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Mar 09, 2014

Leaders & Lovers

Leaders & Lovers

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-15

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: day of the lord, judgment, spiritual family, church leadership, unity, submission, love


This split message deals with a.) the teaching here about the "Day of the Lord" as a day of future judgment for those who reject Jesus Christ and b.) several of the initial commands Paul gives for developing loving church family experiences.


Leaders & Lovers

I Thessalonians 5:1-15

March 9, 2014

Opening video—desolation of war

War is terrible. It always has been. That makes the words of President Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1865, 149 years ago this past week, all the more amazing. After 4 long years of the bloodiest war in our nation’s history, he understood what so many wish to deny today: that all evil, no matter what form it takes, must always face Divine judgment. The problem is, we don’t get to choose when or how God hands down divine judgment.

            In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address 149 years ago this week, he reminded the nation of the place slavery had both in the South’s desire to succeed from the Union and in the judgment God was visiting on America through that war. Regarding slavery, he said this: One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.

Then regarding the horrible cost of war, he quoted Jesus’ words in Mt. 18:7.

The Almighty has His own purposes. Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."

He continues, “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." [Ps. 19:9]

Can you imagine what kind of outcry there would be today if our President made a speech like that about even our economic woes let alone a devastating war? Our nation and generation seems to want not only to deny that there is real good and real evil in this world; it wants to deny that God has a right and a responsibility to punish evil.

Today we start in a passage that talks about judgment but ends up in love. Both of those are a couple of those “divine attributes” which Lincoln acknowledged “believers in a living God always ascribe to Him.” We cannot have deep, genuine, self-sacrificial, God-given love without also embracing God’s hatred of sin and all that it does to his creation. It is not true love that simply turns a blind eye to real evil. It is not love that simply shrugs off the evils of slavery, sex trade, injustice, violence, abuse, torture or human rebellion against a perfect God.

That is why there must be a great and terrible day coming when judgment falls on all mankind, both the living and the dead. And that is precisely what Paul tells us about in the beginning of I Thessalonians 5. Having told us to encourage each other with the living hope of Christ’s return in the clouds one day for both living and dead Christ-followers, he next address what will happen to those who continue to reject God and will one day find themselves living out the frightful reality of what the Bible calls “the day of the Lord.” Read what Paul says about that day.   And as we read, notice the difference between what God says will happen to others outside of Christ compared to what will happen to those in Christ.

I Thess. 5:1ff--Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

            So Paul is telling us through the Holy Spirit that there is a day coming that will be a day of pain, suffering, judgment and even “destruction”. It is called “the day of the Lord.”

            The Day of the Lord was the subject of considerable prophecy in the O.T. (14 times from Isaiah to Malachi). In fact, the entire book of the prophet Joel is an exposition on the day of the Lord. It describes it as a terrible time of judgment, a period of human history where God intervenes with judgment on the earth and pours out his wrath on the evil of mankind.

            That is an additional reason why some believe that Rapture or snatching up of the people of God that we looked at last week will happen before this “day of the Lord.” Paul seems to differentiate quite clearly between those who will be surprised by the coming judgment of the day of the Lord and true believers. Let’s keep reading.

            So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

            If followers of Jesus were going to be surprised by this coming judgment, if they were going to have to live through it and be the object of God’s wrath, what “encouragement” would that have been. I think that Paul understood clearly that true followers of Jesus Christ would not experience God’s wrath against sin by being present in the world at that time of judgment.

            Our destiny is truly more encouraging. Our destiny is “to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake [read ‘alive’] or asleep [read ‘dead’] we might live with him.”

            God will not pour out His judgment on the world and not us because they deserve it and we don’t. The only reason you and I and any Christ-follower are spared God’s righteous judgment on our sin is because of Jesus Christ. He already took God’s wrath upon himself. He already took the punishment due us. When we by faith surrender our lives to Jesus, we are “in Him” rather than “in our sin.”

[Celebrate that through SINGING/WORSHIP.]


            That is precisely what we celebrate every time we take communion. The righteous wrath and judgment of God against our sin was poured out on His sinless, innocent Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly took that punishment because He loves us and knew it was the only way to reconcile us to God the Father.

            So in some way, this memorial table we share in every time we take communion is both a sobering and celebratory event. It should sober us to think that God himself took punishment due to us. It should sober us to remember that perfect holiness and perfect love met on the cross so that we will never have to face judgment for our sins…ever!

            And it should be celebratory knowing that it is God’s love we will forever enjoy without any of God’s judgment because of the amazing work of Christ on our behalf on the cross.

