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Jul 17, 2022


Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: 1 Thessalonians

Keywords: peace, encouragement, patience, dissonance, good for evil, harmony, admonish, idle, fainthearted, helping the weak


What do we need to pay attention to in the church in order to really live in peace with one another? This message address four of the 15 things Paul commands any body of believers to do to experience real harmony in life.



1 Thessalonians 5:13-15

July 17, 2022


I want you to listen to two different short pieces of music.  Then I’m going to take a poll as to which one you prefer…and why.

So, tell me, which one leaves you with a sense of beauty, harmony and peace…and which one leaves you agitated, maybe even irritated?  Which could you live with for an hour?

            Whether it is music…or church…or international relations between countries…or a family, humans are hard-wired for harmony! We naturally dislike dissonance and discord whether in our ears, our stomachs or our hearts. 

            For today’s message I’m going back into the last chapter (5) of 1st Thessalonians where we I left off a few weeks ago.  If you were here, you may remember the message on church leadership—how good spiritual leaders should lead and how we should follow. 

            Today Paul continues with a rapid-fire list of 15 imperatives or commands (vss. 12-22).  We’ll only cover 3 or 4.  But just like any good law on the books, biblical commands are designed to make shared life between people (in this case Christ-followers) more enjoyable, more harmonious, healthier and blessed. 

CONFESSION:  it is extremely difficult, nay, IMPOSSIBLE to live with one another!  Okay, I’ll just speak for myself: people are really hard to live with!  Not me, necessarily…just some of you!  Seriously, I can usually go, oh, about 5 minutes into my day without feeling like I have to cry out to God to save me from some internal dissonance or discord.  It might be a thought I have about someone…or an email I have to deal with…or a comment someone makes…or doesn’t make.  All day long I’m having to strive for harmony.  And as a sinner needing saving every day, I simply cannot find harmony with others unless God guides me into it.  This is precisely what the Holy Spirit through Paul is trying to help us with here.  We left off a few weeks ago at the end of vs. 12--Be at peace among yourselves. 

            Clearly, Paul is talking about relationships in God’s family, the church.  As a spiritual dad, he knew that peace in the family of God was not a simple thing.  He knew it had a lot to do with good church leadership and good church followership, spiritual parents and spiritual kids alike.  [Go review or relisten to that message on our website if you can’t remember what is so essential in that arena in the church.  (See June 12th’s message, It’s Good For Us.)]

            But in today’s commands, Paul is shifting his focus to ALL of us as spiritual siblings.  The commands he will give are directed not just at the spiritually mature but at the less mature among us too.  Trust me, these commands don’t get easier the older you get spiritually.  God just gives you more opportunities to put them into practice. 

            While these commands are for all of us in the church, if you’re a parent or spouse here today, then your family is the 1st place where you need figure out how to apply these commands.  And whether we’re single living alone or in a big family, our church family is the first place we need to figure out how to apply this in our world. 


            So HOW do we live at peace with one another, imperfect as we are?  The first command is simply “…admonish the idle” (ESV).  Other versions translate it “Warn the idle” (TEV) or “ the unruly” (NKJV). 

            This command could have one of two meanings: (1) a military term for disorderly conduct; or (2) used in the Koine Greek papyri from Egypt for "idlers,"—people who are idle, not working as they should, and thus creating problems among people. The former would apply to the immediate context of spiritual leadership and followership; the latter fits the larger context of this letter and an apparent problem in the Thessalonican church, i.e. non-working members (cf. 2 Thess. 3:7-16).  But let’s look more deeply at the action called for (“admonish” or “warn”) and the object (the idle/unruly).

            “Admonish”/”Warn” = GK: noutheteo  It’s the Greek work that J. Adams drew from to develop his style of counseling called “Nouthetic Counseling” [see Competent to Counsel].  It’s basically a style that says, “Here is the truth according to God about you, your situation or problem, and about what needs to be done to bring it into conformity with God and His righteous nature.  Do this and life will work better.”  There is a lot to be said for this approach…and a few issues that make it more complicated than simply that which we don’t have time to go into. 

Paul just used this word in 5:12 to speak of how good spiritual leaders are to lead.  Here are a couple of the other 6 times this word is used in the N.T.

