We are continuing our study this morning of 1 Thessalonians. If you can remember back in the first chapter, Paul thanked God for this body of believers because, among other reasons, they were an example to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Their testimony had literally echoed out across the country. This was quite an amazing church.
As amazing as the church at Thessalonica was, they weren't perfect. No local church is. But even though local churches can be far from perfect, God has designed them to provide Christians needed protection and edification. We are part of the family of God, and we need one another not just in a general sense, but in the atmosphere of a local church.
We finished up with verse 11 last week which concluded the section on eschatology. This morning we begin looking at a section that begins in verse 12 and runs all the way down to verse 22. It is really a long series of commands that have to do with practical life in the local church. The first thing addressed is local church leadership.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ESV
"Are over you"—is from the Greek word proistmi, which means "to stand before someone, or to preside, or to lead, or to direct." It's used in three times in 1 Timothy chapter 3 (verses 4, 5 and 12) and in 5:17 in reference to church leaders. It means to be in charge or to have authority. Verses 12 and 13 show the local church's responsibility toward its leaders. Notice what Paul says in Titus 1.
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—Titus 1:5 ESV
Here we are told that the organization of the Cretan church was unfinished due to the brevity of Paul's visit. Paul left Titus on the island to correct the situation, instructing him to "put what remained into order" by appointing elders in every town. In other words, a church is not in order and not functioning as God intended without an appointed leadership according to the guidelines of Scripture.
Therefore, let's look at what the Scriptures have to say about church leadership. There are four terms used in the New Testament to describe church leaders, and none of them is "reverend." I don't think it is biblical for a minister to use the title "Reverend." The word is found only once in the KJV Bible and is not a reference to a man, but to Yahweh.
He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his name. Psalms 111:9 KJV
It is only the name Yahweh that is holy and reverend. The Hebrew word for reverend here is "yare." According to Strong's, it means "to fear; morally, to revere; cause to frighten." BDB lexicon defines it as "to fear, revere, be afraid."
Clearly, only Yahweh is to be revered, and in holding the reverence of God we exercise godly fear. We know who He is and recognize His absolute power over all things. That is certainly not an attribute of an under shepherd who pastors a local congregation of believers. The reverence this word speaks of is reserved for Yahweh alone. I think it is clear using the term "Reverend" sends the wrong message as to what God's leader in the local church is to be. Only Yahweh is to be revered.
There are four terms used in the New Testament to describe church leaders: "bishop, elder, pastor, and leaders." The most widely used New Testament designation for local church leaders is "elders."
Elders—is the Greek word presbuteros. It is used 72 times in the New Testament. It refers to mature in age. Presbuterosis, used 20 times in Acts and the Epistles, is in reference to leaders in the church.
Bishops—is from the Greek word episkopos. It means "guardian or overseer." It is used 5 times in the New Testament—once of Christ (1 Peter 2:25) and four times of church leaders. It is plural (bishops).
Leaders—is from the Greek word hēgeomai which according to Thayer means "to lead, to go before, to be a leader, to rule, command." It is only used of church leaders in Hebrews 13:7.
Pastor—this is from the Greek word poimen. It is only found once in the New Testament.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, Ephesians 4:11 ESV
The normal meaning of the word poimen is "shepherd" (to protect, feed, care for, and lead). Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders or leaders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. Textual evidence indicates that all three of these terms all refer to the same office.
So, I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV
The word "elders" in verse 1 is presbuteros. The word "shepherd" in verse 2 is poimaino. And the word "oversight" in verse 2 is episkopeo. Peter instructs the elders to be good shepherds as they oversee the flock.
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. Acts 20:17 ESV
Please notice that the word "elders" is plural and "church" is singular. Each church had a plurality of elders.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28 ESV
Here Paul is addressing the elders from verse 17, and we see the same three Greek words used to describe those who lead the church. Elder emphasizes who the man is; bishop and pastor speak of what he does.
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, Titus 1:5-7 ESV
Titus, who was an apostolic representative, was to appoint "elders." Paul then begins to give their qualifications; and then in verse 7 says that "the overseer" (episkopos) is to be "above reproach."