[SINGING]—As we spend the next few minutes worship God with our voices and hearts, take particular note of the words we sing and make them your own heart-felt expression of gratitude to God that you will never have to face the wrath of God for your sin.

I Thessalonians 5:12ff--From prophecy and future events, Paul turns in the conclusion of his letter to this new church in Thessalonica to a series of concluding commands and exhortations. We’ll dive into just a few of them today and continue next week with the rest.

            In verse 12 Paul grabs a term he loves to use when writing to churches. It’s a family term and almost half of the 60 times he uses it in his letters it is to this church in Thessalonica (27 of 60+). That term is “brethren” or “brothers & sisters”. Remember, this letter was one of the very first that Paul wrote to any church. I think he hammered away at the notion of the church being a family because he knew that the church was at its best when it was functioning as a healthy family.

            Certainly that term “healthy” is a relative term. Every family on earth is unhealthy in some ways. We usually don’t start to discover our “family dysfunctions” until we grow up, move out of our family of origin, start living with roommates or get married and run headlong into other people’s dysfunctional family systems. And if you stick with a spouse long enough, you’ll be able to develop your own unique, genuine dysfunctional family…and then your kids will someday leave home and repeat the process all over again.

            I say that jokingly but it’s also reality! And if that is true in every nuclear family, I can guarantee you that it is also true of the church family. There is no perfect church…and every church, given enough time, will begin to show its own dysfunctions.

            Just this past week, in our Tangible Kingdom community group on Monday nights, we talked about a statement the famous German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said about the difficulty of really developing a spiritual community of people.

            “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” [Quoted in The Tangible Kingdom Primer by Halter and Smay, section 4-5.]

            Sometimes our dreams of life in family are the destroyers of real life in a family. In my opinion, family is one of THE BEST blessings in life. But it is never perfect. The same is true of the church. That is why Paul is going to give us a few “Church Commandments” for developing a functional spiritual family. Instead of the Ten Commandments, he sets out about 17 of them here. Each of them plays a critical part in the health of the church. And if every church and every child of God obeyed these 17 commands, I think we can confidently say that there would never be another church split. Wow, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

            But there would still be difficulties, challenges, hurt feelings, disagreements, people with different maturity levels, relational issues, etc., etc. No matter how much we grow in Christ in this life, there will still be ‘family life’ struggles in the church.

So understanding that church family struggles will always be with us on earth, let’s see what Paul has to say about having a GREAT church family experience.

I Thessalonians 5:12-15--

12 We ask you, brothers [& sisters], to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  Let’s stop right there.

            The older I get, the more I think I come to realize how critical good leadership is to just about anything. That isn’t to say that I consider myself a particularly good leader. In fact, I see more flaws in my leadership the longer I live. But hopefully I’m becoming a better leader in those places God has asked me to lead. At this particular juncture in life, God has asked me to lead in my own marriage, my family, this church and even, to some degree, this city.

As someone who has been trying to lead God’s people over the past 30 years in various capacities, let me tell you that there is a whole lot of insecurity among pastors about their own leadership. Sometimes you wouldn’t guess it by the level of supposed confidence and arrogance pastors sometimes demonstrate. God has a way of humbling church leaders who are proud. But by far the bigger problem with pastoral leadership, I think, is the self-doubt and insecurity that plagues most pastors, especially when the arrows start flying and you realize…you’re getting shot in the back! I’ve never found anything particularly friendly about “friendly fire.” The bullets and arrows still wound, draw blood, maim and even kill although they may be coming from people who are supposed to be your allies.

In this passage here there seems to be a balanced dance between spiritual leaders and spiritual lovers in the church. Let’s look first at what leaders are supposed to be and do. Look at the description of leaders in this passage.

12 We ask you, brothers [& sisters], to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  

            There are basically 3 defining characteristics Paul outlines here by which you can identify whether someone is really a spiritual leader.

#1.) Spiritual leaders should be the people working the hardest in God’s family. In Paul’s day, there weren’t very many if any “paid professional ministers.” Today we’re used to the idea of “hiring” a pastor to do certain things full-time in the church. But not even Paul was “full-time” as a missionary, Apostle, church planter and pastor. He worked part-time as a maker of tents. But that didn’t stop him from working extremely hard at ministry. Earlier in this book in 2:9 Paul reminded them of how hard he had worked among them “laboring night and day.” He uses the same root word here-- “labor”-- that means the kind of work that wears you out. It was severe and exhausting work.