  • 1 Corinthians 4:14—Paul writes, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” Notice, godly “admonishing” or “warning” doesn’t rely on shame.  What’s the difference between shaming a child and admonishing them?  (Shaming = making them feel bad for who they are while admonishing may well make someone feel bad about what they’ve done. Shame leaves us hating ourselves; godly admonishing leaves us hating our sin and longing for righteousness.)
  • Colossians 3:16—"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Admonishing in a way that actually can lead people to better lives isn’t easy.  But parents who learn to do this (rather than shaming) give their children a wonderful gift, don’t they?  So, too, fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Admonishing is seeking to protect and rescue people we love from things that are hurting them and others around them.  But since it isn’t always received well (possibly because it isn’t delivered well), there are plenty of excuses flying through our heads when we feel discord because of something sinful we or others near us are doing.  Here are a few of my favorite excuses:

  • “I’m afraid to do that sort of thing!” 
  • “I don’t want to be judgmental.” Again, being judgmental is different from correcting others.  Being judgmental comes with an air of superiority like, “I’m sure glad I’m never guilty of this,” or “You’re inferior to me for engaging in this.”  Sandy commented to me from her reading in Romans 1 and 2 this week that Romans 2 convicts us all that we’re all guilty of judging each other right after the list in Romans 1 that ends with homosexual sin. 
  • Who am I to correct someone else when I’ve got my own issues?” This is the opposite—wimping out because we’re not yet perfect.  God doesn’t call us to silence all the time (thought more silence would probably be better more of the time).  He calls us to wait on the Spirit when it comes to the discord we feel when we see each other engaging in sin, follow the Spirit’s lead and admonish in the fruit of the Spirit, not the flesh.
  • “We need to be tolerant and loving.” YES, we do…of the person!  But not of the sin or the destructive fallout of sin.  Here’s an important distinction:  Is it sin I’m bothered by or personal preference?  If it is sin, I will care far more that the sinner is reconciled to God than does what makes me feel better.  If it is preference or style or culture or non-moral something, then God may be wanting me to develop more godly tolerance and love than address something in another person.  SO much of what bothers us about each other are not sin issues.  And too often we’re not bothered enough by sin. 
  • “Maybe the problem will go away on its own.” Maybe…and often possibly IF we are praying for the other person.  But if it persists, if the person continues to be damaged by it and if my heart continues to be grieved or in discord, it’s probably time to figure out how to admonish righteously. 

After we ditch our excuses, we need to be sure that the target of admonition is correct.  We’ve already alluded to this in discerning if what is bothering us is really sin or just difference/preference.  But besides that, we should ask ourselves, “Is this person unruly in the sense that they haven’t learned to live under God-ordained leadership (church, family, civil gov, etc.)?” OR “Is the disharmony they are sowing because they won’t take responsibility for their own life and actions, i.e. not working, not growing, sponging emotionally, financially, relationally off of others?  Are they “idle” in terms of their effort and work?” 

APP:  This is where working the 12 steps of recovery will make all the difference.  We’ve all known people who have some obvious addiction that is killing them and their relationships with others.  When they stumble and fall, they may appear very contrite and repentant.  They may assure you that they will never do that again.  But when you ask them, “So what is your PLAN that you are going to work for the rest of your days that will actually help you walk the ‘straight and narrow’ way of righteousness, they have all kinds of excuses why they don’t need that kind of program, accountability, plan, program, etc.  That’s the kind of “idleness” God is warning us about here.  When we see that in ourselves and others, we need to lovingly and patiently admonish them, challenge them to do what leads to new strength and maturity rather than keep doing the same, failed thing while lying to themselves that it will produce a different result. 

            Essentially whether it is idleness/laziness or being ‘unruly’, i.e. lack of putting themselves body, soul and spirit under the various forms of leadership God has put in their lives (parents, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, spouses, government, etc.), it’s really the same root problem.  Wherever our lives are creating ungodly conflict and robbing others of godly peace, we need to be ‘admonished’ to stop certain things and start better things. 

NOTE:  Don’t expect people to receive admonishing well. Expect resistance…and you won’t be disappointed whether they respond well or not.  Engage in admonishing with a determination you will have to grow yourself in patience, self-control, humility and forbearance. 


