A Sermon on Leadership from I Thessalonians 5

I Thes. 5:12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and [d]admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.

14 Now we [e]exhort you, brethren, warn those who are [f]unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

The context here is closing exhortations of how the Thessalonian Church should conduct themselves towards

l.) Elders in the Church – 12-13
2.) People who are struggling with sanctification – 14
a.) Unruly b.) fainthearted c.) weak
3.) The Congregation as a whole (Be patient w/ all) –14
4.) People in general – 15

Note that St. Paul addresses the congregation as “Brothers.” Not to belabor a point but this points at the patriarchal mindset of the Apostle. Doubtless there were women in this congregation and yet he addresses them, generally speaking as “Brothers.”

Newer gender inclusive translations render vs. 12 as

12 We beg you, our friends, to pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life.

This observation on the attack on patriarchy reminds us how easy it is to fall into this. This came up recently for me when reading a scholar on covenant theology, who is likely in most respects considered conservative and yet he was constantly referring to humankind where scholars two generations prior would have written mankind. He also played with the pronouns often giving “she” where “he” would have normally been expected.

God is a patriarchal and we see that in passages like this where the congregation as a whole is addressed as “Brothers.” This is a small but not insignificant observation. Indeed, we would say that where you find patriarchal malfeasance in a Christian or congregation there should, at the very least, be alarm bells going off in your head. Such malfeasance may be done without realizing what is being done while other patriarchal malfeasance is sinister and has an agenda.

Also, we would note with the word “Brothers” that St. Paul gives the judgment of charity to the congregation as a whole. He views the congregation as a whole as Brothers in Christ. Doubtless, there were tares among the Thessalonian congregation but he still refers to them as a whole as “Brothers.” As we see in 1:4

knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.

St. Paul can even speak of this congregation of brethren as elect by God.

This language of “Brothers” reminds us that despite congregations being beset with inconsistencies we should try to think and speak the best of them. It is proper we should refer to congregations that bear the marks of the Church as “Brothers,” giving the judgment of charity.

Having set the context and made a preliminary observation we note the disposition that the Holy Spirit is requiring the Church members as organization is to have towards their leadership.

It is fitting we should consider this on a day when we install an Elder and a Deacon.

The first thing St. Paul Mentions here is that the Leadership that he is asking the Church to consider is a leadership that labors among you and as such should be “respected/recognized/ appreciated,” (depending on your translations.)

The Greek word that Paul uses for “labor” here he often uses elsewhere to communicate the work done in manual labor. The Greek word for “labor” here thus communicates strenuous effort that results in being bone tired.

The labor that your leadership enters into is a labor of learning. Your Elders are required to be “apt to teach,” and in order to be apt to teach one must labor in learning and the labor there is characterized in Scripture as a labor that can weigh a person down;

Ecclesiastes 1:18 – For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

The Elder leadership not only as this labor but they also labor until Christ is formed in those they are commissioned to tend to and look out for. This is how Paul puts it in Galatians 4

19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,

And again this laboring is a theme earlier in this letter to the Thessalonians

For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

There is labor in leadership as Elders. It is not the labor of working on the hot tarmac in the heat of summer loading freight, luggage and mail in Airplane pits. It is not the labor of someone working a jack-hammer or bailing hay, but it remains labor all the same and the Holy Spirit urges the congregation to respect those who labor among them.

Of course the corresponding truth here is that leadership in the Church should indeed be laboring. Being a Leader in God’s Church is work. It is the labor of caring for God’s people – caring so much that the congregations emotional and physical hurts is a pain you share. It is the labor of driving off the wolves to protect God’s people. It is the labor explaining and explaining all over again the truths whereby God’s people can be tethered to reality.

Van Morrison gets at something of this labor of explaining in his song “Why Must I Always Explain,”

Bared my soul to the crowd eh but oh what the cost
Most of them laughed out loud like nothing’s been lost
There were hypocrites and parasites and people that drain
Tell me why must I always explain

It is the labor of being slandered and libeled for the cause of Christ and laboring to count that all joy.

And here I must say after laying that out, that I do know that I am appreciated by this congregation and I have few complaints.

The Holy Spirit urges respect and appreciation for the leadership because their labor can grind them down.

