COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all." NKJV
(1 Thessalonians 5:14-15)
The child of God is faced with a temptation to view life in Christ from distorted perspectives. Two of these involve opposite extremes. The first is to over-simplify spiritual life, approaching it with a sort of naivety that disarms the soul and gives the advantage to Satan. The second it to overly-complicate life in Christ, so that fear grips the heart and strong confidence becomes nearly impossible. Institutional religion is an approach to the faith that places the emphasis upon the organization rather than the Savior. It stresses abiding by the rules of the institution, depending upon its leaders, ands courting its favor. In such an environment, the extremes just mentioned flourish. Institutions that place an emphasis on their own leaders tend to encourage an over-simplification of spiritual life. Those that have a harsh legalistic bent cause overly-complicated views of that life. Our text will devastate both approaches, showing that the believer is responsible for being personally involved in the great salvation of God. It will also confirm there are souls within the body of Christ who have been weakened by the good fight of faith. It is not enough for such souls to simply belong to the right church, or to embrace the proper teaching. Provision has been made for refurbishing their strength and clarifying their vision. Faith will move our lives in a spiritually profitable direction, where all who are seeking to dwell with the Lord will experience benefit from our presence and our words. While we are engaged in a battle, it is not with flesh and blood, and thus we cannot become involved in retaliatory or harmful words and deeds.
WARN THE UNRULY, COMFORT THE FAINTHEARTED
" 5:14a Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted . . . " The church at Thessalonica was experiencing opposition and persecution (1:6; 2:14). Yet, this circumstance did not relieve them from being personally involved in the good work of the Lord. While there are certain limitations realized when we suffer for righteous ness sake, such opposition cannot render the church useless. Faith can cause us to rise to the occasion, ministering in the name of the Lord while under duress.
WE EXHORT YOU. To "exhort" is to move someone to action - to provoke them to engage in an effort that is difficult. Exhorting is both gentle and strong. It is gentle in the sense of pleading, inviting, or begging. It is strong in the sense of being necessary and important to spiritual life. An exhortation is not a mere suggestion.
This is now the second time the Spirit provokes an exhortation to the Thessalonians (4:1). Exhortation is a vital aspect of spiritual life. Faithful ministers of the Word are admonished to "exhort" (1 Tim 6:2; 2 Tim 4:2). Believers are admonished, "exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." (Heb 3:13). A prophet speaks to men in "exhortation" (1 Cor 14:3), and servants of God are to "give attention to . . . exhortation" (1 Tim 4:13).
The very necessity of exhortation presupposes the existence of influences that tend to wear us down, making us inactive. There are times when we must be stirred up to action, and moved with powerful constraints to do certain things that encourage spiritual life.
WARN THE UNRULY. Other versions use the word "admonish." NASB/NRSV The word "warn" means to caution or reprove gently. It is something that precedes a stern rebuke. It is a word that is addressed to someone going in the wrong direction, but who has not yet chosen to live in transgression. Warning is very much like exhorting. It is urging the individual to change direction, or to avoid imminent danger. There would be far less sin in the professed church if there were more timely and fervent warnings issued.
The unruly are the disorderly - those who have strayed from the main path, and are headed in the wrong direction. Such have not made "straight paths" for their feet, and are living in a spiritually slip-shod manner (Heb 12:13). Such are not alert in their souls, but are falling asleep, drifting into the territory that is dominated by the devil. Other versions use the word "idle," or "idlers." NIV/NRSV The ASV uses the more precise word "disorderly." The paraphrased BBE version reads, "those whose lives are not well ordered." The NJB reads, "those who are undisciplined." The word refers to those who are out of rank, irregular, and departing from the proper manner of life. These are people who do not live with any spiritual consistency. They are too easily distracted by pleasure and other pursuits. Churches are literally filled with such people. They are to be "warned" - reminded the path they are walking does lead to sure destruction. God will not play games with them! Nor, indeed, will Satan fail to see their sloppy and spiritually unalert lives. They will be snared by him!
COMFORT THE FAINTHEARTED. The KJV refers to the "feebleminded." This does not refer to those deprived of wisdom, but to those whose minds have been weakened by trial, so that the things of God cannot be clearly seen. The literal meaning of the word is "little-spirited," showing such people are discouraged or disheartened. Their strength has dissipated, and, in the heat of the battle, they have been "cast down" (2 Cor 4:9; 7:6).
Elsewhere being "fainthearted" is described in these words: "we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8). David once described the experience with these words: "there is but a step between me and death" (1 Sam 20:3). This suffering occurs while one is engaged in the good fight of faith. It is not the consequence of neglecting one's soul. The opposition of sinners can cause you to become "wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb 12:3). For this reason remedial action is urged.
