Pastors and People
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Pastors and People

Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica culminates with straightforward instructions for Christian living, including the kind of relationships that should be found within local congregations. To help churches display the Gospel, Alistair Begg delivers a series of challenges for pastors and elders, along with additional guidelines for congregations. As we see from Scripture’s direction, churches thrive when leaders are engaged with the right activities and members embrace the right attitudes.


Sermon Transcript:

I invite you to turn with me to the New Testament, to 1 Thessalonians and chapter 5. First Thessalonians chapter 5, reading from verse 12:

“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

“… Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

Amen.

Now, before we turn to the Bible, we turn to God in prayer. Let us all pray:

Our great and gracious God, we bow humbly before you, asking now that you will accomplish the purposes that you have planned for our time of study this morning—that as we turn to the Bible, that the Spirit of God will be our teacher; that we might hear your Word as from yourself and not from the lips of a mere man. And we pray that in hearing it we might understand it, and that by your enabling we might put it into practice, and as a result, that we may be better enabled to serve you in the week that lies ahead. Hear our prayers, O God. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

Well, today is a special and important day for us as a church family, because this evening, part of our service will be taken up with the ordination of one of the members of our pastoral team. And as is apparent from our bulletin, Jon Platek is about to leave next month to join one of the other churches in the surrounding area, which is an occasion both of joy and of sadness for us. Jon Platek came to us years ago now, as a young man fresh from college; he was single, full of enthusiasm. And now he’s about to move on; he’s married, he’s a father, and he has no enthusiasm. No! He’s a married, he’s a father, he’s older, he’s wiser, but he’s still a young man, and he’s still full of enterprise and of zeal. And tonight, in the context of our service, my remarks will be addressed largely to him. And so, in light of that, and in order to set it in a wider context, I determined that it would be important or fitting for us this morning to set the scene in some measure for what happens tonight. It will also prove to be helpful to those who perhaps are visiting or who have recently come around Parkside and have questions about our understanding of the nature of church government and of leadership and so on.

The context of our study this morning, as you will see, is 1 Thessalonians 5. I’ve turned there somewhat arbitrarily, but purposefully, because here, towards the end of this letter, Paul is issuing a whole series of practical instructions. And in the verses that we read, you can see that he has instruction concerning what we might refer to as the tone that is represented in the fellowship and congregation in Thessalonica. If you went there and you got a sense of it, if you got a feel of the place, if you said, “What is the vibe in Thessalonica?” then Paul is encouraging them to make sure that it is marked by three things: that the vibe would be joyful, that it would be prayerful, and that it would be thankful. So that you couldn’t possibly go there without sensing something of the joy that was represented in the people, something of their gratitude to God for his goodness, and something of their dependence upon God in the five-forty-five prayer time that will be taking place this evening before our service. In verses 14 and 15 he has instructions concerning the way that the fellowship would relate to one another, and so that the idle would be warned, the timid would be encouraged, the weak would be helped, and everybody would be patient with each other, and they wouldn’t be holding vendettas and paying back wrong for wrong.

And it’s no surprise, then, that at the outset of those two exhortations comes this instruction regarding the leadership and response to leadership in the church family. Indeed, when you read 1 Thessalonians 5 and you realize how many times he uses the word “brothers”—which might in most occasions be translated “brothers and sisters”—you realize that he does regard God’s people as a family. And it is one of the many metaphors in the New Testament of what it means to be part of God’s people: that to be made members of God’s family is to become part of a community that is far larger than ourselves, that extends beyond the boundaries of a local congregation, that indeed reaches throughout the entire world. And it is represented both on earth and in heaven: those who have heard the word of truth, those who have responded, and those who have been added to those whom Christ has saved.

Now, there may be specific circumstances that are in Paul’s mind, that he doesn’t mention, as to why it is that he urges respect for leadership. But it also is possible that he is simply reflecting the essential importance of respect for leadership in all and every circumstance. No army can function without it, no orchestra can function without it, no sports team can function without it, no nuclear family can get on without it, and no church family can possibly hope to make progress if they disregard what the Bible has to say concerning these things.

Now, quite simply this morning, I want us to consider, first of all, the activity of the leaders, and then the attitude of the members: three things that are urged upon the leaders and three things that are urged upon the members.