This necessity to appreciate the Deacon leadership is also urged. The Deacons in Scripture are required to look after the physical needs of God’s people. To look after the physical needs of God’s people also is to enter into their need. A good Deacon is not going to only see the need and seek to help meet the need but he is also going to sympathize with those in need. He is going to weep with those who weep. He is going to enter into the sufferings of God’s people he is called to relieve as he can.

This matter of leadership in the Church is not a easy matter and sometimes it is more difficult than other times and so the Holy Spirit urges that the Church appreciate those who labor among them.

The second thing Paul mentions here about Leadership is their position in relationship to the congregation. Paul says here that the Leadership are “over you in the Lord.”

I am not going to tease this out much because we touched on this back in April when we did our series on submission.

Suffice it to say here that in the Church there are Chiefs and there are Indians. The Church is not an egalitarian Institution. The problem here usually arises when the leadership starts demanding that everyone remember that THEY are the leaders or when the people forget that they are not the leaders. Leadership that has to constantly demand and insist upon their priority of position likely won’t remain leaders long. A congregation that won’t accept that there are, as the text has it, “those who are over you,” will be a congregation where it will be the case that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

Leadership is said in the passage to be “in the Lord.” This means that the Leadership is by God’s calling and appointment and that the Leadership has to be consistent with God’s standard.

The third thing Paul mentions here about leadership that he is asking the church to consider is that the leadership is called to admonish the flock

The Greek word here has several layers of meaning. It means to admonish, warn, counsel, exhort. From the same as nouthesia; to put in mind, i.e. to caution or reprove gently.

It is a part of the duty of a leadership to put their people in mind of the truth; to warn them of danger; to exhort them to perform their duty; to admonish them if they go astray.

On this score St. Augustine put this responsibility to admonish like this;

“It is the duty of the interpreter and teacher of Holy Scripture, the defender of the true faith and the opponent of error, both to teach what is right and to refute what is wrong, and in the performance of this task to conciliate the hostile, to rouse the careless, and to tell the ignorant both what is occurring at present and what is probable in the future.”

St. Augustine

Bishop of Hippo

On Christian Doctrine

Of course this admonishing needs to be done with wisdom and often, though not always, with great gentleness. Yet, as Calvin notes, “admonishment is employed to mean sharp reproof such as may bring them back into the right way.”

Again, there is labor here to discern which kind of admonishment is called for.

And of course if this admonishing is expected of the leadership then likewise it is expected that if and when admonished the admonishment should be considered very seriously and not just blown off.

Of course all this also explains how serious of a matter it is to elect Elders and Deacons and to hire Pastors.

We would also say here is that all this makes it evident that the Leadership does not work for you in the sense that they have to give you what you want. The leadership works for God and tries to take their marching orders from Him.

The fourth thing Paul mentions about Leadership is to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.

This is somewhat synonymous with Paul’s beginning requirement to appreciate the leadership. The Greek makes this a matter of emphasis. The Leadership is to be esteemed VERY HIGHLY.

Of course, this presupposes that the leadership is laboring. Many are the commentaries I consulted the emphasized the idea that leadership that is not laboring, or worse yet is merely getting the pay without doing the labor do not deserve this very high esteem in love;

Benson Commentary

“How are Christians to esteem those pastors who do none of those things? who take the wages, but do no part of the work?”


“All idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors.”

To the leadership I submit that you can demand this kind of esteem, and perhaps it is wise not even to expect it. Best to do the work you are called to and let God sort out the matter of esteem. Remember St. Paul said of himself,

We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I Cor. 4:13

So, even if you do not receive this kind of esteem, the work still must be done. Remember, the work is not done so we can be esteemed. The work is done because we have been called to do it and because we wish to see the Church built up and the Kingdom expanded.

God has been very kind to this congregation by giving us the leadership he has given us. Mike as Elder and Anthony as a deacon who are rotating off have earned the reward and esteem that God calls for here. The men coming on are good men who have previously proved themselves in these offices. The men who are staying on have demonstrated that their interest is to serve God’s people the way leadership is called to serve.

And you congregation have made it a joy for us to serve you.

Let us pray that this blessing of godly leadership, godly congregation, and godly relationship between them will continue.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *