The role of elders in our journey of faith- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Good morning church! Hope you are doing well. We have completed 6 weeks of our lockdown and the latest reports do tell us that it will be extended at least till the end of May.

I know it is a testing time for all of us with the increase of COVID-19 cases and as the impact inches closer to home. In times like these when fear and uncertainty grip our minds, we need now more than ever an encouragement from God’s Word [the Bible].

Our faith needs to be energized to continue trusting and hoping in God. I’m thankful to God for this series of ‘Abiding faith’ from 1 Thessalonians. It’s like an apt letter for a difficult time like this. And today we are going to look at how “elders play a crucial role in our journey of faith”. Would you turn with me once more to our text for the day – 1 Thess 5:12-13?   

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 
13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

Thess 5:12-13

I once heard this fictitious story of a discussion between the pastor of a certain church and the worship leader on a minor change for that week’s service. As the discussion grew, it got more heated.

Seeing that this was turning into an argument the pastor said “I think we should go home and pray and ask God to give us peaceful hearts.” After the worship service the coming week, the worship leader warmly greeted and told him “I took your advice and went home and said a prayer”.

The pastor said “Great. So did I. I asked God to grant us both peaceful hearts and a fresh start.” The worship leader replied “Although that’s not what I prayed for. I asked God to help me & give me the strength to put up with you”!!!

While there could be a variety of reasons as to why it’s not always the easiest to respect and highly esteem the pastors among us (we will come to that in a few minutes), I want to start by asking all of us this question

“Is it really necessary for a church to have pastors? Is their role really important?”

I’ll be answering this question with 4 more questions today – “What, Why, How and What next?”

1. What is the labour that pastors engage in?

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you….to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (v12-13)

What is the labour or work? Some people think that pastors are necessary for administration. Just to ensure that they have a steady pipeline of events organized well. Some other probably think that pastors exist to entertain the congregation on a Sunday morning with a well-crafted speech, couple of jokes here and there to keep it engaging – something like a Ted talk. Is that what pastors are called to? Or is it something else?

Here’s a simple definition of pastors –

They are God called, God gifted, assessed and publicly recognized individuals to lead God’s people in local churches.

a) God called: They are called by God to protect, provide and care for the souls of God’s people.

Look at what Paul says in Acts 20:28 to the Ephesian elders – Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[e] which he obtained with his own blood.

Paul doesn’t say “I made you an elder/pastor. He says “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers”. Their appointment letter figuratively is signed by God and not an organization.

Just like the husband in the home is given the unique calling and responsibility to set the tone for provision in the family, to set the tone for physically and spiritually protecting the family, to set the tone by being an example in the family…in the same way pastors in the church are given “delegated authority” to provide, protect and care for God’s church.

It is a delegated authority that is bound by God’s Word and for which they will need to give an account for. The moment the pastor says anything outside of God’s Word, it ceases to be authoritative.

We aren’t obligated to do anything that the pastor tells us to do that is not flowing out of God’s Word.

b) God gifted: The pastor needs to be “able to teach” or as some other versions put it “an apt teacher” [1 Tim 3].

By God gifted I’m not saying that the pastor needs to have a daily podcast or an exceptional orator but someone who is equipped to faithfully preach and teach God’s Word.

As I said earlier, the delegated authority to be able to “rebuke, correct and train in righteousness” [2 Tim 3:16] comes from the Word. If the pastor faithfully explains and applies the passage of Scripture, then to disbelieve or to disobey would be to disbelieve or disobey God! That’s a huge thing.

A pastor is not called to state his opinions on different matters of the Bible. He’s not called to say things like “I think it’s not a wise idea for all of us to sin in this area”.

A pastor is called and gifted by God to preach and teach the very words of God and that has tremendous authority.

c) Assessed: When we look at the qualifications for pastors in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1, we see that most of the qualifications are character qualities for which the church would need to have spent sufficient time with the candidate to evaluate his life.

Superior leadership qualities or oratory skills or administrative knack don’t count for anything. Maturity in the person’s lifestyle is what is being evaluated.

And that’s important because the pastor is called to “Set the tone for spiritual life in the church”.

 d) Publicly recognized: By public recognition, I don’t mean having a daily podcast, being featured on various church blogs or having a large twitter following.

What I mean by publicly recognized is that the pastors are officially recognized as the pastors in their local congregation. In the NT we see a pattern of laying of hands before the church.

And that’s important because the church needs to know who they need to approach for guidance & instruction. It can’t be left to assumptions.

Brothers and sisters, this is an important role in the church. But despite knowing that pastors are God called, God gifted, assessed and publicly recognized individuals to lead God’s people in local churches,

2) Why is it that we struggle to that respect and esteem pastors?

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you

Thess 5:12

In v12 when Paul says “we ask you, brothers”, he is actually making an “earnest request”. The Hindi translation of this word is closer to the Greek translation – “Vinnti” – an earnest request is being made to this young Thessalonian church because they were not appreciating and respecting their pastors enough.

