Sunday, December 11, 2011

Brethren or Brothers and Sisters

1 Thess 5:14-15  Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. NLT

1 Thess 5:14 14 And we earnestly beseech you, brethren, admonish (warn and seriously advise) those who are out of line [the loafers, the disorderly, and the unruly]; encourage the timid and fainthearted, help and give your support to the weak souls, [and] be very patient with everybody [always keeping your temper].  [Isa 35:4.]  AMP

According to the old saying, blood is thicker than water. In reality, however, family members tend to take one another for granted. Years of living together on a daily basis can blind us to the strengths of those we love and make us overly aware of their flaws. The same can be true of the church. That is why the apostle Paul found it necessary to remind the Thessalonians of their obligation to treat one another as "brethren."
Those of us who have been joined to Jesus Christ by faith have also been joined to one another. Our common faith has made us brothers and sisters in Christ. Our calling in Christ is a call to freedom, but to a particular kind of freedom: the freedom to "serve one another in love" (Gal 5:13).
What exactly do we owe one another as members of God's family? In 1 Thess 5:14 the apostle identifies the three primary responsibilities of the family: We are to warn those who are idle, encourage those who are timid, and help those who are weak. These responsibilities are each an outgrowth of the more general command to "live in peace with each other" (1 Thess 5:13). Peace in the church does not come when we ignore other believers. Being a part of God's family means that we are to be accountable to one another.
Like any family, those who are in God's family occasionally need to be disciplined. As members of the family of God, we are called to "admonish" the unruly. This term is actually a compound word made up of the Greek term for "mind" and the verb "to put." Therefore, when we admonish, we touch the mind. Admonition is a form of instruction and implies that correction is needed. True admonition, however, does more than merely point out what is wrong. It also provides direction.
Who needs this kind of redirection? According to Paul, it is especially for the "idle," or more literally, those who are "without order." The King James Version translates this word as "unruly." Although idleness is a condition that requires correction, the people Paul had in mind here were not merely lazy, but troublemakers as well. These busybodies continually stirred up trouble in the congregation (2 Thess 3:11). The responsibility to admonish such people was one shared by all believers (Rom 15:14), and those who refused to listen to correction were to be avoided (2 Thess 3:6).
Not everyone in the family of God should be dealt with the same way. While some need to be admonished, others need to be encouraged. Admonition is for the irresponsible, but encouragement is for the fearful. To some extent, encouragement is more positive than admonition. Admonition assumes that correction is needed, while encouragement is designed to comfort. When I admonish, I function as a coach. When I encourage, I act as a cheerleader.
For some, however, words of encouragement are simply not enough. They need something more practical. Paul's directive for dealing with these believers is to "help the weak." The picture in Paul's mind is that of standing opposite someone and holding them up. The irresponsible need to be told to straighten up, the fearful need to be cheered up, but weak believers need to be propped up.
Why not simply leave the weak to fend for themselves? We have an obligation to support the weak because Christ helped us when we were unable to help ourselves (Rom 5:6). Because of this, "we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves" (Rom 15:1).
When Paul speaks of weak believers, he is usually referring to those who suffered from a "weak" conscience. Unlike those Paul describes as "strong," the weak were bound by their personal convictions to refrain from activities that other Christians saw as harmless. They would not eat certain foods that they considered unclean and refused to eat foods that had been sacrificed to idols (Rom 14:1-2; 1 Cor 8:7). They regarded certain days as more sacred than others, while "stronger" believers considered every day alike. The biblical principle of supporting the weak demanded that those with the stronger consciences accept those whose faith was weak without condemning them (Rom 14).
Bob had always been a fan of country western music. He taught himself how to play guitar and made it his life's goal to sing on the stage of the "Grand Ol' Opry." After he came to know Christ, however, he realized that this style of music had become a kind of idol in his life. Although Bob continued to play the guitar and sing after he was saved, he decided that he would play gospel music only. Bob started attending church and began to use his musical ability in the Sunday school class. However, when his Sunday school teacher learned of his convictions about country western music, he became upset, concluding that Bob was being too "legalistic." Week after week, he urged Bob to ignore the convictions of his overly sensitive conscience and return to playing country-western music. Although he had good intentions, Bob's teacher had missed the point of Paul's directive. It is the strong who are to adapt to the weak.
In every case, whether we are admonishing the idle, encouraging the timid, or helping the weak, we must put the other person first. We cannot afford to think only of ourselves. This is a cardinal rule in any family, and it is especially true of the family of God. Where the church is concerned, you can't spell "brothers" without spelling "others."
Heavenly Father, thank You for making me a part of Your family. Make me sensitive to the needs of my brothers and sisters and equip me to meet those needs. Amen.
Thanks to John Koessler for allowing us to publish his

John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of ten books and numerous articles. He also serves as a contributing editor for the Moody Bible Institute publication Today in the Word, where you can read his monthly “Theology Matters” column. You can contact John via email at or by phone at (312) 329-4077

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