Ordinary Christians with an Extraordinary Calling

Derek Wells, Speaker

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 | April 14 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
April 14
Ordinary Christians with an Extraordinary Calling | 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
Derek Wells, Speaker

O Lord, how we sing that our sins are many. We could enumerate them but Your mercy is so much more. So we come before You, Lord, as we think about this morning Your ministry to us, Your ministry through us and in us. O Lord, we pray that You would bless the meditations of our hearts, that You would shape My words, that You would open the hearts of Your people that we might grow in grace and knowledge of You and in brotherly love toward one another. We pray that in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, good morning. We’re stepping out of our series in Revelation. We’ll be in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 12-14. You can turn there, 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 12-14.

Hear God’s Word.

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Amen.

Well, I don’t know what your favorite time of the year is. Mine is now, now. It’s springtime. There’s lots of reasons for that. The cold, gray winter is now disappearing. Some you upper Midwesterners say give me a break, like you know cold and gray in Charlotte. But it’s disappearing. The days get warmer and the days get longer and everything seems to just come to life. You know, trees blossom, flowers bloom, birds sing, the Masters is on. You even have church-wide picnics on the lawn. Everything’s just better about springtime.

One of the things that with like to do in our home is we like to open the back door and just let the breeze come flowing in. Our kitchen and our living room just kind of come together so that’s really our gathering place. We gather together for meals, we converse, we build relationships together. The living room is my favorite place in our home.

Now I spend a lot of time as a dad trying to convince my teenagers that the living room is actually better than their upstairs bedroom. I constantly find myself trying to woo my kids downstairs. I use that patented parenting method of standing at the bottom of the stairs and just yelling up at them. It works beautifully. You should try it. Kids, come down, come join us. Sometimes they give me the “just a second,” and if you’re a parent you know what that means in teen time.

Sometimes I just find myself, I just have to go and I have to climb the stairs and get them, to gather them in, to bring them into the fuller life of our home. Really, where life is.

The title of this sermon is “Ordinary Christians with an Extraordinary Calling.” I will start just by giving you that picture. It’s simply this, that life in the church is a lot like life in the home. You have some people who are just upstairs dwellers, right? This is not a shot at you balcony people. But they just would rather live in the upstairs of the home. Just kind out of the fray of relationships, out of all the activity. They’re just kind of comfortable just to sort of be here. This sermon in many ways is a call for you who need to move. You need to move into the living space of the church, where life happens.

Then you have some of us who are already in the living room and this sermon is going to be something of a call to pursue. We need to climb the stairs, as it were, to pursue those who are upstairs and to gather them in closer to us.

So a calling to move and a calling to pursue. There’s a common hermeneutic that’s helpful when you look at Scripture, and that’s to ask one-word questions. So we are going to be asking three questions of our text this morning. We’re going to ask what, we’re going to ask who, and we’re going to ask why.

We will look at what Paul calls us to do. We see that in verses 12 through 13. It’s all wrapped up in ministry to one another, ministering to one another. It sets up everything else. It has to do with moving.

Then we’ll look at who. That has to do with pursuing further in with a focus on verse 14.

Then we will briefly conclude with why. Why should, why should you and I minister to one another? Where are you going to get the motivation to love your brothers and sisters in Christ and to grow in love for them? Where does that come from? Why?

What, who, and why.

First let’s look at the “what.” What does Paul call us to do? In one sense, when we think about godliness, Paul calls us to many things. You could look at just the surrounding verses. Look at verse 16. He says rejoice always, pray without ceasing. Verse 18 – give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Great summary imperatives for the Christian life and Paul’s concluding his letter with that. You could preach a sermon on each one of those verses.

You might say why would you focus on verse 14. Well, Paul’s urging throughout this letter is about growing in godliness, walking in holiness, our sanctification, and much of that in this letter is taken up with how we as believers live in relation to one another.