The Activity of the Leaders

First of all, then, the activity of the leaders, these individuals who are working hard, “who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.” In other words, these are the elders or the pastors of the church.

No army, orchestra, sports team, or nuclear family can function without leadership, and no church family can possibly hope to make progress if they disregard what the Bible has to say about it.

Now, we do well, perhaps, to remind ourselves that Luke records for us in Acts 17 the arrival of Paul in Thessalonica on the first instance. And indeed, if you wanted to turn to it—I’m just going to quote it—you might want your eyes to scan it. But in Acts 17:1, we have the record of Paul, along with Silas, arriving in Thessalonica. And Luke tells us—Acts 17:2—that “as his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead,” speaking to these Jewish people concerning the Messiah. And then, once he has shown them from the Old Testament Scriptures that Christ is not only a king and a prophet but also a suffering servant, he then told them, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is [none other than] the Christ,” the Messiah. As a result of that, Luke tells us in verse 4, “some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” And that is the record of the establishing of the church in Thessalonica.

Now some fifty years have elapsed, we’re in the middle of the first century, and by this time eldership, leadership, has been established in these congregations. And if you read the Acts carefully, you will discover that one of the things that Paul and his colleagues did after they had seen the establishing of the church was often to backtrack, to come around a second time, and to ensure that proper eldership was put in place.

And, for example, when he writes to Titus, he says to Titus, “The reason I left you in [Crete]”—Titus 1:[5]—“was to straighten out all the things that still had to be done and to appoint elders so that the leadership might be in place in order that God’s people might function properly.”[1] And this you find by reading all the way through the New Testament, and you discover that the eldership of the church comprises some who receive remuneration and others who don’t. And that is part of the pattern here at Parkside. We have elders here who are teachers and engineers and salesmen and lawyers and doctors and dentists, and they go about their business every day, and they also are bearing the burdens of prayer and of teaching and of responding to people’s pastoral concerns. Others of us have been set free from our daily labors in that respect, in order that we might be those who labor, or who work, in the Word and in doctrine. In other words, we’re not paid to preach, but we’re paid in order that we might preach and in order that we might be diligent in understanding the Bible and in sharing it with others. And you find that distinction in 1 Timothy 5:17.

Now, the New Testament pattern—and you can examine this and ensure that what I’m saying is accurate—the New Testament pattern is clearly one in which Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, has delegated to undershepherds, to pastors and to elders, the responsibility of caring for the flock which he has purchased with his own blood.[2] It is to these individuals that the responsibility of the congregation is entrusted. In other words, in this respect, such men are responsible for the congregation, not to the congregation. That is the phraseology: that they are “over you in the Lord,” because they are responsible for you.

Now, don’t misunderstand this. At one level, all of us are responsible to one another under Christ. After all, the ground, as has been said, is flat at the cross. We come as male and female, and as bond and slave, as from different backgrounds, and we share together the wonder of God’s grace. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and as a result we exhort one another and we encourage one another.

So while all of us are responsible to Jesus, not all of us are made responsible for others who are in Jesus. And that is the responsibility of eldership or of pastoring in a local congregation: that those of us who’ve been entrusted in this local fellowship with that responsibility bear the burden, enjoy the privilege, of recognizing that we look after God’s people “as men”—this is Hebrews 13:17—“who must give an account.” And we are accountable one day to Christ, when we face him; we are accountable every day to the Bible, and that all of the exercise of leadership and all of the encouragements that may come from leadership to the congregation must be grounded in, governed by, framed by, substantiated by, the authority and the truth of the Bible. Any authority that is given to the leaders of the church is an authority which is grounded in the Scriptures. It is not an authority on the basis of personality, it is not an authority on the basis of credentials; it is only the authority of Scripture itself. And that is why there can be nothing that is high-minded or heavy-handed or autocratic when it comes to leadership in the church.