Our human experiences today aren’t too different from the Thessalonians. We struggle to do the same if we are honest. Some reasons could be:

a) We equate respect to ability: In our sinfulness, we end up respecting those that manage to “Wow” us with their abilities.

People need to “earn our respect”. In our sin, we think that if the pastor is better than us in his bible knowledge or behaviour or skill level, then we respect the pastor.

The flip-side is if we think we are better than the pastor in our abilities, then he doesn’t deserve our respect. Some years back I was having a conversation with a brother in Christ who had a solid understanding and training in the Word.

He certainly knew a lot more than me. But as we were talking about his church and his pastors, I realized he became quite bitter and said some unkind things about his pastors. And it surprised me because I wondered how could it be that a solid person in the Bible was having a tough time respecting his own pastors?

Later I figured it was his own bible knowledge that made him not respect his pastors. Now it is possible that he knew more than his pastors, but that doesn’t undermine the authority of those God called, God gifted, assessed and publicly recognized pastors to lead his own heart.

b) We fail to submit to authority: We see this displayed in all walks of life. Children struggle to submit to the authority of parents.

Citizens of a country oppose the authority of the government even if it’s a good government. Employees don’t submit to the authority of their employers. Similarly, even in churches, members have a hard time submitting themselves to their pastors.

And the issue is an internal one. It is a heart issue where we don’t like to be corrected. Even though we might not say it out loud, we echo these thoughts everyday “Who does that person think they are to tell me what to do?” “I should be the only one who decides what or what should not happen in my life” “I will submit only to my authority and no one else”.

And this failure to submit to authority goes back right to the Garden of Eden. This doesn’t have a modern origin story. Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they wanted to “be like God”. They wanted to independently decide what is right or wrong for them apart from God.

They wanted autonomy and all of human history has been paying the painful and deadly price for independence apart from God.

c) We have been victims of pastoral abuse: Some of us could find it hard to respect or esteem pastors because of a really painful and hurtful past experience.

It could have been harsh verbal abuse; it could have been manipulation or it could have also been inappropriate behaviour. And these I understand have damaging effects on the way we trust pastors now and also perceive spiritual things.

And honestly brothers and sisters, I have experienced all the three in my past experiences. I have laughed at and disrespected my pastors & I’ve also experienced the pain of pastoral abuse.

This has been a topic that really drove my heart to repenting this week. Which brings us to the question if there is any hope available for us?

3) How can Jesus Christ redeem us from this?

a) How can Jesus redeem us from equating respect to ability? The good news of Jesus tells us that God chose to treat us well in spite of our disabilities.

We had no means and no way of being able to present ourselves as acceptable and pure before God. All our best works were only as good as filthy rags.

Yet through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has given us a place of respect and privilege as His own children. This crushes the worldly thought process of equating respect with ability.

b) How can Jesus redeem us from failing to submit to authority? When we look at the root of every sin that we have ever committed, deep down there is a stubborn defiance to not submit to God’s authority.

It’s super humbling to realize that Jesus Christ hung and died on a cross to pay the full price for our unsubmissive heart and deeds!

Christ Jesus paid the highest cost to rescue us from the deadly snare of independence & bring us back to the safety net of God dependence.

c) How can Jesus redeem us from the hurt of pastoral abuse -> Can we receive healing? Yes, the healing comes from forgiveness.

But how it is it possible to forgive someone who has done so much of damage to my life and spirituality?

When we realize the depths of God’s forgiveness in spite of our spiritual abuse against Him, as painful as it seems it allows us to forgive the people responsible for the pastoral abuse.

Because of the good news of Jesus, we have both the power and the motivation to forgive!

In the light of how Christ has redeemed us –

4) What do we do next?

How do we actually now apply these truths of respecting our pastors and highly esteeming them in love?

Is it by buttering up our pastors and showering them with compliments? Not really.

But we can show our care and value by these things:

1. Pray for your pastors: One of the most caring things you can do for us as your pastors is bringing us before the throne of God frequently and ask God to give us greater intimacy with Jesus, give us wisdom on how to lead you all well especially through a pandemic – none of us in this generation have seen or heard anything of this kind & also pray for provision as we follow God’s call.

2. Obey your pastors: To remind you again – our delegated authority comes from God’s Word. Therefore, if it’s an instruction or correction that’s coming clearly from Scripture, then obedience is how you show your allegiance to God and value for the elders God has placed over you.

Just know guys – our heart is always to point you to glorify God and for your good.

3. Encourage your pastors: We might assume that pastors don’t need encouragement and are self-sufficient but its far from that.

We as your pastors need your encouragement from the Word as much as you do. We need encouragement to continue to pour and toil in ministry and do it with a joyful heart.

Jesus Christ is author and leader of His church! He is the Lead Pastor. All the pastors from all-time report to Him.

It’s so beautiful that He would choose broken individuals like us and use us to lead His people even as He is also repairing us!

God leads us as we follow the leadership of those He has placed over us. Be it in the family being led by the husband or in the family of God (the local church) led by the pastors.

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