We can see that in verses 12 through 13. The context in which he’s speaking is the local church. There’s a structure, there’s a community of believers, so he’s addressing Christians in this community. These aren’t individuals Christians in their spiritual silos. No, they’re in relationship to one another.

Paul begins by addressing the congregation’s posture toward their leadership. He says to respect the leaders who labor among you and admonish you, esteem them highly in love because of their calling. Of course, he’s talking about pastors and elders. You can say, well, Derek, that seems a little bit self-serving for you to choose this verse. After all, you are a pastor.

There’s a lot we could say about what that means. But my point is not to labor that, it’s simply to look at the posture that Paul calls the congregation to. It’s a posture of which we ultimately all are called to, and the posture begins with a humble recognition that we all need spiritual leaders. A humble recognition that all of us need spiritual leaders. We need people who know us to speak to us, to speak into our lives. We need to be open to direction and to guidance and to encouragement and even admonishment at times from leaders.

That’s hard for us in America today. It’s very counter-cultural. We like our independence. We like to be self-governed. The notion, just the notion that I need to be taught, or that I need to be instructed, and much less admonished, it doesn’t hit us well.

But Paul calls us to this humble posture to open ourselves up to this relationship and indeed to open ourselves up in this way is to be part of the body of Christ. It begins with this humble recognition, “I need leaders.”

But of course there’s a second difficulty and some of you are probably already thinking about it. It’s hard when pastors or elders sometimes abuse authority, or they fall. Of course, there’s biblical standards for pastors and elders and we need to be held accountable to those standards. But what we need to see is Paul is not calling them to blind submission, but rather to a humble recognition. He’s not calling them to blind submission but to a humble recognition.

The humble recognition is simply this – that I can’t see everything that I need to see about God on my own. I need people to help me. I need to be taught. I need to be instructed. I can’t see everything that I need to see about myself on my own.

I would like to think that I know all of my sins and I know all of my weaknesses well and I can articulate them, but the truth is I have blind spots. We all have blind spots. We need the church to speak into our lives.

So it’s this recognition, it’s this humble posture of receptivity that would lead them to respect and esteem their leaders in love, because of their work. I see that their work is in the Lord, their work is about God’s will for my life, their work is about my sanctification and growth and godliness, and all of that unfolds within the context of the local church.

So if you’re in the upstairs part of what it means to move, it’s to be open, it’s to be open to spiritual leaders in your life that God has ordained to be there.

The next part of moving in the living room has to do with pursuing, us pursuing one another. Paul says be at peace among yourselves. Peace is one of many things that he’s called believers in this letter to pursue, to strive for, and the previous chapter also he’s called them to pursue brotherly love.

If you look at chapter 4, in verses 9 and 10, here’s what he says. He says, “Now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write to you for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia, but we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”

So Paul in one sense is commending these believers for their love and care for one another, but he’s also calling them, he’s urging them to pursue, to do this more and more.

What happens? What becomes apparent is this pursuit, the character of this pursuit is grounded in a ministry of the Word of God to one another. We see that at the end of chapter 4. Paul is speaking to those who have lost loved ones. You know this passage very well. He says we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep. We do not want you to grieve as those who have no hope. Then he goes on to remind them of the resurrection and the world that is to come and he says Christ will come again and so we will ever be with the Lord. Then he says, “Therefore, encourage one another with these words.” In other words, Paul is calling believers into

the personal space of those who are grieving to remind one another of God’s promises to them.

Finally, in verse 11 of chapter 5, he says, “Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” So Paul is commending them and he’s urging them to this life of investment in one another’s spiritual growth and edification. That’s the body of Christ, that you and I would be mutually invested in one another’s spiritual growth and edification. That we’re all in.

There’s a coach, Dabo Swinney, I hesitate to mention him because I’m not a Clemson fan, but when he became a coach for Clemson, his big line was he wanted the fans to be all in. He said everyone be all in and they’d have the signs, “We’re all in with Dabo.”

