World English Bible translation
5:11Therefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as you also do. 5:12 But we beg you, brothers, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, 5:13 and to respect and honor them in love for their work's sake.
Be at peace among yourselves.5:14 We exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient toward all. 5:15 See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but always follow after that which is good, towards one another, and towards all.
Because we are sons of light and will be with the Lord, we ought to build one another up and strengthen each other in the Lord. In particular, the apostles write that the Thessalonians should respect and honor those whom God has appointed to be in authority "over" them.
The concept of Biblical "authority" is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied issues in Christendom today. The apostles give two concepts here that should be applied to Christian leaders. The first is that the role of a Christian leader is no light task. It's "LABOR". Christian leaders lead from the front of the attack. The concept of inactive leadership is not modeled in the Bible. Christian leaders in the Bible are the first to do and the first to die. In this they become examples of the Father and the Son. God is active. His fingernails are dirty and there is sweat on His brow.
The second condition that the apostles qualify Christian leaders with here is that they are "over you in the Lord." "In the Lord" means two things here. First, the Lord gives their place and position to them. No one appoints or votes on a true Christian leader. The Lord places them where He needs them and provides them with the tools and motivation to get His work done. The best we can do is to acknowledge that they are doing God's work and support them in what they do. And second, what they will try accomplish will be consistent with being "in the Lord". Their goals and methods will be His.
As with most things in life, we really have to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us in determining whether those who seem to be "in charge" are really Christian leaders. Those who are being led by the Spirit of God should be honored and respected for what they do. We cannot expect them to be perfect, for only God is. Nor can we expect them to have complete knowledge about God, no man does.
But, too often our decisions are based on completely different criteria. We usually follow those we agree with, or the more charismatic leader. God does not often choose the man who is most charismatic in the flesh. And, as far as following those we would naturally agree with, we must remember that God is trying to lead us on to perfection. There is much that He will tell us that will be challenging.
So, how does a godly leader lead? The passage goes on to reveal some excellent ways of discerning. "Be at peace among yourselves." "…admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient toward all." Christian leaders are peaceable, they build up people of weaker faith, they are encouraging, they are patient. They also have the strength to admonish the disorderly. In all of these behaviors, Christ is our example. In the same ways that He went about accomplishing these things, Christian leaders, indeed all Christians, will do likewise.
Finally, do not return evil for evil. Let us always strive to follow after the good. Evil will come to its own reward, but evil should no longer find its place in our lives. As Paul will later write in Romans, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
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