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Our Duty Toward Followers

Our Duty Toward Followers

Sermon Transcript

How does being a follower of Jesus Christ impact our interactions with others? How do we work towards the greater good? Join Dr. Marty Baker as we take a look at 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 and unpack Paul's instructions to warn, encourage, and help others with patience.

Biblical doctrine should always lead to personal practice and application because this is how believers are transformed into the likeness of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18). We see this truth in how 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 are constructed by the Apostle Paul. In chapter 4:13-18, he teaches how the Rapture of the Church before the seven-year Tribulation (Dan. 9:24-27) can occur at any moment.  According to his teaching in 1 Corinthians 3:10ff, each believer will be judged upon their entrance into heaven for the quality of their spiritual walk.  Rewards will be given after each judgment, and each saint will walk into heaven’s glory.

Knowing the doctrinal reality of Christ’s imminent return moved Paul in his closing chapter to this church in Thessalonica to answer a natural question:

How Should We Live In Light Of Christ’s Arrival?

(1 Thess. 5:12-14)

Paul applies the answer to the question for Christians to three distinct groups:

  • Our Duty Toward Leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13)
  • Our Duty Toward Followers (1 Thess. 5:14-15)
  • Our Duty Toward The Lord (1 Thess. 5:16-22)

As the end-time world will devolve into lawlessness, disrespect for authority, and calling evil good (2 Tim. 3:1-9), believers will need to remember the importance of following biblical leadership to maintain peace in churches and to maximize their spiritual impact on the chaotic, caustic society.  I thank God for a church where leaders courageously lead based on what the Scriptures teach, not upon what culture pushes, and where worshippers stand with and support their leaders.  May we constantly guard the unity that arises from this relationship, for this is how we showcase the gospel light to those who need it.

Turning from this sagacious counsel, Paul next gives us a series of pinpointed commands to quickly and continuously apply to other believers.   I call this . . .

Our Duty Toward Followers (1 Thess. 5:14-15)

Six present tense commands inform believers of their daily, moment-by-moment responsibility toward other saints.  Watch how Paul introduces this string of imperatives.

14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.

The opening clause is from the verb parakaleo ( παρακαλέω ). Paul intensifies the term's meaning by wedding the preposition para, which means “to come alongside someone,” to the verb “to call,” or kaleo.  The picture is of Paul wrapping his loving arms around believers, pulling them close to himself, and then giving them the essential commands.  What a great teacher and model.

Interestingly, Paul’s first command is “admonish the unruly.” He knew from experience how these people threaten and destroy the joy, peace, and vibrant witness of a given local church.  To prevent this, Paul taught that individual believers are called to keep unruly believers accountable for their actions so peace and spiritual maturity can flourish. Let’s dive deeper into this command.

The Greek imperative for “admonish” is noutheteite ( νουθετεῖτε).  According to Danker’s Greek lexicon, it means offering counsel and instruction to avoid or cease inappropriate conduct. Paul employs this term frequently in his letters to churches, for it is the means for saints to keep sinful, immoral, and disruptive behavior in the body in check so it does not create dissension and destruction (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 4:14; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 2 Thess. 3:15). If you believe the local church is supposed to be a judgment-free zone, think again.  Even your statement is a judgment. This proves that judgment is logically viable, especially if grounded on biblical truths and teaching.

What kind of Christian are Christians to admonish or confront? Paul calls them the “unruly.”  The Greek term is ataktous (ἀτάκτους ). This ancient word denoted a soldier who disobeyed a superior officer's direct order.  As the Vietnam War drew to a close, I watched a news report one evening regarding how some U.S. soldiers disregarded an officer’s command for them to walk point in the dense jungle.  With the war’s end in sight, some didn’t want to walk point and had a greater chance of drawing enemy fire.  I'm sure that wilful, selfish disobedience at this level immediately caused chaos in the platoon.