Well, here’s the body of Christ and the idea is that we are all in with one another. We’re all committed.

Now structurally this can happen through small groups and Bible studies. This investment, this ministry of the Word of God to one another. It can happen structurally through those things. But also organically. Those who are in proximity to us. So think about whatever your sphere of influence is, whoever God has gathered around you here in the body of Christ. Ask yourself this question – how am I stewarding that influence to invest in them?

So all of this should ask us, all of this should lead us to ask, “Where am I in the house? Am I in the upstairs bedroom? Or am I in the living room? Am I open as an ordinary Christian to receive direction, to receive guidance, to receive encouragement, and even admonishment from leaders?” Do I have this humble recognition of my need for ministry, in other words.

The other question is am I open to this extraordinary calling of strengthening and encouraging and building other believers up in the faith? Or am I choosing to just hang out on the fringes?

Paul calls us to move into the living space as it were by pursuing one another in this mutual investment in one another’s spiritual well-being. That’s the what, that’s the what, is this reciprocal relationship within the body of Christ of ministry, of giving and receiving ministry one to another. That’s the what.

That gets us to the next point, and that’s the who. You have the who. Not the band, but the recipients. It takes the pursuit… Notice only the older people laughed at that joke? You younger people. There’s a group called The Who, okay? Go YouTube them.

It takes the pursuit a bit further. Who are we to pursue? Paul says we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle and encourage the faint-hearted. Help the weak and be patient with them all.

Now at first glance you might think, okay, this urging, it has to be to pastors and elders because you might rightfully think of the public ministry of the Word. What we’re doing right now. Isn’t there admonishing, encouraging, helping? Certainly that is key. It’s foundational, it’s cornerstone. But what we find in this text is that the work of ministry, it might begin with leaders, but it does not end with them. No, it’s carried forward by ordinary Christians, by members of the local congregation.

Paul gives us two categories of people within any congregation in terms of who to minister to. You could go to any church in Charlotte and you would find these two

categories, and that is those who are hiding and those who are hurting. We would be especially keen to those who are hiding and those who are hurting.

Let’s start with those who are hiding. He says admonish the idle. Now when we think of someone who is idle, our mind probably goes to someone being physically lazy, maybe they refuse to work, they’re indifferent about their responsibilities and Paul has already addressed that. Certainly this would apply here, admonish those who are lazy. But I think the greater application here is about spiritual idleness. Spiritual idleness is something that can affect us all.

We were recently just at the beach. There’s a pool area and there’s the lazy river, and kind of like the lazy river, you just pop in there and the inner tube is just kind of nice, you do nothing, and the current just kind of moves you along just wherever.

Well, spiritually speaking, we can be in the lazy river, just follow the culture, whatever the cultural tide is, whatever the cultural current is, or just follow your heart whatever the current of your heart is. There are many people in the church that are just in the lazy river. When you think of this, it’s someone who’s life is not being ordered, it’s not being shaped. The trajectory of their life is not being shaped and not being formed by the things of God.

The Greek word here is of one who is unruly. Unruly. It could be manifesting itself through deliberate, open, outward disobedience or it could be just simple indifference. Spiritual neglect.

I couldn’t help but to think of this, but think of one whose life, their spiritual life comes to resemble a college guy’s dorm room. You see, what do you do when you walk in the average college guy’s dorm room? You see disorder. You see neglect. Or think of someone who is spiritually drowsy, they’re sleepy. Think of spiritual atrophy. Their muscles __ are not being used and it’s obvious.

More than likely, these are the ones who are hiding and they’re hoping you don’t notice.