            I think the professionalizing of ministry that has happened in the Western church has led to an erroneous belief that if engaging in some ministry in the church is wearing me out, there must be something wrong. We’ve come to think that only work we or someone else gets paid for should wear us out. Not according to God. If you are leading some ministry in God’s family and it’s tiring, you are probably doing just what God wants you to do. Don’t fall for the lie that ministering should not be taxing. Paul tells us that the more you lead spiritually, the more fatigued you’ll be.

Good leadership is fatiguing. You must be up before others are, spend more time preparing, give more mental and spiritual energy thinking through things. You must lead the way with your private life—your prayers, your time with God, your study of Scripture, your    family and marriage. And you must lead the way in public effort.

Then there is the other side of this coin. Just because someone carries a title like pastor or elder or teacher or team leader or board member doesn’t mean you are a church leader. Titles have never mattered when it comes to spiritual leadership; hard work and faithfulness have. One of the most damaging supposed leadership patterns I see in American churches is what I’ll call “The Church-Board Syndrome.” It seems to particularly afflict people who are either drawn to church leadership structures or may be appointed to them. You see it when they begin to see their service on some board or committee as their ministry. People begin to think that it is their “ministry” to make decisions about how ministry should be done for other people who are actually doing the work of the ministry. That’s not leadership; that’s control lording it over others.

So if you want a spiritual leader you can probably trust, look for one that actually knocks himself/herself out and gets tired shepherding other people.

#2.) Spiritual leaders are people who are caring for your soul. They are “over you in the Lord.” This phrase represents a single Greek word, proiestemi. It’s used in 1st Timothy 3 to talk about the leadership an elder of the church is to exercise in caring for his home. The stress is not upon the position of leadership someone holds but rather the provision of leadership they bring to the lives of others. It has the sense of caring for, providing for and protecting someone under your care. It is caring leadership…soul-caring.

            I could never really understand pastors and church leaders who saw their job as primarily to run a large organization or administrate. Contemporary literature has even popularized the false distinction between two types of church leaders—shepherds and ranchers. Shepherds are supposedly those spiritual leaders who really like to care for the sheep, get down in the trenches with them, help carry their load and show them how to grow by example. “Ranchers” are supposedly those who are more removed from the “cattle”. They run big operations, manage the ranch hands, drive the cattle in big cattle drives, etc.

            ILL: The difference is what Sandy and I experienced on our first furlough home in one of our supporting churches. I was struggling as to whether or not we should even return to Spain for our second term of mission work. It had been, for me, a gut-wrenching, fatiguing and absolutely depressing experience. So I was needing some shepherding in the Lord.

            I called the office of the church that had been my home church for years and asked for an appointment with the new senior pastor. I was told I would have 15 minutes to talk with him about 4 years of our lives.

At the appointed time, we showed up at his office. We were ushered in. He asked one or two questions, I think prayed with us and we were ushered out. That man was THE key leader in that church, but he in no way was fulfilling his role as spiritual leader by being “over me in the Lord.” He gave nothing of himself except 15 minutes in 4 years, sitting in his office. And we received nothing in terms of spiritual support, protection or supply. That’s because he saw himself as a “rancher”, not a “shepherd.” And I felt like just another side of beef. J

            Thankfully since then I’ve met a number of very gifted leaders of very large churches who really are shepherds of people’s souls. The size of the church is not the issue. It’s the heart of the leader that matters. Do they genuinely see people as their responsibility, not programs or organizations.

So to hard working and caring leadership, Paul adds…

#3.) the third defining characteristic of good spiritual leadership in a church family: a spiritual parent who willadmonish you.”

            That sounds somewhat…parental, doesn’t it? It is the idea of correcting without embittering, of teaching with an eye to positive change. It’s what the prophets and disciplinary judgment of God did in the O.T. It’s what a good father must do with his children some of the time—corrective parenting. Just as kids don’t naturally do the right thing without instruction, so often we as God’s kids don’t do what the Spirit of God and the Word of God is calling us to do.

            Honestly, this is very challenging to me as a pastor. I think that if most pastors today in America preached to their congregations like Paul did, we’d have a whole host of offended people. We have this aversion to correction. We think that corrective instruction about life is something that should have stopped when we left home at age 18. In fact, that’s probably WHY some of us left home at age 18—we didn’t want to hear any more corrective instruction. And we may have paid dearly for that through some tough life experiences.

Harding working…soul caring…and corrective parenting—these are three of the qualities Paul calls for in a healthy spiritual leader.

Which leads us right into the other essential part of this healthy spiritual family equation—distinguishing characteristics of healthy church family members.

