A Commentary by John Stott

1 Thessalonians 5:14-15. 2). The fellowship.

These two verses begin with the words *And we urge you, brothers*, much as verses 12 and 13 were introduced by the words ‘Now we ask you, brothers.’ The formula is identical except for the change of verb. It is probable, therefore, that the ‘brothers addressed are the same people. In verse 12 these were clearly the rank and file members of the Thessalonian church, because they were distinguished from their leaders whom they were told to respect. The ‘brothers of verse 14 must surely, therefore, be the same church members. It is they and not the leaders whom Paul now urges to give pastoral care to specially needy people in the congregation, and indeed to each other. The existence of pastors does not relieve members of their responsibilities to care for one another.

First, the apostle singles out for mention three particular groups whom the *brothers* are to care for. They must *warn those who are idle* (the *ataktoi* who were playing truant from work), *encourage the timid* (the *oligopsychoi* or ‘faint-hearted’, those anxious either about their friends who had died or about their own salvation), and *help the weak* (those finding sexual self-control difficult, who were addressed in 4:3-8). The verb for *help (antechomai*) presents a graphic picture of the support which *the weak* needed. It is as if Paul wrote to the stronger Christians: ‘Hold on to them’, ‘cling to them’, even ‘put your arm round’ them. He then continued: *be patient with everyone* or, as perhaps it should in the context be translated, be very patient ‘with them all’ (RSV). One might say that the idle, the anxious and the weak were the ‘problem children’ of the church family, plagued respectively with problems of understanding, faith and conduct. Every church has members of this kind. We have no excuse for becoming impatient with them on the ground that they are difficult, demanding, disappointing, argumentative or rude. On the contrary, we are to be *patient* with all of them. *Makrothymia*, often translated ‘long-suffering’, is an attribute of God (Ex.34:6; Ps.103:8), a fruit of the Spirit and a characteristic of love (Gal.5:22; 1 Cor. 13:4). Since God has been infinitely patient with us, as he was (for example) with Saul of Tarsus (1 Tim.1:16), we too must be patient with others.

Secondly, Paul moves on from particular groups needing help to general Christian behaviour. *Make sure*, he writes, or ‘See to it’ (REB), *that nobody* (or ‘none of you’ RSV) *pays back wrong for wrong*. Here is an allusion both to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5:39, 44; cf. Rom.12:17-21) and to his own remembered refusal to hit back (1 Pet.2:20ff.; 3:9). All personal revenge and retaliation are forbidden to the followers of Jesus. And in place of these negative attitudes and actions, we are enjoined: *always try to be kind* (RSV ‘seek to do good’, NEB ‘aim at doing the best you can’) *to each other* within the fellowship of God’s children *and* indeed *to everyone else*, including (as Jesus specifically taught) our enemies. Perhaps Paul had in mind the slanderers and persecutors of Thessalonica.

‘See to it’, the apostle writes (Cf.Dt.29:18). We recall that he is not addressing the church’s leaders, although they of course have a vital role in pastoral oversight. Instead, he is laying on the whole congregation the responsibility to care for each other as sisters and brothers, to give appropriate support, encouragement or admonition to the church’s problem children, and to ensure that all its members follow the teaching of Jesus, cultivating, patience, renouncing retaliation and pursuing kindness. It is a beautiful vision of the local church as a community not only of mutual comfort and encouragement (4:18; 5:11) but of mutual forbearance and service as well.

Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22,27. 3). The worship.

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.