A couple of weeks from now I have my annual physical. It’s always a little difficult for me because I’m a little anxious about the weigh-in, you know. Don’t weigh myself every day and so when I’m sitting there in the doctor’s office and the nurse comes, “Mr. Wells, we’re ready for you to come back.” As we’re walking, and we’re slowly walking down that narrow hallway, and what comes into view, she’s got that clipboard and then you know what comes into view on the right, it’s usually, I don’t know why it’s always on the right, but the weight scale. Right? And there’s just part of me that’s hoping that she might forget, she might just keep going. But she always slows down with that clipboard, “Okay, Mr. Wells, it’s time to get your weight now.”

It’s this moment of reckoning. I find myself wishing that somehow I magically just lost a few pounds. That awkward moment where I say, “Can I take my shoes off? Maybe my belt off. Empty my pockets. Come on, under 200, I’m almost 5 foot 10. I’m not quite there.” What’s the deal there in the moment is that I’m exposed. How am I exposed? Well, my idleness is reflected in the fact that I’ve not been paying attention to what I’ve been eating.

The doctor comes in and he begins to reason with me. What have you been taking in? What have you been eating? And he begins to admonish.

When you think of admonishment, usually it has negative connotations. Maybe you think of someone being stern and overbearing. Perhaps a cold rebuke of someone, or

assuming a paternalistic posture over someone’s life, just looking over their shoulder, looking at every minute detail of their life.

No, this is about paying attention to the pattern of someone’s lifestyle. What are they eating? What are they drinking in? Is it spiritual nutrients as you observe them.

Of course, we’ve got to think about ourselves with this as well.

But admonishment has to do with correction, with correction. Do you all remember that book, it was probably, came out about 10 years ago, big title, it said Eat This, Not That. Big direction, like when you go to a fast-food restaurant and just kind of helping you sort of manage the calorie intake. Take it from 1200 to maybe 1100, I don’t know. But we would flip through that book, telling us what to eat.

What’s spiritually nutritious?

This word means, it means to come along side and to warn someone, to counsel them, to exhort them, to prevail upon them, to change course. Take this, not that. Eat this, not that. It’s to intervene. Admittedly, this pulls us out of our comfort zone. We think about admonishing someone. I mean, let’s be honest – who likes to confront? We instinctively know, if you’re a person here and you say, “Admonishment. That’s for me. I’m the guy. I like to confront people.” We instinctively know there’s something not right about that, you enjoy that.

I once had a guy who was thinking about going to seminary and I asked him what’s kind of the ministry lane that you really see yourself filling. He said, you know, I really, I look around and I see a lot of churches with bad theology and I think it’s going to be my calling to just go in there and correct their theology. And I thought, man, you’re going to have a short ministry life.

To admonish. It doesn’t come naturally to many to us, but here’s the deal – God stretches us in these things. Paul calls believers out of their comfort zone into this loving confrontation. If you love someone, you’re going to confront them when you see them going wrong. When faith and repentance is no longer operative in your brother or sister’s life, or faithfulness is lagging in our brother or sister’s lives, their less visible, they’re slipping off, they’re slipping off into the upstairs bedroom, hoping that we won’t notice. Paul says it’s on us to climb the stairs as it were, to pursue them, pursue those who are hiding. Call, check on them, confront when needed.

The point is Paul is calling us not to be indifferent to our brother and sister’s idleness. We are to pursue them because we love them.

That leads us to the next point, the pursuit of those who are hurting. So we’re pursuing the hiding, we’re pursuing the hurting as well. He says encourage the faint-hearted, encourage the faint-hearted. Two senses of this. One is to come up close beside someone and the other is to speak in a soothing manner to them.

Now when we think of someone who’s faint-hearted, we think of someone who maybe has grown despondent. Perhaps they’ve lost a loved one or the loss of a relationship or there is some ongoing trial or difficulty or spiritual struggle that they’re facing and it wears them down over time and they’re faint-hearted now.

In the Greek literally it’s someone who has a shriveled up soul, a smallness of soul. Their faith is not enlarged but they’re fearful, they’re lacking courage.