12 We ask you, brothers [& sisters], to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  

#1) The first distinguishing characteristic of a healthy church family member is respect for those who labor in church leadership. The Greek word here is usually translated “to know” but in this case, because of what follows, translators have used the word “respect.”

            We’re not big at respecting our leaders in independently minded America. Disrespect for leaders is much more the norm. And it is beginning to take its toll on our society. Schools fail to discipline students because the parents won’t stand behind their disciplinary leadership. So teachers spend way too much of their instructional time just trying to keep order in a class. Disrespect is taking its toll.

            From CEOs to bored teens are disrespecting the law. Our jails are flooded yet we have more people in prison than ever in our history. We have somewhere between 6-10 million people who have come to our country illegally and now are demanding that we change our laws, change our language and reward their illegal activity with all sorts of rights, benefits and privileges. Disrespect for the law is beginning to cost us greatly.

            Then there is marriage. It comes as a great surprise to most women that most men need their respect more than their love in marriage. Failure to respect their masculine differences or their God-assigned role as leader in the home has left many men retreating to their man cave in frustrated silence. And their wives wonder why they won’t talk with them anymore.

            The truth is, NO leadership on this earth will be all that it should be. Leadership looks easy…until you have to lead. But leadership becomes a hundred times more enjoyable when those you are tasked to lead respect you and what you are trying to do.

            That doesn’t mean you can’t make observations and suggestions. Just make them to the leader, not to others around you also tasked with respecting their leadership. It doesn’t mean you can’t challenge their decisions and direction. But again, challenge them one-on-one, directly, not by fomenting dissention in the family. That is really nothing but a way of trying to usurp authority and undermine leadership. God didn’t say, “Respect your leaders when they have earned it…when they make the best decisions…when they make you happy… when they lead perfectly.”

            This is where the spiritual practice of submission comes to play. We know all about Bible reading and prayer and fasting and giving and serving and journaling. But historically submission has been a “spiritual discipline”—something Christ-followers have chosen to enter into in order to develop spiritual maturity. We’ve gotten so far from that practice that I’m guessing if we were all told to spend a week practicing submission, we wouldn’t know where to begin, right? Respect for those over us, whether they are always deserving of respect or not, is God’s call to us in His family.

#2.) Healthy church family members “esteem [spiritual leaders] very highly in love because of their work.” The construction here is interesting in the Greek. The phrase “very highly” is a triple compound word in the Greed (huper-ek-perissos). That simply means that our esteem is to be abundant to the point of being excessive. Ever been in a family where their esteem for the family patriarch or matriarch was off the chart? How about in a company where the employees highly esteemed the management? Or a church where the members really loved to think the best of their leaders.

In this case, Paul does link the esteem the church is to have to “their work.” That could be either the high nature of spiritual leadership itself regardless of the leaders level of effort OR it could also include the way in which Paul expects spiritual leaders to knock themselves out for the church family. Either way, the modifying prepositional phrase “in love” tells us the nature of this called for “esteem.” Just as the leader is to be sacrificing him/herself for the church out of love for people, so the people are to be thinking and acting in a manner that says, “I esteem this leader with the love God has for him/her.”

It seems to be fashionable to tear down leaders today. I wonder if that isn’t really a not-so-subtle form of the first sin of Satan which was to rebel against God, the only authority divinely placed over his life. When we fail to respect and esteem any legitimate, God-ordained leader or authority over us, we are following more in the footsteps of our enemy Satan than in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan is proof that even if leadership was perfect, we would probably choose to rebel and go to war against it. How much easier it is to rebel when leadership is imperfect?

But God calls us, his children, instead to “esteem” that imperfect spiritual leadership “very highly”…to the point of excess.

Someone has suggested rather tongue-in-cheek five ways to get rid of your pastor…if you want. J

(1) Sit up front, smile, and say “amen” every time he says something good. He will preach himself to death.

(2) At least once a month, tell him what good work he is doing in the church and community. He will work himself to death.

(3) Double your offering in the church. He go into shock.

(4) Tell him you’ve decided to start a home group for friends and neighbors needing Christ. He will probably suffer a heart attack.

(5) Get the whole church to band together and pray for him. He will get so efficient that some other church will hear about him, give him a call and before you know it, they’ll take him off your hands.

Well, I don’t know if that qualifies for abundant esteem or not but I’m pretty sure it would have a remarkable effect on any pastor’s…or parent’s…or spouse’s…or boss’s leadership.

Submissive respect, loving esteem and finally to this dance between leaders and lovers, God adds this capstone admonition:

#3.) “Be at peace among yourselves.”  