According to the New Testament, the leadership or pastoral oversight of the local church is to be shared by all men in the church who qualify and desire the work. Church leadership is to be a team effort. Every place in the New Testament where the term presbuteros is used, it is plural (except where John and Peter use it to speak of themselves). The norm in the New Testament church was a plurality of elders. There is no reference in all the New Testament to a one-pastor congregation. Today's tradition of a single pastor leading a church is not the biblical norm but is a violation of the scriptural pattern.
Pride and selfishness plague much of the Lord's work. The world's concepts of power, honor, and authority in leadership permeate our churches. Shared leadership and humble servanthood is the biblical form of leadership rather than one-man leadership. Eldership enhances brotherly love, humility, mutuality, and loving interdependence.
What are the duties of elders? There are several listed in Scripture. I think that the main duty of the elder/pastor is to shepherd the flock. Shepherding boils down to two things: feeding and leading. Feeding involves proclaiming the Word of God and leading consists of setting a godly example. Notice what Peter tells the elders to do.
shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 1 Peter 5:2 ESV
Paul says this same thing to the Ephesian elders.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28 ESV
"Pay careful attention to yourselves"—Paul could mean, "Elders, pay careful attention to each other's needs and weaknesses and faults." Or it could mean, "Elders, each of you pay careful attention to your own heart and doctrine and behavior." I'm sure he means both. He is warning them to be good examples to the flock.
Talking to Timothy, who was an elder in Ephesus, Paul writes:
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:16 ESV
An elder must first and foremost be on guard for his own spiritual life. He cannot shepherd the flock if his life is a mess.
Paul guarded his own life with extreme diligence.
So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 ESV
Paul didn't want to be disqualified from the ministry, so he disciplined himself. Paul's life was an example to all, and he told Timothy to also be an example.
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12 ESV
Timothy is at Ephesus, and Paul tells him to be an example. He is basically saying to these elders: "Pay careful attention to yourselves."
They are not only to guard themselves but also "all the flock of God"—and then he tells them to "shepherd." Notice the "sheep" symbolism that Paul used here. The flock were the "sheep," and the elders were the "shepherds" of the flock who were appointed by the Holy Spirit to protect and to feed the sheep. The danger was to come from the "wolves" who would savagely seek to destroy the flock and to devour some of the sheep. In Jeremiah 13:17 and in Zachariah 10:3, God calls Israel "the Lord's flock." And in John 10 Yeshua is called "the good shepherd."
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11 ESV
As good under-shepherds, the elders are to guard the flock of God against all dangers to its spiritual well-being.
Paul says, "The Holy Spirit has made you overseers." Notice that they are made overseers and elders, not by self-election, not by human ordination, but by divine appointment. It was the Holy Spirit who made them overseers.
But how? How does the Holy Spirit appoint someone as an elder? Well, I think that when the apostles were around, they appointed elders, and those who were apostolic delegates appointed elders.
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— Titus 1:5 ESV
So, the apostles and their delegates could appoint elders. Their appointment was the Holy Spirit's appointment. But once the apostles died off, how does the Holy Spirit appoint elders? Look at 1 Timothy 3.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 1 Timothy 3:1-2 ESV
I see from this text two ways that the Holy Spirit appoints elders. First, He plants a desire in their hearts for the work. The Greek word for "aspires" is oregomai, which means "reach out after (long for), covet after, desire."
Second, the man must fit the qualifications that are listed 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 1. So, it's not that elders appoint elders. Elders recognize those whom the Holy Spirit has appointed and who have begun to function as elders.
Paul tells these elders that their task is to "shepherd the church of God." Shepherd is from the Greek word "poimaino" which means "to shepherd." To understand what shepherd means, look at a conversation that Yeshua has with Peter.
When they had finished breakfast, Yeshua said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Yeshua said to him, "Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17 ESV
Three times in this text Yeshua says this: "Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep." One of those times, the middle time, He uses poimino (to shepherd). But the first and third times He uses the word "bosco" instead of "poimino." The verb bosco is used both literally and figuratively for feeding animals, providing nourishment, while the verb poimino includes shepherding duties toward the flock such as guiding, guarding, and ruling, whether literally or figuratively. A quote from the Jewish historian, Philo, employs both verbs, "Those who feed (bosco) supply nourishment…but those who tend (poimino) have the power of rulers and governors." (Philo, Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiari Soleat, viii #25).