Now we come to the second of these 15 commands/imperatives:  Vs. 14—“…encourage the fainthearted.”

            If you’ve raised children, you know that even the same children from the same parents raised in virtually the same home need parenting very differently.  Some children seem naturally strong-willed.  You can correct them directly, boldly and at times very forcefully (don’t hear ‘abusively’) and they will never show that you have bent their wills much at all.  With another sibling who may be uber-sensitive, all you have to do is cross your eyes behind their backs and they melt into a puddle. 

            Friends, the church family is no different.  Some brothers and sisters are tough as nails; others as tender as fragile as snails.  If we don’t treat them according to their differences, we’re not being good parents nor living with them with much understanding. 

            Interestingly, 1 of the 4 uses in the N.T. of this work for “encourage” Paul has already used in 1 Thess 2:11 to apply to father’s encouraging their children.  Plenty has been written about the longing children have for their father’s approval and recognition.  Approval and even just noticing and commending a child is one of the daily powerful gifts a man can give to his sons and daughters. And it’s free, dads! Girls who don’t get that encouraging approval often sadly go looking for it from other men. But when they get it from dad, they often grow up confident in who they are and how God made them, able to stand up to the pressures of those around them.  Boys who don’t get it from their dads often spend a lifetime doing crazy things to win dad’s approval.  They will drive themselves at work, keep trying to prove they’ve ‘got what it takes,’ or give up and stop fighting. 

            The other two usages of this word “encourage” are found in John 11 with the story of the death of Lazarus.  It talks about the people who went to Mary and Martha to “console” them at the death of their brother. 

            Folks, all of us suffer losses throughout life that will leave us empty, alone, barren, worn out and vulnerable.  We all need ‘consoling’ at times.  Not babying…and it takes a wise and Spirit-directed person to determine the difference.  Consoling encouragement usually isn’t about the words we share; it’s about the presence we bring…and people need Christ’s presence most when they need encouragement. 

            This correlates with the object of this encouragement in this passage—“the fainthearted.”  This term, only used here in the N.T., is a compound adjective literally meaning “small-souled” or “little-faithed”.  It is talking about someone who may be despondent, whose world has shrunk due to loss or trauma.

            Honestly, loss, particularly death, has a way of shrinking all our souls down.  Everything else seems to get push to the side.  What normally brightens us doesn’t seem to even pierce the darkness.  We become singularly focused on the pain that loss is producing in us.  We seem to lose the capacity to absorb truth.  It happened to Mary when Lazarus died.  She didn’t even want to go meet Jesus, the One she couldn’t get enough of normally whenever he came to town. 

ILL  Joseph Bayly, who at different times lost three sons in death, wrote (The Last Thing We Talk About [David C. Cook], pp. 55-56):

“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true.

I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.  I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

ILL:    I have a good friend in town who lost his oldest son as a child in a boating accident.  To this day it is one of the most difficult accidents deaths I’ve walked through with anyone.  I think this man and his wife demonstrated amazing faith through the years. 

But at one point he said to me, “You know, I don’t come to church because my faith is so strong; I come because I need to be around other people who are believing for me right now.”   He was honest enough to admit that sometimes we are not faith-filled at all.  We’re ‘fainthearted.’  We just need others to believe for us and we need to be close enough to them to see their belief when ours is absent. 

If you’re in a place like that…or when you get to a place like that in your journey, don’t hide from the people of faith.  They may say the dumbest things.  I’ve done that before and had to go back and apologize for opening my mouth when I should have just been quiet.  They may not say anything when you want them to ask.  But we’re family.  We don’t know how to react to people in pain.  We do and say the wrong things.  Don’t hold people’s humanness against them. 

And when you know someone is small-souled or small-faithed in the journey, do the best you can to console and encourage.  Lean to the side of not saying anything but through a hug or an act of kindness like taking a meal or dropping off a plant.  We’re called to discern when someone need this kind of encouragement. 

Next one in vs. 14 is “…help the weak.” 

Help” here has the idea of hanging onto, not letting go, standing right next to someone and attaching yourself to them. 