What is true in a military setting is equally valid in a church setting. One disrespectful, arrogant, selfish, full-of-themselves, I-am-right-and-you-are-all-wrong saint can wreak havoc on the unity and witness of a local church.  This is why they must be admonished quickly.  If not, their sin will spread like a destructive virus.  To read Paul’s letters is to see that he admonished saints frequently.  He rebuked Peter when he saw him living a doctrinally hypocritical life. When he was with Jews, he wouldn’t eat meat forbidden by the Mosaic law but ate anything and everything when he was with Gentiles. Paul lovingly took the errant, compromised Peter to the task so his hypocrisy didn’t continue to hamstring his spiritual walk, leadership, and cultural impact (Gal. 2:11ff).   I’m sure Paul didn’t relish the opportunity to confront Peter, but he knew it had to be done, so he stepped forward in faith for Peter’s and the Church’s sake.

Why is it hard to admonish the unruly (. . . and they are in every church, so don’t move from church to church and think you can escape them).  Good question.  Many reasons come to mind:

  • It makes me too uncomfortable.
  • Who am I to say anything?
  • If I do this, I will probably destroy a friendship.
  • If I do this, there will potentially be some ugly backlash.
  • I don’t want to appear intolerant, unloving, or holier-than-thou.
  • It’s not my place to say anything.

I could go on, but I know you get the point.  Confrontation is never easy, but keeping the local body of Christ holy, pure, and on a path to maturity is always necessary.

From Scripture, I see three main areas where the unruly typically operate.

Area #1: Relational.  These are the toughest because they typically broadside you.  In church, you let your guard down because you are around believers, and then, bam, you get rammed by a carnal Christian over what is usually a minor issue.  Ever had this happen to you? I’ve been there and done that far too many times.

Paul introduces us to the relational problem area in chapter four of Philippians:

1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Phil. 4).

Euodia and Syntyche were loyal, hard-working saints in the local church; however, they had a running inflammatory issue that destroyed their relationship, and this brokenness and conflict spilled over into the body (as it always does).  In other contexts where Paul admonishes, he describes the exact reasons for the confrontation (Gal. 1:1ff; 1 Tim. 2:18-20). Perhaps he didn’t identify the troublesome issue between these women because it was so trivial that it wasn’t worth it.  We are left to speculate.

  • Euodia, you didn’t keep a confidence but blurted it out on the prayer chain.
  • Syntyche, you believed negative information about me without ever asking me?
  • Euodia, you are so pushy and domineering every time we work together on a church meal; I’ve just had it.
  • Syntyche, your child hurt my child’s feelings, and you had the gall to say it was no big deal. Really?

Sadly, I’ve seen too many believers over the last thirty-six years of pastoring nuke their relationships with other saints, and do untold damage to the local church.

If you are an unruly saint, what should you do? Christ tells you:

23 If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering (Matt. 5).

Don’t assume that worship and liturgy can cover the wrong you have committed against someone else.  If you’ve wronged another, leave worship, go to that person, confess your inappropriate actions, restore that relationship through humble confession, and then get back into worshipping and walking with God.  And if an unruly saint seeks your forgiveness, you are called to forgive as Jesus forgave you, instantly and with no strings attached (Eph. 4:32).

As a side note, Paul was a realist insofar as he knew from dealing with unruly saints how sometimes you cannot make peace with them. He says this much in his letter to the Roman church:

8 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Rom. 12).

Strive for peace as a way of life, but understand that some saints are so carnal, immature, and caustic that you can’t make peace with them.  What do you then?  Pull back from that relationship and move on.  It also might be wise to warn others who befriend them what they might experience down the road so they are forewarned.

Area #2: Doctrinal.  As the High Priest over all churches, Jesus took the church in Pergamos to task in Revelation 2:12,

4 'But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality. 15 'Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

16 'Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth (Rev. 2).

Balaam spiritually destroyed Israel by getting Moabite young women to inter-marry with young Israelite men.  This sexual compromise did untold damage to the nation’s spiritual life, for it brought false worship alongside the worship of the living God.  The church in Pergamos lived similarly by permitting immoral sexual acts to occur among them as a means of worship, as occurred in the worship of Zeus and other false gods in the bustling, wealthy city.  God approved of a marriage between a real man and a real woman for life, and sound doctrine taught that He didn’t approve of sexual actions outside of marriage in any gender configuration for the sake of “worship.”

