Dealing with Troubled People
“We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:14
Wrapping up his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul encourages believers to “be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:13). Peaceful relations within the covenant community were highly prized in biblical times, and a longing for peace is evident in both the Old and New Testaments (Est. 10:3; Ps. 128; 2 Cor. 13:11). The instruction Paul gives in 1 Thessalonians 5:12–22 will secure peace in the church when the teaching is followed. For instance, esteeming church leaders helps eliminate tension between leadership and laity, creating a peaceful atmosphere for the maturing of the church (vv. 12–13).
In today’s passage, Paul offers teaching on the treatment of three different types of Christians that will help secure peace. First, Paul says, “Admonish the idle” (v. 14). The Apostle returns to the subject he addressed in 4:9–12 when he told us to work with our hands. Individuals who are able to work but are unwilling to do so disturb the peace in the church because ongoing support of the able-bodied leads to resentment from those who do obey Paul’s command to labor. Idle people are to be admonished, to be warned to abandon their laziness and get about the business of finding and keeping a job.
Next, Paul says that we must “encourage the fainthearted,” or those who are thinking of abandoning the faith because of persecution (5:14). Such people are to be encouraged—we are to embrace them and remind them of the benefits of Christ and the danger of falling away. Christians are to demonstrate that we are all in this together, caring for those who are suffering because of their faith and seeking to live as examples of steadfastness. Obviously, this will build peace and harmony in the congregation.
Third, Paul says we must “help the weak” (v. 14). Scholars differ about whom Paul is talking here. Some authors suggest that he means those who are physically or psychologically ill. Others, based on similar phrasing in 1 Corinthians 1:26–29, say that the Apostle refers to poor believers who lack standing in the community and have difficulty supporting themselves with their labor. Either way, the church must care for these people financially and in other ways that assist them. Doing so will lead to love and peace in the church.
Finally, Paul tells us to show patience to all, including the three groups mentioned above (1 Thess. 5:14). Peace comes to the church only as we bear with one another’s quirks and shortcomings.
John Calvin comments that “severity must be tempered with some degree of [leniency], even in dealing with the unruly.” We must show patience to everyone, even those with whom it is hardest to be patient. After all, Christian growth is a slow process, and it takes time to mature in the faith. If we do not bear with one another, there will be no space for any of us to grow. We are not to tolerate gross sin, but we are to be exceedingly patient with one another.
Passages for Further Study