Respecting Church Leaders
“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.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13
“Encourage one another and build another up” is the admonition with which Paul concludes his teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11 on the return of Christ. Understanding that all God’s people will meet Jesus in the air when He returns and will enjoy the full blessings of salvation is a great encouragement indeed. After all, when we know that Jesus is coming back for us, we are motivated to persevere through various trials and tribulations. We also see the importance of living holy lives in preparation for the complete holiness we will possess in our glorification.
In today’s passage, Paul begins his closing admonitions for the Thessalonian church and, indeed, for all Christians (5:12–22). These admonitions elaborate on his instruction that we encourage one another, for what he says offers practical ways for us to build up fellow believers. Two things demonstrate that these admonitions are intended for all Christians. First, they are included in Scripture, and all Scripture is profitable for reproof and teaching (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Second, 1 Thessalonians 5:12–22 has parallels elsewhere in Paul’s writings, such as in Romans 12:9–21. This similarity, commentators argue, reveals that Paul and the other Apostles had a common set of moral instructions that they repeated to all Christians. The ethical teaching in the Epistles applies to all believers in every era and in every station in life.
First Thessalonians 5:12–13 tells us “to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” Paul describes how we are to act with respect to church leaders, particularly elders. Although all believers are equal with respect to the benefits of salvation (Gal. 3:28–29), Christians do not all possess the same authority in the church. God has ordained that the church appoint godly men to govern His church, elders who will teach, preach, and pray for the congregation. Elders are tasked with settling church disputes, issuing authoritative teaching, and carrying out discipline (Acts 6:1–4; 15:1–35; 1 Tim. 3:1–7). These elders must not lord their authority over the church but instead must labor “among” us, doing their work as fellow believers and not apart from the people (1 Thess. 5:12). In turn, those who are not elders are “to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (v. 13). We are to do our best to make the job of our church elders easy, respecting their authority and following their lead unless they are commanding evident sin.
Respect for church elders is in view primarily in today’s passage, but Paul’s admonitions apply also to deacons and others who exercise leadership roles in the congregation. We must esteem our church leaders in love, not gossiping about them or refusing to follow their lead. Instead, we are to trust their guidance, heeding their instruction unless it clearly goes against God’s Word. Let us love our church leaders in this way.
Passages for Further Study
Hebrews 13:7, 17
1 Peter 5:1–5