From what Yeshua says to Peter, we see that the primary responsibility of the shepherd is to feed the flock, to teach them the Scriptures. This is the church leader. Whether you call him "elder, overseer, leader or pastor," his primary responsibility is to teach the Word of God. This is what Yeshua called Peter to do, this is what Paul did, and this is what Paul called the Ephesian elders to do.
In Ezekiel 34 we find a divine rebuke of the "shepherds of Israel" for forsaking their task and calling as shepherds. They had begun feeding themselves from the flock rather than feeding the flock.
"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus, says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? Ezekiel 34:2 ESV
Their job was to feed the flock, but they were not doing it. Yahweh goes on in this text to rebuke the shepherds of Israel for the fact that His flock had been scattered and was being devoured:
As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, Ezekiel 34:8 ESV
Then the Lord gives this promise:
"Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. Ezekiel 34:11 ESV
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV
So, Yahweh promised Israel that He would "seek the lost" sheep of Israel. He did this in Christ who was the great Shepherd of the sheep.
This flock that these elders are to feed is "The Church of God"—this flock belongs to the Lord God. And then he says, "Which He purchased with His own blood." The word "purchased" here is not the common word for "to buy" in the sense of buying a slave out of the slave market. This is the Greek word peripoieomaia, which means "to get for one's own." The force of this word is "I have made these things my own."
This flock was purchased "with his own blood." These sheep were so valuable to God that He purchased them with the precious blood of His own Son.
So, let me say again that I think that shepherding can be boiled down to "feed and lead." Teach the Word of God and live out a godly example. The Puritans sparked renewal in large part through their commitment to regarding preaching as the pastor's primary task. J. I. Packer states: "To the Puritan, faithful preaching was the basic ingredient in faithful pastoring." He then cites from John Owen, who wrote, "The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor." (A Quest for Godliness [Crossway Books], p. 283).
So, the main duty of the elders is to shepherd (i.e., "to feed and lead").
With that as background, let's look at our text.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ESV
"We ask you"—the verb used here is erotao, a word used of a request from a friend. It is more intimate and personal than the stronger parakaleo of verse 14 ("We urge you").
"Brothers"—is often used by Paul to show a transition to a new subject (cf. 4:13; 5:1), though not always. The Greek here is adelphoi. Plural nouns such as this one, are often generic and refer to an entire class (brothers and sisters or fellow believers). The point is that we are spiritual brothers and sisters born into the family of God by the Spirit.
"To respect those who labor among you"—Paul is talking here about local church leaders. "Respect" is a present infinitive of the verb oida ("to know, acknowledge, recognize"). Some see oida here to mean "appreciate, value." But because this idea is found in the next verse ("esteem them very highly") Paul's statement would be redundant. And also, Paul uses this same word in 1 Corinthians 16:15 where he calls the church to recognize the leadership of those of the house of Stephanas because they were "the first converts in Achaia."
Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—1 Corinthians 16:15 ESV
"To know, acknowledge, recognize" fits here and in our text. The Greek verb probably means that they were to recognize certain men as the legitimate leaders of the church.
Why is he telling them to recognize their leaders? This church had only been in existence for several months, so every member was a relatively new convert. Yet God had raised up some as leaders. Maybe Timothy had appointed leaders when he made his follow-up visit under Paul's direction. Or Paul may have appointed leaders before they departed from Thessalonica, as they had done in the churches of Galatia.
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:23 ESV
Again, "elders" is plural and "church" is singular. These elders that Paul and Barnabas appointed were fairly new in their Christian experience, but they were the most spiritually mature men in those churches. Many of these men could have been Jewish synagogue elders and would have quickly qualified to be elders in the emerging churches.
I think this was most likely the case in Thessalonica as well. These leaders were probably converted Jews who had been elders in the synagogue and who had a solid background in the Hebrew Bible. It is likely that the organization of the earliest churches was modeled upon the synagogue, which had elders.
Having Jews in leadership in a mostly Gentile church could have caused some problems. This may be why Paul tells them to recognize their leaders.
They are told to recognize those who "labor among you." "Labor" is the verb kopiao which means "to become weary, tired," "to work hard, toil with effort, strive." It may describe both a mental and physical kind of labor. Paul used this word frequently to describe his own ministry. These leaders are to be recognized not by their title but by their service.
How were these leaders to labor among the Thessalonian believers? This is spelled out, at least in part, in the following description.
