Church Leaders

Church Leaders

Thomas Richardson

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

The subject before us in this section is very important, it is twofold; first, the attitude of the church to its leaders; second, the activities of the leaders in the church. “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord” (V. 12). In simple language this means, get to know your leaders. In other parts of the New Testament such leaders are called “elders” and “bishops.” Both of these titles refer to the same work and person. The name “elder” is from the Greek word “presbuteros,” and the name “bishop” from another Greek word “episkopos.” These are the words around which two large religious organizations have been built, Presbyterianism and Episcopalianism. The word elder suggests age and experience; whereas, the word bishop indicates the work done by this person, he oversees and inspects as a superintendent. These refer, of course, only to men not to women.

Their Qualifications

Qualifications are required today in any field of importance, and certainly no less in the assembly of God. Elders are to be the husband of only one wife (1 Tim. 3:2). Get to know them, says Paul intimating that they are worth knowing. They engage in three tasks; they work (V. 12), warn (V. 14), and watch (V. 15). Their work is hard and difficult; they “labour.” The word used here is rendered in John 4:6 by the word “wearied,” and suggests a toiling to the point of fatigue. The labour of love in which church leaders engage often results in late and sleepless nights.

The exhortations of the Word of God are: that we know them (1 Thess. 5:12); that we remember them (Heb. 13:7); that we pray for them in private (Heb. 13:18); and that we salute them in public (Heb. 13:24). They labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; therefore esteem them very highly, and remain in peace among yourselves. This assertion of the Apostle intimates that the holding of God-given leaders in esteem and respect produces peace within the assembly and not conflict. The Christian must ever be prepared to fight the foe, never a fellow-believer much less an elder.

Their Activities

At verse 14 we read Paul’s instructions to the leaders in the church of God at Thessalonica. These instructions impose upon elder brethren both a positive and a negative attitude. An understanding of these implications would make all church leaders:

Solicitous: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly” (disorderly, R. V. ). The word “unruly” implies being out of step. A further reference to these unruly ones is made in 2 Thessalonians 3:11. “We hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” Dr. Moffat translates verse 14, “Keep a check upon loafers.”

“Comfort the feebleminded,” exhorts the Apostle. The Revised Version says, “Comfort the fainthearted.” The term seems to be a military one indicating those who lag behind in the march. It is necessary to give these a word of encouragement.

“Support the weak.” That is, give strength to those who are ready to drop out. The Apostle could say of his own ministry at Ephesus, “I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak” (Acts 20:35). What a wonderful example he was!

“Be patient (longsuffering) toward all.” Be short tempered, that means, have a controlled temper, like a piece of good steel that keeps its temper and is thereby of greater value.

“See that none render evil for evil unto any man.” Dr. Jowett once stated: “Good returned for good is manlike; good for evil is Godlike; evil for evil is devillike; and evil for good is beastlike.” Elder brethren must learn to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21), and keep in mind Paul’s words to the Galatians, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15).

“Ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.” Let there be no retaliation. The Christian’s is to be the open hand, not the closed fist.

Spiritual: After these words of positive counsel Paul touches upon the personal lives of the elders, and admonishes them saying: “Rejoice evermore.” They had received the word of the Gospel with joy (1 Thess. 1:6), and he would have that joy increase and be continuous.

“Pray without ceasing.” No one can be a leader among the saints who does not keep in close contact with headquarters. Paul himself was a good example of this; he referred to his night and day praying (1 Thess. 3:10). Prayer makes the will of God clear; the presence of God real, and the work of God easy. Nothing prospers without prayer.

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” In Ephesians 5:20, we read, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

The Apostle now turns to the negative attitude that the Christian leaders ought to develop. He definitely implies at least three avoidances.

Do not be critical: “Quench not the Spirit.” This, of course, can mean quench not the Spirit in another. A brother or sister may be doing their best to serve and please the Lord, but through unkind criticism a wet blanket may extinguish the fire of zeal, and leave them cold and silent for some time to come.

Do not be callous: “Despise not prophesyings.” There were prophets in the early Church, men who had received a divine revelation; consequently, they were acknowledged teachers. Today, a brother with a message from God’s full revelation, the Holy Scriptures, may be despised probably because he is not a pleasing personality, or a fluent speaker, but the failure to listen to the message may result in disobedience to the will of the Lord.

Do not be credulous: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” No matter how popular a preacher may be, one must learn to test what is spoken by what is written, not what is written by what is spoken.

The remainder of the chapter is completed with a prayer by the Apostle for his beloved children in the faith, the Thessalonians. He prays for their sanctification and for their preservation, and as he does so, he expresses four very fine thoughts involving a person, a petition, a prospect, and a promise.

The Person: “The very God of Peace.” The Revised Version renders this title thus, “The God of Peace Himself.” How grand to know in this world of turmoil the God of Peace Himself!

The petition: “The very God of Peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless.” Sanctification and preservation suggest that the Christian should be set apart and kept apart.

The prospect: “Unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

The promise: “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.” God’s power and faithfulness will accomplish that which to us may seem impossible.

In closing, the Apostle asks that inasmuch as he has prayed for them, they pray for him. He sends warm greetings to all, and then commands that the Epistle be read to all the holy brethren, all in Christ.

Paul had instructed them that the Lord Jesus would return personally for them, but in the meantime he was anxious that they enjoy much of the Lord’s presence with them. He closes the Epistle with the benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”