With that said, notice, briefly, the three exhortations that are given here. “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you.” What does the leadership do? Well, first of all, the leadership works hard. This is a little reminder. This is a nudge in the ribs, I think, to the leaders in Thessalonica. After all, the letter would be read out, the elders in the church would be sitting listening, and as it was read out, one of the elders’ wives would nudge him and say, “See, you’re supposed to be working very hard here. This is not a picnic that you’ve come to; this is not a leisure-time pursuit. This is supposed to weary you. To weary you!” And the word here for “labor” or for “work hard,” kopiōntas, is a word that is variously used in the New Testament by Paul. For example, he uses it to refer to his own tentmaking in 2:9. He uses it to refer to the work of a farmer in 2 Timothy 2:6. He uses it to refer to the preaching and teaching ministry in 1 Timothy 5:17.

In other words, he is reminding both the people and the leaders that the exercise of pastoral ministry is work. If it is going to be executed properly and effectively, it is demanding. It is demanding to take seriously the responsibilities, to be prepared to lead God’s people, to feed God’s people, to warn God’s people, to watch over God’s people. All of that is work. And despite the fact that it is quite common to suggest that the minister or the pastor works only one day a week, nevertheless, such a notion cannot be found in the pages of the New Testament and ought not to be found as a result of spending time, certainly, with any one of us here at Parkside.

All of the exercise of leadership and all of the encouragements that may come from leadership to the congregation must be grounded in, governed by, framed by, substantiated by, the authority and the truth of the Bible.

Secondly, “who are over you in the Lord.” “Who work hard” and “who are over you in the Lord.” In other words, they exercise leadership. And they do so as men who are over others, but they are under Christ, and it is the fact that they are under Christ to give an account that gives them the characteristic of leadership. Because really good leadership is not about authority.

I was reading somewhere this past week, and someone in some book made reference to a schoolteacher who had to do nothing other than raise her eyebrows to bring the class to absolute silence—whereas some of the other teachers were shouting and haranguing and throwing threats all around the room just to try and bring some modicum of respect to the place. Well, you see, that lady, whoever she was—and in my case, she was the wife of our art teacher, Mrs. Walker, and she taught me English. I never once heard her raise her voice. She didn’t need to. Now, her leadership was actually not about walking around, going, “Do you know that I went to Cambridge University and I understand Shakespeare far better than you, small fry, punk?” No. No, she knew where she went to university, and we all knew how well she understood Shakespeare, but her exercise of leadership was not about authority or credentials; it was about humility. It was not about power; it was about gentleness. And when you read this phraseology here, you read it wrong—we read it wrong—if we take the phrase “who are over you in the Lord” somehow in a way that is regarded as autocratic.

Authentic servant leadership demands management. You cannot lead without managing things. Ultimately, a pastor is not a manager, but a pastor must know how to manage. An elder is not called to read management consultant books, but an elder will do well to read management consultant books. Why? Because you have to manage things. Now, where are the chairs going? How many chairs are there? Will the walls be pulled back, or will the walls stay in for the Christmas Eve services? How many policemen do you need out there, given the fact that Pettibone Road is shutting down next week? All of these things are practical details as it relates to the life of the congregation. Somebody has to manage this stuff, in the same way that you have to manage your family. If you don’t manage your family, it’s chaos.

And, of course, the mismanagement of family life is there for us all to see—and not least of all at the present time, as young mothers and young fathers, despising the instruction of the Bible concerning what it means to have respect for authority and so on, are in the process of trying to carve out an entirely new landscape for themselves. And it is quite amazing to watch, isn’t it? As young mothers… I have one in mind this week. I saw her; she had a cell phone in one ear, she had a half-eaten bowl of cereal in the other, and she had a small son by the hand. And it was clear that the small son was in charge of the mom, because she could neither complete the phone call, nor get to the spoon, nor eat her cereal, and she was just following young Rodney all around: “Now, where do you want to go now, Rodney? Oh dear, let’s have a talk about this. What shall we do next? Come along now.” He just needed managed. He just needed managed. He didn’t needed shouted at; he didn’t need abuse. He just needed managed.

And that’s why in the New Testament there is a constant correlation from the lesser to the greater. To the management of those who are under our care. To the framework of interpersonal relationships in the nuclear family. To the exercise of those responsibilities in the framework of the church. And the greatest joys in physical parenting are not in issuing orders but in establishing the parameters so that our children might grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And the same is true in terms of, if you like, spiritual parenting or fatherhood or leadership within the church.