"And are over you in the Lord"— "are over" here is proistēmi which means "to stand before someone, or to preside, or to lead, or to direct." Herodotus and Plato used the word "proistēmi" to refer to leadership in an army, a state, or a party. It's used in 1 Timothy chapter 3 three times (verses 4, 5 and 12) in reference to elders and pastors, It means to be in charge, to have authority. Paul uses it in 1 Timothy 5:17 when he says, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor."
So, it includes responsibility for the management or oversight of all aspects of a local church. Leaders are recognized as being "over" the congregation in the sense of ruling and providing headship, as a shepherd is over the sheep. This describes a clear and legitimate order of authority.
The final phrase, "in the Lord," must not be overlooked. The oversight or leadership finds its authority, example, and nature in the sphere of the Lord Himself who is the Great and Chief Shepherd. The leadership of the church is never to be like that of the world where leaders many times exercise a dominating leadership, often with the desire for status. Leadership in the New Testament church, whether in the home or the local assembly, is to be that of a servant who seeks to care for the needs of the flock.
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. Luke 22:24-26 ESV
Leadership in the church is servant leadership.
Paul tells us that one of the responsibilities of these leaders is to "admonish you"—this is the Greek noutheteo, which means "to lead someone away from a false path into a true path by warning and teaching." The verb suggests the idea of confronting believers with the error of their way of life on the basis of the Word of God. That confrontation should lead them and guide them into a correct way of life. Paul uses the same word in verse 14, "admonish the unruly." Paul is the only person in the New Testament to use this word. Paul said to the Ephesian elders,
Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. Acts 20:31 ESV
Paul admonished others and he told the elders to do the same. And Paul also says that this is a responsibility of all believers.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. Romans 15:14 ESV
It's the task of every church member, but it is especially the task of the elders. Remember that elders are to be an example of what we all are to be and do.
and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 1 Thessalonians 5:13 ESV
"To esteem them very highly in love"— "esteem" is the verb hegeomai, which can mean "to respect" or "to esteem." Interestingly, however, the word never appears with this sense in biblical literature. This meaning is extremely rare in the wider body of Greek literature. The verb normally signifies "to think" or "to consider" (2 Cor. 9:5; Phil. 2:25; 3:8; 2 Pet. 1:13), which is most likely what it means here.
"Very Highly"—is the verb hyperekteínō. It is a compound word made up of "to extend inordinately" and to "stretch beyond." It means to extend beyond the prescribed bounds, stretch out beyond measure, stretch out overmuch. You get it? Hyperekteínō literally means "to go beyond all things in an inexhaustible way"!
The adverb hyperékeina is used by Paul in Ephesians 3.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, Ephesians 3:20 ESV
Whatever you can imagine, Yahweh can go beyond all things in an inexhaustible way! He is unlimited in power.
The combination of this verb "esteem" with the adverb "very highly" gives us the sense that the Thessalonians should think about them in the highest way possible, and so hold them in highest regard in love. These words in Greek carry such an emphasis that it's hard to be expressed in English.
"Because of their work"— Paul calls the congregation to this profound loyalty to their leaders because of their work and not because of their position or office. Too often, when leaders are esteemed, it is for the wrong reasons. They don't deserve esteem because of their title or because of their personality but because of their labor on behalf of God's people. Paul says that the church should "hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work." Their work is overseeing, guarding, teaching, and shepherding those whom Christ bought with His own blood. Notice what Paul says in 1 Timothy 5.
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 1 Timothy 5:17 ESV
"Double honor" refers both to respect and to financial remuneration. But that double honor is to go to those who "labor in preaching and teaching." To do that job well is hard work! Unless you buy canned sermons. To interpret the text requires many hours of labor.
Paul ends this verse saying, "Be at peace among yourselves"—this is a present active imperative denoting a continual command for believers and a common New Testament appeal (Mark 9:50; Romans 12:18; 2 Corinthians 13:11). This call to peace among the members of the community is rooted in the teaching of Yeshua (Mark 9:50). Peace is one of the fruits of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22).
The insertion of the call for peace here just may be due to the fact that the newly appointed leaders in the church were Jews. And Jews and Gentiles were constant enemies. This call to peace here may be the same as what Paul says in Romans 13.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Romans 13:1 ESV
This has nothing to do with civil government. It is dealing with the governing authorities in the church. If you stir up dissension in the church by complaining or opposing your leaders, you are not "esteeming them very highly in love."