Peace-living is a whole lot harder than it sounds, isn’t it? It’s pretty easy to be a peace-loving person when you aren’t around other people. But live around people for very long and you will have to invest energy, attention, prayer and sometimes lots of time to learn to live at peace with other people.

            Sometimes as a pastor I feel like the hardest thing I need to do as a spiritual leader is to teach people how to live in peace with each other. Negatively stated, I spend a lot of my time resolving conflict. That’s what most marriage counseling is about. That’s what most church splits are about. That’s what most leadership arguments are about.

            If you’ve ever spent much time in a home where peace was absent and fighting was the norm, you know how valuable real peace between people is. If you’ve ever gone through a divorce either as a spouse or a child, you know how painful lack of peace is, no matter your age. If you’ve ever been through a church split, you know how terrible a lack of peace in God’s family can be. We all have the potential to be peace-wreckers. And we all have the potential to be peace-makers.

ILL: coming to Fourth Memorial Church 4 months post-split in 1992. I heard people say things like, “This feels so much like when my parents divorced when I was a kid.” Or, “I think this is more painful than when we lost our daughter at age 10.” I felt what it was like myself because 4th was the church where I had grown up with nothing but the fondest of memories of a ton of people who were no longer there but had moved on to the new church. Whatever the causes, it felt like much of my beloved family had chosen to end their family relationship with me and moved out. I felt like a kid in a divorced home that somehow feels responsible even though they aren’t.

I would drive home all the way out to Whitworth were we were living at the time thinking, “I’m so glad I only have to put up with this pain for 4 months.” How wrong I was!

            As it became evident that we would be staying, I began to contact other pastors who had pastored church splits. I began to hear the same story over and over. “Pastor a split church is unlike any normal church situation. People are very fragile. They won’t trust leadership of any kind. It will take a lot longer to gain confidence to make necessary changes.”

            Whenever I would talk with a pastor of a split church, I would ask if they had ever reconciled with the other group. Most had at least tried to reconcile. Several had had some sort of reconciliation in a year or two after the split. I secretly groaned that it would take that long.

            Ten years later, I sat in two different services with people from the split-off and the mother church. The first was a service of repentance and humiliation. Leaders from both churches prayed prayers of repentance for things they could honestly see had been errors ten years earlier. It took that long for many of these leaders to humble themselves enough to admit that they had been, in some way, part of the problem.

            The second service was a public celebration of reconciliation. We had a combined service at the river next to the INB Performing Arts auditorium. We sang and prayed and listened to God’s word together…in public…about unity…to demonstrate that we were choosing to live at peace among ourselves.


Respectful submission…loving esteem…peaceful unity—these are the things every one of us is called to live in when it comes to the God-ordained spiritual family we are in.

So in planning for this service, we thought it would be valuable to spend some time praying about these very calls of God on our lives. As a spiritual, we’re trying to experience the presence of God more and more in prayer—that experience of simply conversing with God, talking with Him about our own lives and the needs of others, thanking Him, and listening to Him about what He wants to speak into our lives.

[Break into groups of 5 or 6. We’re going to spend several minutes praying through some of the implications of these commands in our lives.

  • You may not be totally comfortable praying in a group. That’s why we are doing this—to help all of us grow in our family life in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
  • God will put things he wants you to pray about in your mind and on your heart. Your brothers and sisters can’t be blessed by your silence but they can be blessed by your willingness to forget about what they are thinking and talk honestly to God out loud so they can join in.
  • I will mention different aspects of these commands to pray about and you simply talk to God about them as I do.

PRAY about…

1. Respectful submission: to leaders of…family…church… your work/boss…government.

2. Loving esteem for the same.

3. The peaceful unity of the church >> your own living at peace with other believers, fellow-followers of Christ.


1.)    What has been your experience with spiritual leadership? What have been some of the best models you’ve seen of spiritual leadership? What made them great?

2.)    Looking at I Thessalonians 2:1-12, how many different qualities of good spiritual leaders can you identify? How many do you see evident in your own life? In the lives of the spiritual leaders in your life? What can you do to make those qualities more a part of your life this month?

3.)    We talked a bit about the spiritual practice of submission. If you were to enter into a month of focusing on practicing spiritual submission, what would look different? What would you need to change? To whom would you be in submission? How would that be evidenced?

4.)    Living at peace with others is a constant challenge. Are there any conflicted relationships in your life right now? What have you done to “be at peace” with those people? Look at Matthew 5:21-26, 18:15-17 & Philippians 4:2-3. What processes are we to follow in order to live at peace with people? What should we not do if we are going to build a church family experience of peace? What should we do?