The apostle Paul was intimately familiar with “church folk.”
As he traveled from city to city, planting churches and discipling believers, he undoubtedly met and became acquainted with the 1st-Century equivalents of our modern-day church people types. The young believer, so full of zeal and evangelistic passion, jumping at the chance to serve in a community outreach event. The young married couple, with one toddler and one infant, trying to keep the oldest quiet and teaching him to be respectful while the Word is being taught. The older, mature believer that others seek out for their wisdom on issues of everyday life. Maybe you can connect these descriptions to real people you interact with each Sunday at your own local gathering of Christ’s global “ekklesia.”
In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul gives instruction for relating to and dealing with a few specific types of “church folk.”
He begins with interactions with their church leaders. In 5:12-13 he says: “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.”
I want to target verse 14 today because we can all benefit from it in our churches. It reads, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”
As I look at this verse I see some really interesting things. First, there are three types of people Paul mentions. Second, Paul specifies a certain way we should interact which each type of people. Third, patience must rule when dealing with each type of person.
The first group is made up of believers who are idle. The Greek word translated idle here in the ESV is translated “unruly” in the NASB, and it means someone who is disorderly or out of rank. In Greek society, it was used to describe someone who didn’t show up to work. Paul says we should “admonish” these people. This Greek word means to warn or exhort. I get the sense that it may be a stronger word, one that would encourage us to be a little tough on them and get them into line.
The second group is made up of the fainthearted. This Greek word is only used once in the Bible, and that is right here, but it comes from two other words that mean “little” or “small” and “breath” or “soul”. Paul says to encourage them, either by admonition or consolation.
The last group Paul mentions is the weak, which is translated elsewhere as infirm, feeble, or without strength. Paul says we are to “help” them, which can mean pay heed to them, aid them, or care for them.
It is interesting to think about why he commands one type of response for one group and not another. It would make no sense to admonish or warn those who are fainthearted, because that would probably cause them to recede further into their shells. He also does not say to encourage the idle or unruly person, because they do not need someone to console them. They need someone to straighten them out and maybe show a little tough love to get them back in line.
The blanket that must cover our interaction with each type of person is patience. Sometimes, dealing with folks in a patient way takes a lot of intentionality. But patience is extraordinarily beneficial for both us and them. It helps us maintain self-control, and not lose our tempers. It benefits the other person because it shows them we want to be Christ-like in our interactions with them, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the day, we have to remember we have all been in these categories during different phases of our lives. Consider who in your life has reached out to you in one of these appropriate ways over the course of your relationship with Christ.