Because of Their Work

The general attitude of independence in our culture rubs off on the church, sometimes in its relationship with those whom God has called to office in the church. But the problem is not new, as Paul tells you in 1 Thessalonians 5:12–22.

Respect those who are over you. Respect them because of their hard work. “Work” here means toil that tires, labor that exhausts. While there are those who may seek office for the wrong reasons, and may not really work in it, those are not true leaders. Appreciate how hard they may be working in caring for the flock. The work is important.

“This work is the edification of the Church, the eternal salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and in short the kingdom of God and Christ. The excellence and splendor of this work are beyond value.”

(John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians

Respect them because they are over you in the Lord. The church is not a democracy or a republic (though important principles of representative government have grown out of the church). The elders and deacons do not exercise their own personal authority. Nor do they exercise the collective authority of the congregation. Rather the church is a monarchy. The King is Jesus. The authority of the elders and deacons is an authority delegated by Christ. That means you need to listen and pay attention to them! It also means that they need to be in the Word, understanding its principles, and seeking the wisdom to apply them to concrete situations. “In the Lord” also circumscribes the authority of the officers. If they are simply propounding their own opinion, they are not speaking with the authority of Christ. Those who have been ordained as leaders in the church exercise real authority — as we’ve just seen, it’s the authority of King Jesus. But there is a lot of confused thinking about what that authority means. Even in reformed circles, too often the questions that we start out with, both in marriage and in the church, are, “who is superior to whom? Who is inferior?” In Matthew 20:20–28 Jesus encountered that attitude from two of his closest disciples — and he called that approach pagan. The Son of Man himself came, not to be served, but to serve. If Christian leaders are going to be effective, they need to understand, internalize, and exhibit that attitude.

Respect them as they admonish you. God has given the elders the task of admonishing. That involves instruction and correction. Morris says, “While the tone is brotherly, it is big-brotherly.” Don’t let correction build resentment. When your ideas are challenged, don’t just dig in your heels, but respond with the respect that is due one to whom God has given the responsibility of admonishing.

Hold your officers in the highest regard. Understand the breadth of the work of your officers. The work of the elders reflects Christ’s kingly office. It involves praying for the church. It includes encouraging and nourishing the congregation in their entire Christian lives. Ultimately the work is that of building up the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. The work of the elders and deacons as well as ministers is that of helping to equip the body of Christ for its work of service, Ephesians 4:11–13. The work of the deacons reflects Christ’s office as priest. Paul places the work of the officers (and the life of the church) between Christ’s death and his coming, verses 1–11, 23,24.

“An important task of a priest is to show mercy. Therefore, those whose work it is to help the poor and needy in the church represent Christ as priest…. In the New Testament church the diaconate is the office of mercy…. [T]hose whose special task it is to perform works of mercy in the church perform this task as representatives of Him whom Scripture calls ‘a merciful high priest’ (Hebrews 2:17), even Jesus Christ.”

“Those who rule in the church represent Christ as King…. From the fact that the church belongs to Christ it follows that those whom He has charged with overseeing it do so in His name. The same apostle besought the believers at Thessalonica to know them which labored among them and were over them ‘in the Lord’; namely, the Lord Christ (I Thessalonians 5:12).” (R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ: A Scriptural Appreciation of the One Holy Church, pages 121 & 122)

R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ: A Scriptural Appreciation of the One Holy Church, pages 121 & 122

Hold them in the highest regard in love. Give them the respect and honor that the Lord commands. Love is not just an emotion, but involves action. Show regard by responding to their work. Live in peace. Don’t quarrel or rebel. Avoid idleness, and encourage others to do the same. Help the weak. Be patient. Show kindness to one another, as well as to the world around you. The rest of the chapter can be seen as practical ways that you can work out living as the church of Jesus Christ. You live between the first and second coming of Christ. You look back to his work completed in his life on earth, his death, resurrection, and ascension. You live in the power of the Holy Spirit whom he has poured out on the church. As the ascended Lord he summons you not to quench the fire of the Spirit, whether by disobedient rebellion that grieves him, or by just ignoring the Spirit, as though he were not relevant to your life. The best way to show regard for those in authority in the church is to live in obedience to the Lord.

Hold your officers in the highest regard in love, not to make their life easy, but because that is how the Lord calls you to live as you look for his coming.