ILL:  weddings—one of the things I always tell a wedding party at the rehearsal, especially when it’s a summer wedding, is, “Don’t lock your knees.  And if you start feeling dizzy or weak, for Pete’s sake, don’t try to be a hero.  Sit down!  And if you see one of the wedding party starting to weave, just step right up next to them and ask them, “You doing okay or would you like to sit down?”  And then take them by the arm and walk them to a seat.”  

“Weak” here is simply the negative of “strong”, literally “not strong.”  It may refer to just about any area of life from physical to emotional and spiritual weakness.  It’s used in…

  • Matthew 25:43—Jesus will say of those who didn’t visit the sick and prisoners, “I don’t know you.”
  • Romans 5:6—At just the right time, while we were still weak, Christ died for us.
  • I Corinthians 8—speaks of the weaker brother whose conscience is defiled when he sins against it while joining a stronger brother in some activity his conscience considers sin.
  • 1 Cor. 12:22—the parts of the body of Christ, the church, that seem to be weaker are actually the indispensable parts.

Friends, there is a lot of weakness in the body of Christ.  There is a lot of physical sickness and weakness that Jesus just wants us to come along side of and support people in.  He wants us to pray for and with them.  He wants us to bring His healing to them. 

            Then there is spiritual weakness—people who get offended easily, who aren’t solid in their heart about freedom issues in the body.  There are those who don’t exercise spiritually through engagement in the spiritual practices such as service or sharing their faith or Bible study and prayer or confession or fasting.  So, when they have to stand on their own, they can’t do so for very long.  They grow wobbly.  They may even ‘pass out’ and fall flat on their faces. 

            That passage in 1 Cor. 12:22 is interesting in this regard.  The people in the church with gifts and abilities that seem to be weaker are actually “indispensable” parts of the body.  Why would that be?  Perhaps in God’s economy we need to be around people in need.  That’s not an excuse for someone to stay “needy.”  But it is an indicator that, while I might like to hang out with the super-saints who are strong and don’t need my help, my faith may actually need the weaker saints more!  Is it possible that the weak among us are actually saving us from ourselves and our deeply-ingrained selfishness? 

            Parents, again we know this to be true in our own lives, right?  I was a pretty good saint…until I had children.  We had what I thought was a mature marriage…until we had children.  All of a sudden this little weak human being showed up in our home and blew the lid off everything.  They stole our sleep.  They robbed our leisure time.  They drained our bank account.  And they didn’t say, “Thank you” for years!  How I needed saving from myself!  And I would never trade any of those “weak” family members for the strength they have brought to my life and the strength they are to this world today. 

            But in order for that kind of blessing to come from weak people, we must be committed (not just ‘willing’) to going the distance.  Weak people won’t get strong by just giving them a book to read…or sitting next to them in a meeting an hour a week without interacting…or avoiding them when you’re tired.  It will take weeks and months and years of working together, bearing with people, hanging in there and loving across our weakness.  And that will take a work of the Holy Spirit, something we must be asking God for daily. 

            Paul points to that in the next command, “be patient with them all.”  Patience is, of course, a central component of the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not the ‘fruit of my determination’ or the ‘fruit of my discipline.’  I can’t bear this fruit.  Only the Holy Spirit abiding in me and filling me can.  Just as we cried out for salvation to Jesus when we realized our sinfulness and need of redemption in Jesus, so now on a daily basis we must cry out to the Holy Spirit for salvation from our ongoing impatience with each other. 

            Patience is not something that can be hurried, is it?  Patience develops over years.  To demand, “I want patience, and I want it now!” is an oxymoron. 

  • Parents, how long does it take for us to develop patience with our children? A lifetime!
  • How long do we have to put up with the growth process of good friends? As long as you want to maintain that friendship. 
  • How long does it take for us to be truly patient with crazy siblings or quirky in-laws or aging spouses? A lifetime.

Those are usually all the people we really can’t (or should try to) escape.  But the church that wants to be living in harmony is called to be a church in which we exercise patience with each other over the long haul.  We are the family to which God has called us to hang in there over the long haul.  We are the imperfect people through whom God will develop divine patience…IF we will not take the “easier route” of impatience with. 