Paul, here, he says to change your tactic. We do the same thing with every single person. No, he says, don’t admonish but encourage that person. Speak tenderly to them.

Again, God is stretching us. Some of you are out of your comfort zone. You think I’m not a softie, I don’t speak tenderly, it doesn’t come naturally. But we are to come alongside them to seek to build them up.

Let me give you two P’s of encouragement, and that’s presence and promises, presence and promises.

Presence. Come alongside them.

I have this image of a child. They didn’t make the team or they didn’t get into the school that they wanted to get into. Where are they? They’re upstairs, they’re in the bedroom, the door is shut. They’re discouraged, they’re despondent. So what do you do as a parent? You climb the stairs. You go and you sit with them and you offer encouragement to them. You sit beside them on the bed.

I’ve had a few of these moments. I’ve read a lot of Paul Tripp’s books on parenting and I highly recommend his books. They’re great, they’re wonderful for these moments. But it can be a bit discouraging because he tends to just tell a lot of victorious gospel parenting stories and they don’t always go according to the script when you try to deploy them in your home.

It goes something like this: Johnny didn’t make the team, and I went into Johnny’s room and we began to talk about disappointments in life, and that turned into a conversation about Johnny’s identity not being in sports but being in Christ. Johnny began to see that in Christ he’s loved and he doesn’t have to perform for approval. Right then and there, as we closed our conversation in prayer, Johnny looked up and said, “Dad, thanks so much for the encouragement. I want to be a missionary now.” And we went downstairs and had dinner.

Be careful, parents, trying to replicate those moments. It might not go that way.

I love Paul Tripp. My point is not to be cynical but to say sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn’t with the faint-hearted.

Encouragement requires presence and patience with another person as we point them to God’s promises.

Remember 1 Thessalonians 4 and what Paul said. We do not want you to lose heart, brothers, or to grieve as those who have no hope. What is Paul’s medicine to them? What’s the medicine that we are to give them? What does he say? It’s to remind them of God’s promises. Sometimes that’s just a prayer over a Scripture. Sometimes it’s just a gentle word, just reminding them that God is faithful. Reminding someone of God’s character and His love for them. They may look at you and say, “I can’t believe that right now.” While you’re still present with them and you can pray it over them. You can strengthen them.

Be careful not to rush in with the medicine or force feed it, but little by little, dose by dose, encouragement for the faint-hearted, strengthening them over time.

That’s the extraordinary calling. We can do this structurally in the church, set things up. I think of our support group ministries here at Christ Covenant, divorce care, grief share,

but also once again organically. Think about who has God placed in your life. Who’s in your proximity? What’s your sphere of influence? Are you keen? Do you have an eye out for the one who is faint-hearted? And how you might come alongside them with presence and then God’s promises.

This brings us to the last part. Paul says to help the weak. Help the weak. This word “help” means to lay hold of, to grab hold of, to grasp them. You might say, well, who exactly are the weak? Well, we don’t really know. Perhaps they’re similar to the faint-hearted. Properly speaking, it’s those without vigor. They are depleted. They lack strength. They lack the internal resources necessary to keep going.

You might see it as someone who, maybe this is you, you’re struggling with a particular sin and you’re fighting, you’re fighting, you’re fighting. But you’re worn down, you’re weak. Perhaps we see this with someone who’s struggling with alcohol addiction or drug addiction, or a struggle with anger or a struggle with lust or struggle with pornography. Or those who are weak could be those who are weak in faith or they’re fixated on uncertainty, they doubt, they’re anxious.

Paul says to grab hold of that person, to grab hold of them. Now think about that, church of Christ. You know, in our Reformed world, we can suddenly drift into this mentality where everyone is squared away, everyone has their act together, and you know what’s wrong with that? Number one, it’s not true. And number two, that mentality abandons the weak. That mentality runs from the weak.

Paul says we are to move toward the weak. He says the Christian impulse is not to abandon the weak, but to lay hold of the weak. Who are the weak in my circles? How can I help them?

