In my quiet time with the Lord, I read a verse in that grabbed my attention as a pastor. Near the very end of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul gave some final instructions. He wrote, “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
I was really feeling this verse in the beginning. I’m tracking along with Paul as he urges me to “admonish the idle.” Admonish means “to express warning or disapproval to someone in a gentle, but firm manner.” As a pastor, I get plenty of opportunity to admonish the idle, those that seem to be on “Christian cruise control.” You know who I’m talking about. They are the Christian equivalent of the person who drives to the gym a couple days a week to take a few selfies on the elliptical machine before they talk on their cell phone in the lobby for an hour, then head home. They tell people they workout, but don’t have any result of it in their lives. There are plenty of idle folks, who will show up for a Sunday service, usually in the neighborhood of 10-20 times a year, and simply park it there for the morning. There is no engagement. No worship. No work. They are quick to tell people they go to church. They make all the appropriate Instagram posts and Facebook check-ins, but there’s no growth, no transformation, no results. I’m quick to admonish them, Paul. Check!
“Encourage the fainthearted,” he continues. I’m all over it, because there are plenty of them, too. Everyone is going through something, but there are some who have a hard time grasping hope and shedding fear. I must be ready and willing to come alongside them to inspire courage in them that they wouldn’t have otherwise. That “coming alongside” is such a valuable ministry of the church. We can often feel alone. In the midst loneliness, fear, worry, and doubt can show up and paralyze an individual. There is so much power in a Christian brother or sister stepping in and with words and/or actions speaking loudly, “You are not alone. Take courage. There is reason for hope. And I’m right here with you through it all.” I’m with you, Paul! Check!
Next is “help the weak.” I love this one! Whether it is spiritual weakness, physical weakness, emotional weakness, or whatever, we who are stronger in that area can help. Paul’s reminder is a strong encouragement to me as a pastor to continue to help those who are weak. As I continued to read, I quickly found out why Paul was urging us to do these things.
“Be patient with them all.” Wait. What? Patient? With all of them? My first thought is “C’mon man!” Patience is challenging enough for me as it is. But being patient with “all” of them, feels impossible some days. Some people can be just downright stubborn. There are many in your church who are more goat than sheep. Then I am reminded by the Holy Spirit of all the occasions in which the Lord was so patient with me. Reminded of how, through countless days of running from the Lord’s call on my life, He patiently pursued me. Reminded of the staggering number of times I’ve been stuck on stupid as God urged me to draw close and trust Him. To be patient is to follow the example of Jesus. And then I am reminded by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, that great chapter on love, that love is patient. The command to “be patient with them all” is synonymous with “love them all.” I can do that, Paul. By the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in me, I can love them all.