We're continuing with the next two verses of 1 Thessalonians 5, if you would be so good as to turn there. Let's pick up from verse 13. Paul writes, 'Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone."
For those of you who weren't here or who, even worse, weren't paying attention, we've spent the last two weeks walking through the role and place of leaders in the church--how if we properly and rightly understand the labor with which they labor on our behalf, then we can properly and rightly esteem and respect them. On a practical note, if you're curious about the kind of work Matt does, take me out to coffee and I will let you see the underbelly of an average week. He labors for you, he fusses over you, he prays for you. If you are desirous, he is there to lead you daily in the study of the scriptures (its called Morning Prayer). And it is largely because of his faithfulness in his work that we as a congregation are at peace with one another.
Peace, if you remember, is the bridge between verses 13 and 14. Rightly esteeming the leaders of the church and the list which we're about to examine in verse 13 are the two strong pillars that support a peaceful common life. So let's look at this second important pillar that supports peace amongst ourselves and sometimes with the world.
I want to say two things quickly to set the stage.
First, all of us go through times of idleness, faintheartedness and weakness. And so two, if you are in one of these places this morning I hope you will wake yourself and be encouraged to go forward out of them. And if you're not, I hope you will remember what it was like and go from there, because its likely that you will circle back round.
So, I urge you, brothers, writes Paul, admonish the idle.
Admonish means to warn earnestly, to express warning or disapproval but
especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner. In other words, not like a mean judgmental sledge hammer. But pleading, earnest, sincere.
The word 'idle' in greek means out of order, out of place, not in proper order. It is used to describe a disorderly, insubordinate soldier--someone for whom life is supposed to be defined by discipline and control. In such a context disorder is very problematic. The disobedience and disorder of one solitary soldier could set the whole mission in disarray.
I don't think many of us are this moment about to go on an important mission to war, so what might disorder look like in other contexts?
I've used this analogy before, but imagine that your heart is a well appointed living room. Everything is in its right place. There are no trails of crumbs and corners where dirt has piled up. The cushions are all on the couch and not spread all over the floor. The curtains hang nicely and let the light in.
But I have a little raging hoard of order wreckers. I can work all day long to clean my living room and every moment that I'm working, there are five little people working equally hard to disorder what I order.
Sin is a force much like children. It is a disordering and destructive force, and if you are idle, if you give in, it will wreck the order and beauty of your heart. Now, I must not be idle in the ordering of my house or my children will utterly destroy it, so likewise, I must not be idle in the ordering of my heart and mind.
A disordered heart and life would be like this--work, then children, then your spouse, then God somewhere near the bottom. This is a life and heart that is a complete mess, and sin is everywhere able to make further chaos. The Christian is like an orderly and obedient soldier, an ordered room. God has your complete and primary allegiance. You attend to the scriptures and pray first in your day, before you do anything else. Then you concentrate your spouse, then your children, and finally your work. But usually we put knickknacks in first, then pictures and books and plants and lamps and then finally the couch, on top of it all and so, of course, nothing holds together. We try to add the most weighty and important thing in last, but God is too big--he is the walls of your house, the furniture, the source of your life. If you do not put him first your efforts will be in vain.
I don't want to belabor this point, but there is a reason that the word 'idle' has as its roots 'order' and 'obedience'. Spiritual idleness is the result of putting yourself first, and then your work and then your children and then your spouse. You then have nothing left for God and so you become lazy about the things of God. Its just so hard to get to church, the day was too stressful and so you can't go to Bible Study. You can't be a teller or serve in nursery or be on the altar guild or teach Sunday School because you don't have any spiritual energy. You have not attended to God and his family and his house and so you will always be running on empty, always. You're trying to do the work of God, which was by the way, the original problem of Adam and Eve.
So, let me admonish you, let me urgently and eagerly persuade you to rightly order your life. Do not be idle. And if you see this unfortunate chronic state in those you love, pray for them, encourage and persuade them to the things of God. Don't yell at them, don't exasperate them--parents, fathers especially, cajole, encourage, gently warn with kindness, humility and love.
Ok, the next building block on our pillar is to encourage the fainthearted. This is pretty strightforward. All of us at one point or another go through a rough patch, and sometimes its too much and we loose faith a little, or become discouraged. I was fainthearted this summer. I was really grieving over our old house, and I was exhausted by loosing a cat, searching for a cat, recovering that same cat, and having the cat sin all over my house. Then my mother's health required a trip to Kenya, and while I was in the air coming home on a big horrible 13 hour flight from Dubai to JFK Matt had to make horrible and grievous decision that my own cat, my only cat whom I loved was in too much pain and would be happier in the arms of Jesus. So when I got home, for a while I was seriously faint of heart. One grief too many. Many of us are in that space--so wounded and troubled we just can't go forward. Let me be very clear. It is not ok for serious brokeness and pain to go uncomforted. We are a body. If you know someone really suffering, or, and I say this as a pastor, if you are really hurting and are not telling anyone so that we cannot comfort you, then the whole body is broken. The Thessalonians were in a place of deep hurt. They were 3 weeks old, cut off from their families and worship community, they faced persecution and some of them had died. They needed to comfort and strengthen each other. We must pray for each other, daily, and greet each other at the peace and take each other meals in times of crisis, and take a few minutes to catch up at coffee hour. Uncomforted and unhealed chronic pain in a body is not ok. It affects the whole body. Do you see why idleness is not ok? Everybody has to pitch in to pray for, to love and support the whole body. Matt and I can't do it on our own. There are too many of you, praise God.
Next, Paul says, help the weak. This same word weak is used by Paul in a couple of other interesting places. He says in Romans 5:6 'you see, just at the right time, when we were powerless' when we were weak, Christ died. And again in 1 Corinthians 1:27 he says 'God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong'. All of us are weak. Apart from God we are all dust without breath. He sustains and preserves us, he builds us up and uses us to build his kingdom in the world. But some of us our weaker than others. Talking about the body in 1 Corinthians 12:22 Paul says that 'those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indespensible.' This is completely opposite from the world. In a few hours many of us will sit idly and gluttonously (seriously, who among you is not really in love with the super bowl for the food) celebrating strength, physical perfection, mental keenness and brilliance. You don't make it on to one of the top football teams in the country through being weak. However, if you are weak, and unaccomplished, and not that bright and not that gifted and kind of not sure what to do with yourself and not super well loved by very many people, well, then the church, the very body of Jesus Christ is looking for you. We're prepared to recruit you and give you an amazing offer--actually no money, But purpose, gifts directly from the Holy Spirit and an eternal and perfect relationship with God himself for ever and ever and ever without end. In our various weaknesses, God uses us to help and strengthen each other, practically, spiritually, emotionally, physically.
And then, the clincher, Paul says, 'be patient with them all'. Now, patience, like peace, is usually completely misunderstood. Patience does not mean putting up with everything for ever until you die. With small children patience doesn't mean indulging and putting up with and not loosing your temper. Patience is akin to faithfulness. It means dealing consistently, honestly, truthfully and lovingly all the time with everyone. Its only possible to be patient if you are rightly ordered and God is your strength, your hope, your love, your purpose, your desire. If you are spiritually idle, you won't be able to any of this.
Alright, I've used up my allotted time, and you've been very patient. I wanted to get to not returning evil for evil, but do not be troubled, it means exactly what it says. Let's pray.