A Commentary by John Stott

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. 1). The pastorate.

Historically speaking, the church of Jesus Christ has oscillated unsteadily between the equally unbiblical extremes of ‘clericalism’ and ‘anti-clericalism’. Clericalism is a situation monopolize all pastoral leadership and ministry, and, having been put on a pedestal, receive an exaggerated deference, while the so-called ‘laity’ are well and truly sat upon. Then able men and women are allowed no space in which to develop their God-given gifts or exercise them in appropriate ministries. On the contrary, the only contributions from them which are welcomed are their presence on Sundays to occupy otherwise empty pews, some administrative and practical assistance, and (of course) their cash. At the opposite extreme is the over-reaction called anti-clericalism. This sometimes begins with the recovery of Paul’s model of ‘the body of Christ’, in which every member of the local church, like every member of the human body, has a particular and distinctive function. Some Christians overpress the analogy, however, and deduce from it that clergy in any shape or form are redundant. ‘The church is better off without them’ they cry; ‘let’s found a society for the Abolition of the Clergy!’ But this extreme position overlooks the fact that, according to the New Testament, the Chief Shepherd delegates to under-shepherds or ‘pastors’ the privileged oversight of the flock which he has purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28).

We know that the Thessalonian church had responsible leaders, since Luke mentions Aristarchus (Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; cf. Col.4:10; Phm.24) and Secundus (Acts 20:4) by name. But we do not know (because we are not told) what prompted Paul to write verses 12 and 13. Probably some church members had been disrespectful towards their leaders. On the other hand, some leaders may have provoked this reaction by their heavy-handed or autocratic behaviour. Paul rejected both attitudes. For it is God’s will, he taught, that every local church should enjoy pastoral oversight, but not his will that pastors should dominate and organize everything. They are not meant to monopolize ministries, but rather to multiply them.

Notice now how Paul describes local church leaders. He uses three expressions in verse 12. Since these are participles, introduced by a single definite article, it is evident that the same people are in mind, although they are portrayed from three distinct perspectives.

First, Christian leaders are those *who work hard among you*. It is a significant phrase because some people regard the pastorate as a Sundays-only occupation, in fact a sinecure (i.e. a paid job involving little or no work). And, to be sure, some clergy have been known to be lazy. But true pastoral work is hard work. The verb Paul uses (*kopiao*) normally refers to manual occupations. It means to ‘toil, strive, struggle’ (BAGD), and to grow weary in doing so. It conjures up pictures of rippling muscles and pouring sweat. Paul applied it to farm labourers (e.g. 2 Tim.2:6) and to the physical exertions of his own tent-making (2:9; 2 Thess.3:8). But he also used it in relation to his apostolic labours (E.g. 1 Cor.15:10; 1 Tim.4:10), to the hard work of his colleagues (E.g. Rom.16:12), and to those who ‘labour in preaching and teaching’ (1 Tim.5:17, RSV). Whether it is study and the preparation of sermons, or visiting the sick and counselling the disturbed, or instructing people for baptism or marriage, or being diligent in intercession – these things demand that we ‘toil, striving with all the energy which he [sc. Christ] mightily inspires within’ us (Col.1:29, RSV).

Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. 1). The pastorate (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.