(1 Thess. 5:12, 13)
The two verses at the heart of today’s lesson follow the concluding admonition of last week’s lesson to “encourage one another and build
each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11, NIV). This work takes place in local churches, in the process of mentoring and discipleship. The lesson today focuses on how disciples should respond to the efforts of their leaders and mentors.
The structure of the Greek of verse 12 indicates that the three phrases in the second half all refer to the same group, the local leaders of the Thessalonian church. Paul calls on the members to “know” these leaders, meaning to notice, respect, or recognize them. The implication being that, perhaps, some in the church were disrespectful of authority.
The word admonish has the connotation of instruct, warn, or even “knock sense into.” Paul acknowledges here that church leaders will often need to exercise “tough love.” This kind of leadership is not always welcome; yet, Paul goes on in verse 13 to ask the members to highly esteem their leaders on account of the difficult issues with which they have to deal. Paul wants all the members of the church to be at peace with one another.
The language of these verses reflects ancient strategies for dealing with people. Thought leaders of Paul’s day knew that dealing with people is delicate work. They encouraged leaders to carefully diagnose the condition of their followers, to be sensitive as to whether or not the follower was open to correction, to choose the right timing, and to apply the appropriate remedy. Above all else, leaders were expected to examine themselves before trying to correct others. Paul added elements to this framework. For the Christian, God is the model of leadership, and the goal of church leadership is a membership who live lives worthy of God.
In some cultures, there is a tendency to distrust and challenge leadership; in others, to blindly submit to it. How has your own culture’s attitude toward authority impacted the church in your area?