As one commentator says, it’s to uphold them. It might come through our words. It might come through connecting them to counseling. It might come through supporting that process through prayer or service or encouragement. It might come even through giving.

Again, we can think structurally about this. I think of the work of Set Free here at our church, providing accountability, support for those who are struggling with sexual sin and their families. We do this structurally but also, and even more importantly, we have to do this organically. We just can’t meet every need in the congregation just through structures, it just won’t work. Each Christian has to move organically toward the people that God has placed in their pathway, the weak.

I should be quick to point out that sometimes with a struggler we do all that we can do and we don’t abandon them but they end up abandoning us. They give in altogether. They give up the fight. We can pray, we can maintain availability, but they have to want to be helped. That’s a difficult place for us to be.

But Paul calls us to uphold them as they are willing to be upheld. Sometimes they’re not willing but we can be available.

The last thing Paul says is to be patient with them all.

It’s interesting that patience is the over-arching virtue around pursuit, around our pursuit of one another. Paul reminds us in that the work of ministry, the work of ministry, it’s not automatic. It’s up and down. It requires patience with one another, which means that it requires love. Love for my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Just remember what 1 Corinthians 13 says – love is patient. I can’t be patient without love.

So we move toward our brothers and sisters in love. I will tell you, when this is happening, this is other worldly. The world does not do this the way the Church can do it. I would also tell you that part of the point of this sermon, like Paul has done with the Thessalonian Christians, is to commend you, Christ Covenant. There are many places where our church is doing this.

But also it’s to urge you, as Paul says, let us do this more and more. Let us do it more and more. Moving toward one another.

You know, Paul said something in 1 Thessalonians 4 that I want to circle back to. Here’s what he says – Okay, my love meter for my brothers and sisters is down here. I know it should be up here, but it’s just not there. I mean, that person gets on my nerves or whatever. They exhaust me. All of those sorts of things. My love meter is down here.

So what do I do, Derek? You’re telling me to move toward them in love. I don’t have love.

Recall what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4. He says for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. It’s God who teaches us. How does He do that? How does God teach us to love one another? Well, that question gets into the why. Why should we invest our lives, our time, our energy, our resources, in other words, why should we do that, Christ Covenant? To answer that question, to answer that question you have to see yourself in the who. You have to see yourself in the who because the truth is we are the idle, we are the faint-hearted, and we are the weak. We are the hiding and we are the hurting.

It is God who ministers to us, moving toward us in the person of Christ, forgiving us of our sins, reconciling us through His death and through His resurrection, and ministering to us in the spirit of Christ. Think about your own journey. Awakening us from our spiritual slumber. Who did that? Who awoke you? God did. Strengthening us with His presence and pointing us to His promises when we are faint-hearted. Who bids us to come to Him, to call to Him, when we are faint-hearted? Who does that? God does it.

Listen, refusing, refusing to abandon us in our weakness, but rather coming to us as our Helper. That is God. That is Christ.

Here’s what I’m telling you. It is the ministry of Christ to us that animates and enables our ministry to one another. When we do these things, one for another, God is simply teaching us, teaching us to love as He has loved so that we are reflecting God’s patience and God’s love, Christ’s patience, Christ’s love, within the body of Christ as a witness and overflowing to a watching and waiting world that is hiding and that is hurting.

So let us do this one to another. May we grow in this more and more.

Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, we do thank You for Your ministry to us, Your heavenly ministry to us. Holy Spirit, we thank You for Your coming to us, Your awakening us, Your strengthening us when our hearts are faint and they grow weary. When we are weak, You are our strength. Lord, looking to You, may we find in You the capacity then to love one another, imperfect as we might do it, Lord, may we do it truly. We pray that You would make us faithful to this Gospel call, that we might grow in grace and knowledge and love for one another. In Christ’s name. Amen.