Notice that you are to recognize that this is “in the Lord”: “who are over you in the Lord.” That’s one of the unique things about the church, isn’t it? That you have people in the church family who in every other dimension of life may well be over the eldership—in terms of managerial skills, in terms of intellectual capacity, in terms of financial acumen—but this “over you” is “in the Lord.” In other words, it is within the framework of Christian relationships. It is as it relates to the matters of spiritual life.

And, thirdly, “who admonish you.” “Who work hard among you,” “who are over you in the Lord,” and “who admonish you.” In other words, who seek to keep you on the path. That’s really what it means to admonish. There’s nothing negative in the word except the warning aspect of it: “Oh, don’t go there; that’s too close to the edge.” “Oh, don’t read that; that’s a waste of your time.” “Oh, don’t listen to this person; they’ll tell you the wrong things.” The same thing, again, as a parent: delighted to see your children walking in the truth. Hence, there is hard work. Hence, there is leadership. Hence, there is admonishment.

And Paul gives us the flavor of that kind of admonishment when he describes his relationship with the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20, and he says, “I never failed night and day to admonish every one of you with tears in my eyes.”[3] In other words, it’s not heavy-handedness; it’s brotherliness. It’s big-brotherliness. It’s a brother caring for his smaller brother or for his younger brother or for his sisters, and who is exercising the responsibility for leadership—tenderly, and as a result unwilling to shame the person; firmly, and as a result unwilling to compromise with error or with danger. Tender enough so as not to shame those who are under our care, firm enough so as not to allow those under our care to wander into By-path Meadow.[4] And as in family relationships, so in the church: getting that balance is absolutely crucial. Because to go on one side is to become heavy-handed and to break the spirit of our children; to go on the other side is to become so lax as to deprive our children of the very benefits that they require for wholeness.

The Attitude of the Members

Well, that then is something concerning the activity of the leaders. We turn now to the attitude of the members. To the attitude of the members, and just three things concerning them.

First of all, what have they do? Well, they are to show respect. Verse 12: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you.” In other words, to appreciate the value of them. To appreciate the value of them. That’s what it means to teach your children respect for a dollar. I’m reading Warren Buffett at the moment, The Snowball. Someone gave it to me; it was a very kind gift. What a fat book! But it is not as daunting as it looks; it’s actually a page-turner. And it was fascinating for me to discover young Warren Buffett, at the age of six, selling chewing gum and refusing to break a pack of five sticks of chewing gum for a lady who wanted only one, because it severely affected his profit margin and left him with four sticks, which were then a responsibility so he had to find four more people who only wanted one. So he refused, at the age of six: “No, I never break up my packs!”[5] No surprise that by the age of fourteen he was already filing his first tax return and that by the age of seventeen he had already established five small companies under his jurisdiction. It is a quite fascinating book. And he understood from the get-go the value of a penny, and the value of a dollar, and the value of compounded interest. He had respect for it. We might say an undue respect, but nevertheless, he understood what it was to respect it.

God has given leadership to the church because he cares for the church, because he intends the church to enjoy the benefits of that leadership.

Well, it is that notion that is here: to appreciate, to respect the value of leadership. God has given leadership to the church because he cares for the church, because he intends the church to enjoy the benefits of that leadership. It is therefore incumbent upon the members of the local church to make sure that they are submitting in the Lord, under the Bible, to the guidance and nurture and admonishment of those who are set in positions of responsibility.

Now, it is a very, very apt word, isn’t it? To “respect” them. To respect them. To “respect those who work hard among you.” In other words, not to flatter them or to fawn over them. “Mr. X is so wonderful. I’ve never heard anyone like him, never met anyone like him.” Oh, please be quiet. “Mr. X can do no wrong.” You have never met him. Talk to his wife. “Mr. X is the key to this.” Yeah, well, he may be the key to that, but God just changed the locks on that door.

And what you find traditionally in the church large and in the church local is a pendulum swing between adulation and denigration. You know? In the first few years, they idolize you. You know, in the next few years, they criticize you. In the next few years, they ostracize you. And then, if you stay long enough, actually, people’s memories go, and they come back around; you have another little idolize time. Another little special honeymoon, like the children have left and you can go off for a weekend by yourself. So it goes back around. So, where are you now? Idolize, ostracize, criticize, marginalize, whatever it is.