We live in Pergamos, don’t we?  Sexual perversion masquerades as purity in our culture, and this tolerance and acceptance are spilling over into local churches, causing some to embrace doctrinally deviant sexual behavior for the sake of peace and progressive growth.  We must ever be on guard to lovingly admonish the sexually unruly so sound doctrine is not warped and replaced with unsound doctrine.

Area #3: Legal.  The Corinthian church was a relational, doctrinal, and legal mess.  According to Paul’s words in chapter 6, some believers couldn’t wait to take other believers to court.

1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?

Sure, there are times when believers should go before a secular court.  Criminal activity would be a significant case in point.  But, for the most part, Paul’s counsel is for saints not to quickly go to court before unbelievers.  On the other hand, saints should submit to the God-given leadership and authority of the local church to air their differences and find a resolution.  Disputes between believers should be settled by believers to move the saints toward reconciliation and safeguard the witness of the church.  This did not occur in Corinth Community Church. They lived to haul each other into a secular court to settle nasty, prolonged, heated disputes.

What was Paul’s counsel?  You see it with the question he posed:

2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?

Since believers will judge the lost and demonic beings at the consummation of time (Rev. 2:26-27), Paul says it stands to reason that we should judge smaller matters among us without heading toward a human court.

He then adds this observation:

4 If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church?

What does this mean?  The local church doesn’t bring local judges into the church setting to render judgments because they are unnecessary.  Believers, who will judge on a higher, eternal plane one day, are well-equipped to render just decisions among themselves. And when those judgments are rendered, the church should take note, and believers should be obedient, so maturity is realized, unity is protected, and the church’s witness is not tarnished.

What happens when believers rush to a human court?  Here is Paul’s answer:

5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Cor. 6).

It is shameful for saints to battle it out in court over matters they can and should, settle among themselves.  It is far wiser, according to Paul, to be wronged and defrauded than it is to get your pound of flesh in a worldly court of law.  Yes, there are times when a worldly court is warranted; however, more often than not, situations among believers should be settled among believers, even if it costs one of them something.

As a new pastor, I asked the denomination which tax collector they approved.  They appointed me to a well-known man in our mother church.  He did my taxes for several years, and I thought everything was great. Eventually, I moved on to another Christian tax man, and I continued to believe they both did a stellar job preparing my taxes. Then one day, I received a whopping bill from the IRS. The first Christian tax man had miscalculated my taxes for several years, and the second had followed the first man’s method.  I couldn’t believe the bill amount nor the level of interest the IRS wanted.

When I admonished the first Christian tax man, he said it was not his problem, and that I just needed to pay the bill.  The second Christian tax man did pay his part from the miscalculations, but for a while, I felt like I should sue the first man.  Paul’s teaching, conversely, kept me on the straight and narrow path for my sake and the sake of the gospel.  So, I allowed myself to be defrauded in a small fashion.  That was financially hard at the time, but it was the best, wisest move.

Are you dealing with a situation right now with another unruly Christian which can be solved by the church? Then let the church settle it.  Are you in a position to be defrauded so as not to bring undue damage to the cause of Christ? Then allow it to occur so the church and Christianity are not tarnished before the world.  And trust in the fact that on judgment day, the Lord will settle accounts.

Paul’s second imperative is equally instructive.

14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.

“Fainthearted” in Greek means “small souled” (ὀλιγοψύχους ). The KJV inaccurately translates this word as “feebleminded.”  This is not the lexical meaning of this word.  Its verbal and noun both denote the concept of being discouraged:

ὀλιγοψυχέω (Isocr. 19, 39; ins fr. Pamphylia: JHS 32, 1912, 273; PPetr II, 40 [a], 12; UPZ 63, 1 [158 b.c.]; POxy 1294, 13; LXX; JosAs 11 [p. 53, 8 Bat.] cod. A) opp. ἀνδρίζομαι be faint-hearted, discouraged οἱ ὀλιγοψυχοῦντες those who are discouraged 1 Cl 59:4.—Cp. DELG s.v. ψυχή.