Comfort speaks of encouragement. Believers are assailed with temptations, and opposed by the godless when they do good. They even have a law within their members that finds evil present with them when they desire to do good (Rom 7:21,23). All of this often causes the saint to become disheartened , disappointed, and discouraged.
Who can place a proper value on encouraging words at such times! Surely, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (Prov 25:11). Such comfort brings the weary soul to its right mind. The Divine power that is devoted to them is thus confirmed (Eph 1:19). The "eternal inheritance" that awaits the faithful is seen more clearly (Heb 9:15). Once again, the truth that "God is for us" rises in the sky of life to brighten the day and strengthen the heart (Rom 8:31). Child of God, speak of the present grace and the coming glory to those who are weary in the battle. Give their minds fresh and eternal realities to think upon.
UPHOLD THE WEAK, BE PATIENT WITH ALL
" 14b . . . uphold the weak, be patient with all." Our hearts must become acutely aware that believers are not in a constant state of perceived strength and glory. By this, I mean they are not always on top of life, fully confident, and masters of all the situations they face. That this is the ideal cannot be denied. That it is always our state is emphatically denied, even though we fervently desire such to be our experience. In addition to this, there are young believers among us who are not spiritually mature. Their vision is somewhat blurred, and they are not rooted and grounded. This portion of our text concerns such souls.
UPHOLD THE WEAK. Other versions read "support the weak," KJV "help the weak," NASB "sustain the weak," Darby and "take tender care of the weak." NLT To "uphold" means to treat the weak with such consideration that they do not fall. It is holding them up, like someone who has lost strength to stand on their own.
It is to be understood that "the weak" are not weak by choice. This is not speaking of those who repeatedly fall into sin and immorality. Such conduct is not the result of weakness, but of deliberate choice. Such souls are told, "sin no more" (John 5:14; 8:11). In this text, weakness refers more to the conscience than a loose and sinful life. Such people, for example, existed in Corinth. Some of them did not realize an idol was really nothing. Thus, when they saw someone eating meat that had been offered to idols, they would do the same, consciously giving honor to an idol. Because of these brethren, the Corinthian saints were told not to eat meat offered to idols before such souls. Solemnly the Spirit says, "But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ" (1 Cor 8:12).
There are uninformed and weak souls in the body of Christ who tend to think more of their old life than of the glories to come. They are not merely to be tolerated, but supported. Elsewhere the Spirit witnesses, "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Rom 15:1). The idea is to enable the growth of such souls, not to leave them in a state of weakness. Burdens that exceed their strength are not to be laid upon them. Jesus rebuked the masters of the Law in His day for burdening weak souls. "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matt 23:4). Our text is an admonition to help along the weak and uninformed in order that they might gain strength. It is an effort that will result in Christ being formed in them (Gal 4:19).
Upholding, or supporting, the weak also involves giving to them what spiritual resources we have - considering them, and seeking their stability. It even includes helping those who have been deprived of the normalities of life. All of this is covered in Paul's words to the elders from Ephesus. "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive" NKJV (Acts 20:35).
BE PATIENT WITH ALL. Other versions read, "be longsuffering toward all," ASV and "putting up with much from all." BBE Here, the word "patient" means to bear long with, being of a forbearing spirit, and not losing heart because of the weakness of some poor souls. Being "patient" is being able to put up with a lot of manners that could agitate the soul and cause inconsideration, and even hatred, to rise in the soul.
Being "patient with all" is an effort to maintain the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." It is living with "all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love" (Eph 4:2-3). Sometimes this involves "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do" (Col 3:13). Be sure, this does not mean believers are to be tolerant of gross iniquity in those who wear the name of Jesus. The Word of God is clear that immortality is not to be endured among the saints (1 Cor 5:11-13; Matt 18:17). Too, those who cause divisions and hindrances are not to be countenanced by God's people (Rom 16:17). Those who insist on living unruly and disorderly lives, rejecting all appeals, have no place among believers (2 Thess 3:6). This text does not negate all of those appeals. It speaks of another circumstance.
Being "patient with all" puts the most favorable interpretation on questionable conduct, "thinking no evil" (1 Cor 13:5). It assumes the sincerity of those who are novices, and do not yet see the things of God with clarity. The aim of the longsuffering is to clear the ground so they can grow, all the while feeding them the good things of God as they are able to bear them. We must not become wearied with the weak. If the fainthearted must be comforted again and again, we must do so without being irked with their tendency to discouragement. This is not urging us to tolerate the sins of others, but to earnestly seek to correct their juvenility by bringing them up higher. The demand for such work must not produce impatience within us.