We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
What’s this all about? Writing to the fledgling and fragile church at Thessalonica, Paul gives them concise and needed instruction for their spiritual growth, congregational well-being, and consolation. In so doing he provides us invaluable instruction for the Church today. It is amazing how much the Holy Spirit communicates through the Apostle’s pen in a single sentence!
We urge you, brethren… Paul is addressing believers and believers only, within the church (brethren). Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica is all about caring for the church. Consequently, Paul addresses those within the church. He does so with ‘urgency.’ No pun intended (“We urge you…”). The verb he employs communicates a real sense of urgency. He is exhorting them to a course action. He addresses them to attend to a need.
Admonish… encourage… help… be patient... Here God calls upon them and us to four courses of action. These are all commands, in the imperative mood. In that the Holy Spirit employs the imperative, these are not options. He mandate 4 courses of action in connection for a variety of people-types within the church. For the glory of God and the good of others (not to mention our own growth) we do well to conform ourselves to His prescriptions if the church is to not only survive but thrive.
Admonish the unruly. You could render this ‘warn,’ ‘rebuke,’ ‘counsel,’ or ‘instruct’ the disorderly. There are those within a congregation or assembly who seem to cause disturbance or trouble. Outwardly, they seem to be ignorant, or perhaps newbies. Often they are generally pleasant but somehow, some way they seem to be at the heart of conflicts and confusion that occurs over time. They may be people who seem to get into debates, arguments, or conflagrations over non-essential and non-eternal matters. They may be those who fight over the color of the carpet or the verbiage in the church bylaws or constitution. They may inject politics into discussions of theology confusing ideology with theology. They may perpetually and habitually find themselves short of funds, out of a job and looking to the church to fix their problems, refusing to accept responsibility for their actions. They are not the weak brother (sister) who is new to the faith. They are not the faint-hearted who are worn down by situation, circumstance, or illness. They are in short unruly. We are to do our best to correct them or help them grow (James 5:19-20). But at some point, if they persist in their unruliness or disruptive behavior we may be forced to remove them from the congregation (cf. Matthew 18:15-17). Often when painful decisions must be made there are those who “advocate for grace” forgetting that the grace is that we are confronting them and trying to help them grow. Moreover, by dealing with them, we are showing grace to others in the congregation who may have been or who are impacted by their unruly conduct.
Encourage the faint-hearted… help the weak. Life in this fallen world is hard. Multiple setbacks, illness, or heartbreak can wear a soul down. You see this in the book of Job after Job suffers unspeakable loss and heartbreak—not to mention illness and injury. Regrettably, Job’s friends make things worse by ‘piling on.’ Proverbs tells us that an apt word brings healing to the bones and the tongue of the wise brings healing. This has to do with encouraging (rather than discouraging) the faint-hearted. Our mission is to give hope not bring further harm. Sometimes this involves rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15). It is said of Jesus that a bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He would not snuff out. That should be us. Sometimes the weak are those new to the faith and without a solid understanding of Scripture. We are to be of assistance to them. We are to come alongside them.
Be patient with everyone. We’ve all heard the saying that if your only tool is a hammer, then everyone starts looking like a nail. Being patient with everyone—with all kinds of people—involves the use of discernment. The unruly, the faint-hearted and the weak are three classes of people in distress. Sometimes they closely resemble one another. Consequently, we have to be, to use an old word, longsuffering. We have to endure and be patient. Why? You don’t want to misdiagnose the weak and the faint-hearted as unruly. There are nuanced and not so nuanced differences between the three. It would be almost a crime to confuse the faint-hearted or the weak (minded) with the unruly. Equally injurious (to the larger congregation) would be confusing the unruly for the faint-hearted and the weak. Sin, they say, is like a bomb. It harms its targets and the shrapnel resulting from the explosion maims and harms the innocent people around it. So it is with the unruly or disorderly. Sometimes we pass them off as weak or fainthearted and in the name of showing grace we show anything but grace to the people around them (inside and outside the church). As we discern who is unruly, faint-hearted, or weak, we must patiently and kindly walk arm and arm with them to rightly “diagnose” their condition. This requires both patience and discernment.
Discernment requires patience (and precision). Distinguishing between the unruly, the faint-hearted and the weak requires patience and care—precision. Why? Because we want to help all three. At the same time, discernment tells us that sooner or later the unruly have to be removed (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:10-12). But patience is the watchword because restoration is always the goal, even if restoration may not be possible and removal is necessary (Galatians 6:1-2; Matthew 18:15-17). Some would call this tough love. Others an intervention. In any case, it’s commanded and required of every Christian and every Christian church—even in our conveniently non-judgmental culture.