ὀλιγόψυχος, ον (Artem. 3, 5; PMilan [I ’37] 24, 50 [117 a.d.] ὀλιόψυχος [sic] of a woman; LXX; cp. Cat. Cod. Astr. X 222, 16; 226, 8) faint-hearted, discouraged, subst. 1 Th 5:14.—DELG s.v. ὀλίγο. M-M. TW.[1]

Some people are tough, and others are tender.  Some can handle trying situations, while others fold emotionally like the proverbial lawn chair.  Some run toward conflict courageously, while others instinctively run for over.  Here Paul addresses those believers who are worn out, broken down, and discouraged by life events.  How should stronger, more stable saints respond to them?  We should encourage them.  The Greek word literally means to come alongside someone and speak to them.

  • They need you when they receive that negative diagnosis from the surgeon.
  • They need you when their husband leaves them and the children.
  • They need you when they face a sudden, tragic personal loss.
  • They need you when their company downsizes, and they are part of the downsizing.
  • They need you when their special needs child wears them down.
  • They need you when they relapse with their addiction.
  • They need you when they are passed over for rank advancement a third time.
  • They need you when they are belittled for doing something culturally courageous.

They need your presence and words of comfort, consolation, and hope. Who in your life is fainthearted right now? Do you have their name? I’m sure you do. You need to send them an encouraging email, text, or letter today.  You need to call them, set up a Zoom meeting, or drop by their home to see how they are doing, and while you are with them, make sure you listen to and encourage them.  You can be the strong stake on their little tree that is blowing in the stiff, relentless wind.

Paul’s third command, designed to impact our Christian behavior positively, is short and sweet:

14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.

The Greek for “help” is antecho (ἀντέχω ). Literally, it describes using your grip to hold tightly to someone or something.  Think of how a lifeguard rescues a physically tired, struggling swimmer in the powerful ocean waves. They latch onto that person with a solid grip to swim them to the safety of the beach.

This is how we are to behave as Christians toward weak people.  The Greek for “weak” has two primary meanings.  Friberg’s Analytical Greek Lexicon gives us the lexical answer:

ἀσθενής, ές weak, powerless; (1) literally, of bodily ailment weak, ill, sick (AC 4.9), opposite ἰσχυρός (strong, robust); substantivally ὁ ἀ. (the) sick person (LU 10.9); of physical or intellectual inability weak, inadequate (MT 26.41); (2) figuratively, of what is less effective weak, feeble, not strong (1C 4.10); substantivally τὸ ἀσθενές weak thing (1C 1.27), opposite τὸ ἰσχυρόν (strong thing); of what is in a hopeless condition morally weak, helpless (RO 5.6).

Years ago, a young mother died from cancer in our church.  When I visited her for the last time and prayed with her, I entered her home only to find it populated with many fellow saints.  These dear folks had stayed with her in shifts for months.  After I prayed with her and prepared to leave, the hospice worker walked over to me and said, “I’ve never seen a group of people like this before. They are amazing.”  Yes, they were because they did what maturing, loving believers should do.  They cared for the weakest among them, and I’ve seen saints do this repeatedly to the praise of the Holy Father.

At other times, I’ve seen saints among us help others struggling with a moral issue and weakness.  It’s difficult to break free from addictions like pornography, drugs, drinking, or gambling because its tenacious tentacles wrap themselves around your baser desires. Yet I’ve watched as saints here unconditionally love and come alongside weak people to help them not just stand but to walk forward in victory.  I praise God for you.

What about you? Is there a weak person in your life right now? Have you got their name in mind? Good. Let them know today that no matter what, you will be there for them, giving them encouragement, hope, support, and prayer.

Paul’s fourth command is as challenging as it is needed:

14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.

Paul could have left this imperative out, right?  No.  Show me a patient Christian, and I’ll show you a person walking closely with and leaning heavily on the Lord no matter what.  What is patience?  Barbara Johnson offers this helpful definition, “Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.”  I love that.  Arndt’s Greek lexicon gives us this definition:

μακροθυμέω (s. μακρόθυμος) 1 aor. ἐμακροθύμησα

① to remain tranquil while waiting, have patience, wait (Plut., Mor. 59f; Job 7:16; Sir 2:4; Bar 4:25; TestJob 22:5 al.; TestJos 2:7) abs. Hb 6:15; Js 5:8. μ. ἐπί τινι wait patiently for someth. Js 5:7b. μ. ἕως τ. παρουσίας τ. κυρίου have patience until the coming of the Lord vs. 7a.