            We won’t do this perfectly.  When you lose your patience with me, please don’t write me off.  And when I get impatient with your idiosyncrasies and errors, I’ll try to cry out to the Holy Spirit to please give me more patience with you.  It’s that kind of growth in both of us that will lead to a church experience that is peaceful rather than discordant.    

APP:  Who has God brought into your life at the present that is trying your patience?  That’s probably not an accident; they’re probably God’s gift to grow you in the fruit of the Spirit.  How about asking the Holy Spirit to keep growing patience in you through them?  How about crying out to be ‘saved’ from your fleshly tendency towards impatience.  “Lord, keep teaching us to be patient with everyone.”

Lastly here this morning, vs. 15—“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” 

Vengeance and retribution…getting even…is not the way of harmony in any human relationship.  This command acknowledges that “evil” is something we are all going to have to contend with all our days on this earth.  Evil people will do evil things to us.  Saints will do evil things to us because we are still sinners. 

            It’s relatively easy to return what others are pitching our direction. 

  • Sarcasm for sarcasm.
  • Anger for anger.
  • Wounding for wounding.
  • Indifference for indifference.

But it is God-like, Spirit-essential to dish out what is undeserved and unexpected. 

  • Kindness in the face of cruelty.
  • Gentleness in the presence of harshness.
  • Love when someone is hating you.
  • Friendship when they are showing indifference.

Just not sending back the same pitch someone has thrown at us shows the strength of a person.  But to return that pitch in a completely different manner is something the world simply cannot fake or do.  We are called to the supernatural life, life “in the Holy Spirit,” God’s life.  And God NEVER once dishes out ‘evil’ when ‘evil’ has been done towards him.  He may judge after a lifetime of injustice, but He never returns ‘evil for evil.’  Day after day, century after century, God returns the pitches of evil we throw at him with softballs of kindness, mercy, patience, gentleness and blessing.  God is not asking us to imitate something we haven’t seen.  He’s asking us to adopt something we’ve been experience our entire existence—His goodness and kindness given us over and over when we’ve thrown our hurtful sin his direction time and again.  This is the kind of harmony that will stop sinners in their tracks and show them in real time and living color the nature of the God who is loving them. 

ILLRuth—the daughter of a friend of my parents here in Spokane.  As a high school kid, her brother was working as a gas station attendant one night here in tow when he was murdered in an armed robbery. As you might expect, it rocked their family for the rest of their lives. 

            Over the years, Ruth got involved with Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship visiting and ministering to prisoners.  And through those encounters her heart began to soften towards her brother’s murderer. She eventually visited that man in prison, told him of what God had done in her life and declared her forgiveness of him for the murder which had robbed her of her only brother.  How did he respond?  I wish I could tell you he broke down in remorse and found forgiveness in Jesus.  He didn’t.  Her kindness was met with indifference and he never apologized for the evil he inflicted on that family.  But she found peace and harmony of heart that only returning good for evil can bring. 

ILL:  The devotional Our Daily Bread years ago [11/81] told a story that took place during a time of horrible war and brutality in the Middle East more than a century ago. A Muslim enemy soldier chased a Christian woman and her brother until he cornered them. He mercilessly and brutally shot and killed the brother in the presence of the sister and threatened to do the same with her.

Later, this young Christian woman was working in a military hospital as a nurse when the soldier who had killed her brother was brought into her ward. He was critically wounded. The slightest inattention to his needs would have meant certain death. When the nurse realized this, the temptation for vengeance raged in her soul. But the still, small voice of the Spirit within whispered, “Kindness.” She yielded to the Spirit’s prompting and patiently nursed this enemy back to health.

The soldier, who recognized her, asked her one day, “Why didn’t you let me die?” She replied simply, “I am a follower of Jesus and He said, ‘Love your enemies.’”

The Muslim soldier was silent for a long time. Finally, he said, “I never knew that anyone could have such a faith. If that’s what it does, tell me more about it. I need this.”

Our sensitive, loving ministry to one another in the church and our loving behavior towards those in the church and outside who wrong us should tell the world about our Savior

Rom. 5:6-8For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

CALL to faith in Christ. >> COMMUNION

CALL to harmony/peace with others through forgiveness, kindness, patience, admonishing and encouragement of others.


May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 15:5–6