COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 5:11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. 12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor 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. Be at peace among yourselves." NKJV
(1 Thessalonians 5:11-13)
The reality of the soon coming of the Lord should bring us to certain strong conclusions. Some of them are provided in this text. The body of Christ is comprised of believers who have been integrated with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and one another. They have even been brought into accord with holy angels and the "spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb 12:22-24). This circumstance forbids the rise of self-centeredness or a quest for personal satisfaction in this present evil world. The imminent return of our Lord (and His return can be viewed in no other way) necessitates spiritually profitable affiliation with His people. We live in a time when contemporary Christianity has placed the emphasis on reaching those who are yet in darkness. While that may appear to be a most noble emphasis, when the body of Christ is weak and emaciated, it only becomes the occasion for perpetuating spiritual death. If the body of Christ is not ready for His return, it makes little difference how they have spent their time. Somewhere in the religious maze that is all around us, we must find time to actually fulfill what this text declares. As will be very apparent it will take both wisdom and effort to see to it that these things are accomplished.
THE ROLE OF COMFORT AND EDIFICATION
" 5:11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing." Other versions read, "Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another." NASB,NIV This is a spiritually logical conclusion to what has been declared concerning the Lord's return.
THEREFORE. The word "therefore," or "wherefore," KJV means "consequently," or "for which cause." The idea is that in view of what has been revealed, these are the things that are in order. In view of the fact that Jesus is coming back as a thief in the night, 5:2-4 plundering and spoiling all who are not ready for His return, certain activities are mandated. They are not optional, they are imperative. In view of the fact that we are children of the light and children of the day, 5:5-8 that status must be maintained. Therefore the following activities are essential. Because God has appointed us to obtain salvation, 5:9 the things that follow are compulsory. Because Jesus died for us so we could live forever with Him, 5:10 what follows if obligatory. It is not possible to be prepared for Christ's return without these things!
COMFORT ONE ANOTHER. The word "comfort" speaks of a helping ministry-one of assisting the saints in preparing for the return of their Lord. The word means to console, encourage, to call near, and to entreat. Pictorially, it is like a sympathetic person coming along side a struggling soul and assisting them on their way. The most thorough picture of this activity is found in the Holy Spirit, who is called "the Comforter" KJV (John 14:16,26; 16:7). Other versions use the word "Helper," NKJV,NASB "Counselor," NIV,RSV and "Advocate." NRSV
Words are involved. Comforting is more than putting the arm around a slumping shoulder, although that is a vital part of empathy. The word "comfort" includes the idea of admonition, instruction, and exhortation. It involves cheering the heart of the fainting with words, or speech: i.e., as in "comfort one another with these words" (4:18). As our "Comforter," the Holy Spirit, encourages and strengthens us by bringing to our remembrance the words of Jesus (John 14:26), and testifying to our spirits of Him (John 15:26). The feet of a comforter are beautiful because he brings good news. Such a person shifts the attention of the saints from their affliction to their coming glory. One of the roles of prophesy is to "comfort" everyone (1 Cor 14:31). Comfort clarifies our vision, sweeping away the clutter of worldly care and imaginations. It assists people in focusing their attention on the glory to come rather than on the sorrows of this time.
There are believers who are rarely comforted in the sense of our text. Even in their most religious moments, little is said that convinces them of the sure return of their Lord and the glory that will be obtained at that time. The availability of heavenly resources and the joy of Divine fellowship are largely withheld from these poor souls. One can only imagine the devastating effects that the absence of spiritual comfort has upon God's people.
EDIFY ONE ANOTHER. Whereas "comfort" has to do with readjusting our focus and getting back on our feet spiritually, edification as to do with progress in the Lord. Both of these activities are essential. Comfort is needed to recover, and edification is essential to move forward. Both ministries rank unusually high in the work of the Lord.
The noble ministry of edification. This is the principal ministry in the church. Nothing must be allowed that minimizes its importance or neutralizes its effect. To edify is to build up, like raising up an edifice. It is to fortify the truth in the soul of another, clarifying its magnitude and enabling spiritual growth and advance. When we are edified we become more capable of walking in the light (1 John 1:7) and more confident to draw near to the Lord (Heb 10:22. We become more proficient in resisting the devil (James 4:7) and putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Col 3:5). We also become capable of ministering comfort to others (2 Cor 1:4).
Every believer is to "please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification" NKJV (Rom 15:2). The very first effect of prophesying is "edification," and it is deliberate, not by chance (1 Cor 14:3). Believers are admonished to "seek to abound for the edification of the church" NASB (1 Cor 14:12). In fact, in our assemblies we are admonished, "Let all things be done for edification." NKJV (1 Cor 14:26). The purpose for all spiritual gifts is said to be, "for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph 4:12). A weak, uninformed, and vacillating church brings no glory to Jesus. Edification ensures such a condition does not occur.
Authority to edify. Edification is not incidental. Divine authority must precede this holy work. Thus Paul said he had received "authority" for "edification" (2 Cor 10:8). This occurred because he was associated with the Head, Jesus Christ. Through Paul, Jesus ministered to the body of Christ, edifying them. The same ministry takes place in a measured degree as we hold steadfastly to the Head. He will minister through us, building up His people (Col 2:19). The Thessalonians were faithfully engaged in this holy work of edification.
RECOGNIZING THOSE WHO LABOR AMONG US
" 12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake." All who are in Christ Jesus are members of His body (Eph 5:30) and all have been accepted by God (Eph 1:6). All have been washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor 6:11). But all are not equal. The body of Christ is not a democracy, with everyone having an equal vote, so to speak. Now the Spirit will admonish us to recognize this situation. There are people among us who are further along than we are, and whose words carry more weight. The importance of us recognizing this situation is seen in the strong admonition of the Apostle: "I URGE you, brethren." Other versions read "beseech you," KJV and "appeal to you." NRSV
RECOGNIZE THOSE WHO LABOR. There are people within the body of Christ who are noted for their indefatigable efforts - people who feed the sheep. The word "labor" literally means to become fatigued, or wearied with work. Many a soul scarcely gives enough of themselves to the work of the Lord to ever become tired or weary. They know nothing of "toil," as when the disciples labored to row their boat through a storm (Mk 6:48). However, there are those who do "labor in the word and doctrine," or "who work hard at preaching and teaching" NASB (1 Tim 5:17). Such souls are gifts from God. They acknowledge with Paul, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (2 Cor 12:15). He pictured his life as "being poured out as a drink offering" (Phil 2:17). Jesus spoke of a "laborer" who was "worthy of his wages" (Lk 10:7). Paul compared such workers to an ox who "treads out the grain" NKJV (1 Tim 5:18). Such souls are most unique, and, proportionately, there are not many of them.
The responsibility of any body of believers is to "recognize," or "know," KJV who these laborers are. Who gives themselves more fully to the comfort and edifying of the saints? Who is more aggressive in the work of teaching and building up the saints? The recognition of such souls is the acknowledgment of Christ's gifts to us. These people have been placed in the body where it has pleased God (1 Cor 12:18), and we honor Him by recognizing them.
WHO ARE OVER YOU IN THE LORD. This is too difficult for some to receive. Other versions read, "have charge over you in the Lord." NASB Peter refers to those charged with feeding the flock of God (1 Pet 5:2). Paul affirms they are to guard "all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd [feed, KJV] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" NKJV (Acts 20:28). Three times the Spirit refers to such people as those who "have the rule over you" (Heb 13:7,17,24).
Not bosses. These are not bosses, governing the body of Christ in all of its incidentals. They are spiritual leaders who lead by "example," not coercion (Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 5:3). They are "over" us because they "labor in the word and in the doctrine," being placed in their position by Christ Himself for the building up of the saints. It is their activity that makes them what they are, not their position or office!
WHO ADMONISH YOU. Here the Spirit further clarifies who is to be recognized. These are not merely people who have leadership skills. They are not those with academic credentials, or those who merely hold an elective office. Those who are "over" us constantly remind us of the Word and will of the Lord. They "admonish" us. The NASB read, "who . . . give you instruction." The word "admonish" is an exceedingly large one. It includes the ideas of warning, exhorting, teaching, and instructing. In Christ, there are no silent leaders. Those who are "over" us in the Lord consistently bring the Word of God to bear upon the situation. They have a message from the Lord, insight into His Word, and perception of the circumstances. It is our responsibility to recognize such souls. It will assist us in better preparing to meet the Lord, separating ourselves from iniquity and pressing forward.
ESTEEM THEM VERY HIGHLY. We are to love all of the brethren, but we are not to give them all the same esteem. There are some souls who are to be esteemed "very highly." Paul told Timothy such individuals were to be given "double honor" (1 Tim 5:17). The NIV reads, "highest regard." This is not a fleshly regard, or a mere recognition that they work hard. The high regard results from the unusual benefits such individuals bring to us. They comfort us, thereby relieving the burdens of life. They edify us, causing us to become stronger in faith, hope, and love. In the book of Hebrews the Spirit says to "remember" them, "obey" and "submit" to them, and "salute," or greet, them (Heb 13:7,17,24).
In love. Our regard for these leaders is an expression of spiritual love. We love them because they have helped us to progress in the faith and perfect holiness in the fear of God.
For their work's sake. Underscoring that this is not political or formal esteem, the Spirit again focuses on the work of these noble souls. They have lived to bring clearer vision and greater understanding to the saints. That is their "work," and we honor them for it.
" 5:13 Be at peace among yourselves." It is more than passingly interesting that Paul adds these words after speaking of having a high regard for those who labor tirelessly for the building of our souls. However, once we understand the nature of the flesh, and of its constant efforts to dominate the assembly of the saints, this admonition becomes clear.
FACTIONS IN THE CHURCH. If spiritual leaders are not honored "for their work's sake," factions can arise within the church. This very thing happened in Corinth, who had been exposed to some of the greatest of spiritual leaders. Once Paul chided them for their divisions, saying, "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Cor 1:12-13). That is the manner in which flesh gives honor to men. It exalts their persons rather than their work! The result is division, and the result of division is the absence of peace. The Corinthians were not at peace among themselves. It is said of them, "For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal?" (1 Cor 3:3-4). They did not highly regard in love those God sent to them, and they did not respect them for the sake of their work. They were not at peace among themselves.
WE MUST BE AT PEACE AMONG OURSELVES. Peace among the brethren is not a luxury, but a necessity. Jesus once said to His followers, "have peace one with another" (Mk 9:50). This is loving one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34). It is not allowing knowing one another after the flesh to get between us and God - and such an approach to our brethren will have that impact (2 Cor 5:16).
GOD'S LOVE AND PEACE. The experience of God's love and peace, to a measurable extent, depends upon us being at peace among ourselves. As it is written, "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you" (2 Cor 13:11). We are to expend effort to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). What is even more, the peace of God will NOT rule our own hearts if we are at variance with our brethren. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace" (Col 3:15). Many a soul has been thrust into a life of confusion and strife simply because they refused to dwell peaceably with their brethren. They delighted in troubling the waters, and thus were troubled themselves. The sensitivity of the Lord in this matter is reflected in the words of Solomon. "These six things doth the LORD hate . . . he that soweth discord among brethren" (Prov 6:16-19).
THE FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Here is something with which the saints are to be "filled" - "the fruit of righteousness" (Phil 1:11). This is the "harvest," NRSV or crop of righteousness. It involves personal benefits that are realized because a person is righteous. In this case, the righteousness is what has been imputed to us because of our faith (Rom 4:22-24). The "fruit" is the marvelous outgrowth of that righteousness in our hearts, minds, and lives. It includes "the fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-24; Eph 9), "holiness" (Rom 6:21-22), and "thanksgiving" proceeding from our lips (Heb 13:15). How is one to experience such marvelous fruitage? How can the Holy Spirit work in us abundantly, producing a spiritual harvest that brings glory to God and comfort and edification to His people?
They are sown in peaceful environs. This fruit is both sown and harvested in peaceful realms. Where there are dissension and trouble, spiritual fruit withers, and people become unprepared for the coming of the Lord. Thus James wrote, "For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James 3:16-18). Verse eighteen reads this way in the NIV, accenting the effect peace has upon the righteous. "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."
The introduction of agitation within the body of Christ causes a disruption of peace. When peace leaves, spiritual sowing is reduced, and spiritual harvest begins to diminish. Consequently, the coming of the Lord begins to pose a threat rather than minister a blessing. Hope begins to die, and unbelief begins to rise. Oh, it is not idle word - "Be at peace among yourselves." When such fails to happen, there has not been proper regard for those who are feeding the sheep. Instead, the attention has been turned to the personal desires of those who walk in aloofness from the Lord. However, where those who are willing to spend and be spent for God are correctly esteemed, readiness for the Lord's return will result.