1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
And we beseech you, brothers, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;…
I. THE MINISTERS OF THE CHURCH.
1. Their duties.
(1) They labor. The work of the Christian ministry involves much labor - unseen labor in prayer and study, outward labor in preaching, in visiting the sick and aged, in feeding the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. They are unworthy of their high calling who do not labor.
(2) They preside over the flock, but it is "in the Lord;" by his appointment, in his strength, in accordance with his will, with a view to his glory, not their own. They must not seek to be "lords over God's heritage," but rather be ensamples to the flock, first in humility, first in self-denial, first in Christian love.
(3) They admonish - a difficult, a painful duty, but often the duty of a minister; not to be neglected by those who watch for souls as they that must give account, but to be performed in humility and gentleness, with many prayers for guidance and for wisdom.
2. The respect due to their office. St. Paul beseeches the Thessalonians (mark his earnestness) to recognize the labors of their presbyters; perhaps there had been some neglect of them. It is good for Christians themselves to know the ministers who work among them, to take a lively interest in their work, their difficulties, their necessities: so they may share in that; holy work themselves. Such an interest will lead them to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake, for its dignity and. importance, but also for the faithfulness with which it is performed. The indolent and. careless will not win this esteem. Reverence towards those set over us and due subordination, tend to promote the peace of the Church. That peace is of the utmost moment. Our unhappy divisions give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully, and draw Christians away from the quiet pursuit of holiness into the unhealthy atmosphere of controversy.
II. THE DUTIES OF THE BRETHREN GENERALLY.
1. Admonition and encouragement. All Christians must take their part in the great work of saving souls; all are responsible, in a greater or less degree, for the welfare of the souls that come within their influence. All true Christians must admonish when admonition is needed; all must comfort those who stand in need of comfort. All must support the weak, and all must practice patience towards all men, unbelievers as well as believers. For these duties are so many different phases of Christian love, and Christian love is the highest of all graces. The love of the brethren is the proof that we have passed from death unto life. Then the Christian who is living in that life which is hid with Christ in God must take a deep and holy interest in the souls around him. The nearer he lives to God the better he will be able to admonish, to comfort, to support; the more willing he will be to labor in the cause of Christ.
2. They must teach the unlawfulness of revenge. The heathen almost universally applauded it. To return evil for evil, they thought, was as commendable as to requite good with good. The Christian must learn of Christ, the blessed Master, to pray, "Father, forgive them." He must crush out of his heart all revengeful feelings; he must learn to love his enemies, to pray for those who use him despitefully. It is a hard lesson sometimes. We shall learn it if we are living by faith in the presence of the cross. He died for the Thessalonians when they were enemies; they must learn of him to be kind to all men, even to the unthankful and to the evil.
3. Christian joy. It is a duty, not merely a privilege. A sullen, joyless temper implies a wart of faith, the absence of hope and love. "The kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. He dwelleth in the Christian heart, and his presence bringeth joy. There must be joy where God is; the joy of heaven lieth in this, "He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." And the joy of the faithful on earth is joy in the Lord, joy in his presence, in his love. Not to rejoice is want of trustfulness in him whose love should gladden the Christian heart. Barrow begins his great sermon on this text with the words, "O good apostle, how acceptable rules dost thou prescribe! O gracious God, how gracious laws dost thou inspire!" but "resevera verum gaudium." Many rejoice at times, in seasons of excitement; but to rejoice evermore, in sickness, and pain, and disappointments, and bereavements - this is difficult indeed; this implies a high degree of self-mastery, a living faith in God. We must learn to regard joy as our bounden duty, a duty which flows out of the great debt of love which we owe to God. Joy is the expression of our gratitude; it ought to be the free-will offering of a thankful heart. "Rejoice evermore" is the commandment of the Lord. He who commands gives also power to obey. He giveth to all men largely. He gives his Holy Spirit to all who ask in faith, and with the Spirit comes the gift of joy.
4. Perseverance in forayer. The whole of the Christian life should be consecrated to God - every action, word, thought. This involves a constant reference of all the little details of our daily lives to the will of God. We should refer them all to him, as Hezekiah spread the letter of Sennacherib before the Lord. No emergency is so great as to keep the faithful Christian from his God, none of our little difficulties is so small as to make it needless or unseemly to consult the Lord in prayer. "Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus." Thus the whole life must be sanctified by habitual communion with God, while in the stated hours of prayer the believer will constantly entreat the Giver of all good with unceasing and ever more urgent importunity for more abundant grace, for larger spiritual gifts, for strength from on high to offer daily a more acceptable service. Thus prayer will be without ceasing. The heart prays when the lips are silent.
5. Thankfulness. Thanksgiving must always accompany prayer. It springs out of faithful prayer; for faithful prayer brings us into the presence of God, and in that presence we must give thanks. Thanksgiving, like prayer, should be without ceasing, in everything. We thank God for his unspeakable gift, the gift of Christ; we thank him for our access to him in prayer and praise and holy sacrament; we thank him for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. We must learn to thank him, not only in our joys, but in our sorrows too. We must thank him for his chastisements, for they are sent in love. "Hast thou suffered any evil," says Chrysostom; "if thou wilt, it is no evil; give thanks to God, and the evil is turned to good." He practiced what he taught; in the midst of cruel afflictions he died with the words, "Glory be to God for all things," on his lips. This is the will of God - God would have the Christian's life to be a life of joy, a life of unceasing prayer, of perpetual thanksgiving. This is his will in Christ Jesus, revealed in the words of Christ; exemplified in the life of Christ, rendered possible by the grace of Christ to those who abide in him.
6. Spiritual gifts. The Divine fire was kindled at the great day of Pentecost in the baptism of fire; the like holy flame burns in all true Christian hearts. It is of all gifts the most precious. It involves an awful responsibility.
(1) It is our part to stir up the gift of God that is in us; to watch very carefully lest, through sin or carelessness or indifference, the holy fire lose its brightness and its power. The foolish virgins were suddenly aroused to the consciousness that their lamps were going out. The Lord was come; they had no oil, they were not ready. It was too late. Arise and trim your lamps; take warning in time; quench not the Spirit. An unclean life, says Chrysostom, quenches that holy fire; so does apathy, indifference in religion. Sin is like water poured upon the flame. There is no fellowship between light and darkness; the Holy Spirit dwelleth not in the impure heart. Indifference gradually quenches the fire. The lamp will not burn without the oil; the daily renewal of the Holy Ghost is necessary for the support of the spiritual life within us. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul; he may depart from us if we live, like Saul, in willfulness and disobedience. It is a tearful thought that we have the awful power of quenching that Spirit which is the very life of our souls. It should stimulate us to constant, anxious watchfulness.
(2) Quench not the Spirit in others; despise not prophesyings, but prove all things. There is a holy enthusiasm which comes from God; there is a fanaticism, a mere fervor of excitement, which is not of God. We must not believe every spirit, lest we be carried about with every blast of vain doctrine. We are bidden to "try the spirits whether they are of God." There were prophesyings in the apostolic times, flowing from the direct inspiration and impulse of the Holy Spirit; there are such utterances now. There were then, and there are now, counterfeit likenesses of these spiritual gifts. There is need of care. God giveth to his chosen a power of spiritual discernment. "He that is spiritual judgeth all things;" he will hold fast that which is good.
7. All evil must be avoided. Every form of evil; little sins, as they are called, as well as great sins. Little sins are the first symptoms of the deadly disease. It may be checked at its outbreak; if neglected, it may slay the soul. The danger is great; the enemy is awful in his power and malignity. Hate all that comes from him. - B.C.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;