week she made them a beautiful fruit cake. They never show any appreciation." My mother replied, "Alice is foolish like that. She is wasting her kindness on those two." Mrs Vincent and my mother were devout Christians - but Alice showed more grace!
Paul urges us - for the good of the church - to be like Alice. We depend, after all, on the constancy of God's kindness. If God treated as we deserved we would be without hope - forsaken, forgotten and forever lost.
(3) Family worship. Be joyful always.
Paul gives the Thessalonians four pieces of advice by which to maintain a joyful fellowship:
(1) Pray continually.
I think it very unlikely that a happy family can exist where the children never talk to dad. A glad spirit is far likelier in a family where all the children want to chat to their father. Peace will reign where sons and daughters are united in desiring the attention and approval of their father.
So it is vitally important for the health of the church for Christians to pray together. A prayerless church will be a dead church. A dead church will be a cold, lifeless and joyless church. We must pray to keep the flame alive.
(2) Give thanks in all circumstances.
This is a good, common-sense technique to prevent us becoming gloomy and cheerless. I give Phyllis a lift to chapel each Sunday. She is over 90 and crippled with arthritis. Sometimes she will describe the pain she gets in her legs but then Phyllis will perk up and say, "But I'm still about!"
On a wet and windy night we can be glad to be home sitting by a warm fire and not sheltering under a hedge. After reading in the daily paper about our wild and wicked world we can be thankful for the warmth and fellowship of our local church. During the last 13 years of my teaching career I still had to work far too hard during my holidays but I could be glad that I taught at Debenham High where the children were so friendly and affectionate. Many of us labour manfully in our small churches for scant reward. The sparse harvest could easily plunge us into deep gloom but for the fact we are in the service of Jesus - such a Master!
(3) Benefit from preaching and teaching.
The Holy Spirit can act through the preached word. Paul writes: Do not put out the Spirit's fire. We can do this by:
The church family should be special. It should be like a light set upon a hill. Every local church should enjoy a good reputation as a family of God. He is the God of peace and so surely peace, a sense of well-being, should be a distinctive characteristic of his children.
A family gets a bad name when:
A local church needs to examine itself to check that it doesn't display any of these characteristics. Is there any immorality? There was in Corinth such as brought the church into contempt in the eyes of the world. Is the leadership held in low esteem and disobeyed? There are many churches where the elders are not given the respect their office demands. Is there disloyalty? Many Christians have a very critical spirit and seem to enjoy running their brothers and sisters down. Is there an uncaring and selfish spirit? In the past many pastors in my own association of churches were scarcely paid a living wage. They were impoverished. This was the case with my own father - and it is one of the reasons I never went into the ministry.
A churches' reputation depends upon a partnership between God and his people:
(a) The Christian's responsibility. Avoid every kind of evil.
Evangelical Christians may be inclined to congratulate themselves that they abstain from the grosser sins like filthy conversation, swearing, appalling self-indulgence like drunkenness, theft, pornography and cruelty. But they may be like the Pharisee who congratulated himself that he was not as other men but was censorious, a lover of money, hypocritical, legalistic and unloving. We must beware the sins of the Pharisee that harden the heart and deny men grace.
(b) God's responsibility. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. v23.
The Christian relies on the protecting and preserving power of God the Father. Paul assures his readers: The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. v24.
An earthly father will care for the bodies of his children and ensure as far as possible their physical welfare. He will also encourage his sons and daughters to make a success of their lives. A good father will influence the spirit of his children, their behaviour, character and beliefs. My own father did so by the example he set and I am profoundly grateful to him for doing so.
So God the Father is not unmindful of our bodies. Jesus encouraged us to pray for our daily bread. He also promised that if we ask God for bread he will not give us a stone; if for fish he will not give us a scorpion.
God is concerned about how we spend our lives. He has a plan for each of us. Our Father in heaven takes an active part in our protection, spiritual development and usefulness. This is very evident as we read the biblical biographies of Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Nehemiah, Esther and Paul. But it is true for us lesser mortals too.
God shapes our spirits - our beliefs, personalities and characters - by his Spirit working through his word and the example of others.
We may sometimes fail to fulfil our parental responsibilities. I have never been a parent but I daresay I let some of my pupils down. God will never fail us. He is faithful and he is able.