But it’s true in leadership in any case, isn’t it? If you’re a schoolteacher, you know that. One day you’re a hero; the next day you’re a bum. One day the parents are all in, sending you chocolate chip cookies; the next day they’re in, telling you they’re gonna go to the Board of Governors, and you’ll never teach for a day in your life. It’s the same lady that was in! Last week it was chocolate chip cookies; this week it’s something entirely different. Well, the same is true in the church. And so what you find is that people flatter or they despise. They either regard you as indispensable or as totally dispensable. “Oh, we could never do without you.” “Oh, we don’t care if you ever come back again.” That’s how it goes! And sometimes it’s like the weather in Scotland; it’s all in the space of twenty minutes.

That’s why the New Testament says again and again, “Don’t forget the leaders who taught the Word of God to you. Don’t forget them!”[6] And if you don’t forget them, you’ll remember to pray for them. And you’ll remember that they’re just like you. They have a different responsibility, but they still have the same challenges. They still have the same temptations. They still have the same things that wake them up in the night. They still have the same dilemmas of family life. They still have all of that stuff, and they will give an account for every word spoken from the Bible, and every counsel given in response to a telephone call, and every word spoken harshly and unwisely, and every time they fogged off the responsibility of taking a stand when they couldn’t face the challenge that was there—all of that as well. Respect them.

Secondly, “hold them in the highest regard.” That takes it up a level again, doesn’t it? “Hold them in the highest regard.” In other words, the attitude is not simply one of appreciation, but it’s one of affection. And the affection, you will notice—this love—is not on the basis of personal liking. It doesn’t say, “Hold them in the highest regard because they are such wonderful individuals.” No! “Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” Not because they champion our personal causes, not because they stroke our egos, not because they tickle that which is our fancy. My experience in thirty years of pastoral ministry is this: that people who follow and support leadership on that basis will as quickly desert it. They come in on the crest of a wave, and they go out in the undertow—and sometimes within the shortest period of time. Why? Because they come in with wrong expectations.

There is only one perfect leader: Jesus. There is only one authoritative Shepherd: Jesus. There is only one foundation for the church: Jesus. And every other person under Christ will only, on their best day, be an approximation to that to which all of us are called by the New Testament. So the church member needs to learn to say, “It’s not my personal preference that matters here but the good of the church, which is the important thing.”

And this is especially important when it comes to issues of personal preference as opposed to something which is a biblical mandate. In other words, it is a biblical mandate to pray. It is a biblical mandate to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is a biblical mandate to baptize. It is a biblical mandate to worship God. All of those things are not even in question. It is a biblical mandate to exercise discipline. But how many times do you have to pray, and when are you supposed to pray? One of my friends a long way from here is having a very, very difficult time at the moment because he’s trying to change the time of his church prayer meeting. He’s trying to move it from Saturday night to Wednesday night, and he has a royal circus on his hands. He’s not shutting down prayer! He’s just trying to move the night!

People have all kinds of personal preferences. But if they’re not biblical mandates, they’re not worth arguing about.

“Well, I think we ought to sing using those hymnbooks, ’cause I like it when they all bang down again into the pew, you know. I don’t think we should have screens,” and so on. “Why do you have strings? Why are they not going away? Why doesn’t that organ play all the time? Why don’t you have a big cross up in the middle here, or two big crosses, and get your face out of the road? Why don’t you do all these things?” I understand. People have all kinds of personal preferences. But if they’re not biblical mandates, they’re not worth arguing about. And so many local churches end up in deep difficulty because they take what is peripheral and they make it central, and as a result, what is central becomes peripheral. They fail to remind themselves again and again that the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.

Neither in business or in church life can people exercise effective leadership if those on their team are continually critical of them. “[It is] small wonder…” wrote one of my colleagues. “If we are continually critical of [our leaders that] are set over us … [it is] small wonder that they [cannot] perform the miracles … we demand of them.”[7] Leaders can never do their best work when they are subject to the carping criticism of those who should be their followers.

Respect them, hold them in highest regard in love because of their work, and finally—and just a sentence on this—“live in peace with each other.” Many of the commentators, I noticed, move that final sentence into verse 14 and put it in the realm of fellowship. Well, it does act as a bridge; there’s no question of that. But I wonder whether Paul is not just tipping his hat here to 1 Corinthians chapter 3. “Make sure that you respect them, make sure that you hold them in high regard, and make sure that you live in peace with one another.”