② to bear up under provocation without complaint, be patient, forbearing (LXX; ApcEsdr 3:6 p. 27, 11 Tdf.) abs. (Pr 19:11) of God (Iren. 1, 10, 3 [Harv. I 95, 5]; Hippol., Ref. 1 pref.) Dg 9:2. Of love 1 Cor 13:4. ἀγάπη πάντα μακροθυμεῖ love is patient about everything 1 Cl 49:5. πρός τινα toward someone 1 Th 5:14. μετά τινος w. someone IPol 6:2. εἴς τινα toward someone 2 Pt 3:9. ἐπί τινι w. someone (Sir 18:11; 29:8; cp. ἐφʼ ἡμᾶς TestJob 11:10; ἐπʼ αὐτούς ApcEsdr 3:6) Mt 18:26, 29; Lk 18:7 (s. FDanker, Jesus and the New Age, ’88 ad loc. on the sequence of thought; for an alternate view s. 3 below).[2]

Interesting.  Do you remain tranquil with all people? Really? Truly?

  • How about when you are driving on the 395?
  • How about when someone pulls in front of you and slows down for no apparent reason?
  • How about when someone stands and talks with the checker after their groceries are checked, and you need to get going?
  • How about when someone drives past the long line of cars you are in to exit and then noses their way ahead of you?
  • How about when someone works slower than usual, and you’re on a production line?
  • How about when your strong-willed child repeats the destructive activity you just disciplined them for?
  • How about when you just went through multiple phone menus to get to the person you needed to talk to, only to be placed on hold and then to have your call dropped?

Let me ask you again. Are you patient with believers and unbelievers?  If not, then you know what you need to do today. You must pray: “Lord, forgive my impatience with (fill in the blank). Help me not be angry and explosive but calm, cool, and collected so I represent you well.”

This is a prayer the Lord will answer in short order.

Paul’s fifth and sixth commands, meant to mature us into Chrislikeness, are highly practical:

15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men (1 Thess. 5).

These commands are so straightforward that they almost don’t warrant a comment, but they are so important we can’t pass over them.

When, not if, someone (either believer or unbeliever) wrongs you, there is absolutely NO ROOM for retaliation and revenge.  Did you get that?  You might need to hear it again. There’s no room for you to go eye for eye and tooth for tooth. There’s no room for you to go tit for tat. Vengeance and the settling of scores are what the Lord will do on judgment day (Isa. 34:8; 35:4; 61:2; Heb. 10:30).  He will do it from a holy, righteous perspective based on a plethora of hard facts; hence, His action will be entirely just.  So, trust and wait upon Him.  In the meantime, always look in any situation where you’ve been wronged to turn the other cheek, bless your enemy, and actually do good to them instead of wrong.  Can you? Will you?

Here is a story of a Christian man who responded as he should have when wronged. Go and learn from his timeless example:

Stephen Olford tells the story of Peter Miller, a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution. Miller, lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and one of his dearest friends was General George Washington. In the town of Ephrata there also lived a spiteful troublemaker named Michael Wittman who did all he could to oppose and humiliate Miller.

One day, Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to death. When he heard the news, Miller set out to Philadelphia to plead for the life of his enemy. After walking seventy miles—on foot—Miller petitioned his friend, General Washington, to spare Wittman’s life.

“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”

“My friend?” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s not my friend. In fact, he is the bitterest enemy I have.”

“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.

That day, Miller and Wittman walked back home to Ephrata together. When they arrived home, they were no longer enemies. They were friends.[3]

Source: Keith Giles, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb, (Quoir, 2017), 85.

 Who is your Michael Wittman?


[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 703.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 612.

[3] Keith Giles, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb (Quoir, 2017), p. 85