Remember when he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3? He said, “I could[n’t] address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were[n’t] … ready for it. Indeed, you[’re] still not ready. You[’re] still worldly.” Now, what does he go on to say? “You’re still worldly.” What is coming next? When I was growing up in Scotland, “You’re still worldly,” what came next was cinema, or whatever else is; that was worldly. And there’s no question that it’s more of a concern now than it was then, and sadly, now it isn’t a concern, and so—anyway, that’s another day for another subject. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?” So here’s the indication that the church is beginning to crumble: jealousy and quarreling. And what is the basis of jealousy and quarreling? “Are you not acting like mere men [and women]?” And how is that? “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you not mere men?”

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul?” Interestingly, he asks it in the neuter. He doesn’t ask it in the masculine. He doesn’t say, “Who is Paul? And who is Apollos?” He says, “What?” “What is Paul?” “What[’s] Apollos?” They’re “only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.” In other words, this was God’s plan from all of eternity. He just decided to use Apollos here. He just decided to use Bill. He just decided to use Fred. He just decided to use the individual. “I planted the seed,” it’s true, “Apollos watered it, but [I’ll tell you what:] God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow,” because “the man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” Not according to his own success. You think of how many of my colleagues are in tiny, tiny little congregations. And if it’s said here that they will be rewarded according to their apparent success, how amazingly discouraging! No. They will be rewarded according to their labor. In Scotland tonight—and it’s already almost four in the afternoon—in Scotland tonight, there will be congregations in remote parts of the Highlands where only a cluster of people gather, where twelve or twenty or maybe twenty-five show up for church, but still the pastor is there, still he has done the study, still he is teaching the flock. And he “will be rewarded according to his … labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, [you are] God’s building.”[8]

Well, our time is gone, but here’s the coda. And it is vitally important that you hear this, especially if you’re here as a visitor this morning. Because you perhaps have come in, you said, “Wow! I don’t know what’s going on, but there was the sermon about leadership, and apparently there’s some rebellious commando group at Parkside that is just emerging from somewhere, and the elders have charged Begg with the responsibility of trying to whip these boys into shape.” No, actually, nothing could be further from the truth, at least as far as I know; it’s always possible that it happens not on my watch. But no. I want to encourage you in the way in which Paul encourages these Thessalonians as he starts these instructions. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1 as we finish: “Finally, brothers,” he says, “we instructed you how to live in order to please God”—now, notice this next phrase—“as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”

What a privilege it is this morning, church family, to come to this instruction regarding the activity of leadership and the attitude of membership, knowing that in the mercy and goodness of God, we do not address it to correct a problem as much as to continue a pattern. But we must never rest on our laurels. We must never take these things for granted. We must always be aware that we’re engaged in spiritual warfare, that the Evil One is a roaring lion seeking those whom he may devour,[9] that he is an expert at infiltration, that he is masterful at sowing the seeds of bitterness and disgruntlement. And therefore, let us hold on to what we have. Let us affirm constantly that Christ is the only foundation of the church. Let us remind ourselves entirely that while one may plant and another may water, and we may be thankful for this individual or for that, ultimately, it is only God who makes things grow. And therefore, it is to him that we will constantly turn as we give him thanks for the past and as we trust him for the future.

Father, look upon us in your mercy, we pray, so that your Word might dwell in us richly, enabling us to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs as we give thanks in our hearts to you,[10] our sovereign God; to your Son, Christ, the great foundation of your church; and to the Holy Spirit, who enables us to both understand and to do that which the Scriptures teach. Triune God, we bless you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


[1] Titus 1:5 (paraphrased).

[2] See Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1–4.

[3] Acts 20:31 (paraphrased).

[4] See John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress.

[5] Alice Schroeder, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (2008; repr., New York: Bantam, 2009), 55.

[6] See, for example, Hebrews 13:7.

[7] Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 167.

[8] 1 Corinthians 3:1–9 (NIV 1984).

[9] See 1 Peter 5:8.

[10] See Colossians 3:16.

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.