“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). These are words of exhortation – they have the feel of Paul calling the saints to come to his side to hear his beseeching, begging, or entreating.
The fact that they are addressed in general to “brethren” clearly shows that these are teachings that are intended for every Christian. The message of this verse is not limited to elders, deacons, preachers, and Bible class teachers. Because it is for every single person in the Lord’s body, each of us needs to listen carefully to the message in order to understand it, then proceed to make the proper application in our lives. In our text, there are four specific instructions. In each of these instructions, there are two parts: (1) the action that is to be taken, plus (2) the people with whom we are to take such action. Let us have a look.
Warn those that are unruly – The Greek word from which we get the word “warn” means “to admonish, warn, exhort” [Thayer, word 3560]; “to put in mind, to caution or reprove gently, admonish, warn” [Strong]. “Unruly” indicates “not keeping order . . . it was especially a military term, denoting not keeping rank, insubordinate” [Vine]. It simply means one that is out of step with God’s will.
It is an undeniable truth that some saints become disorderly. They are out of step with the Lord’s instructions, and thus acting as disobedient children. God calls on His church to take action – not just sit idly by and observe their path to destruction, and not just say, “Well, we all make mistakes. They will probably get things straightened out one of these days.” Our Lord says to get up and do something – go warn them! God did not ask us if we thought it is a good idea to warn unruly members of the church. He simply told us to do it. Modern psychologists may suggest that warning people about their mistakes will damage their psyche and hurt their self-image, but the God Who has unlimited knowledge and wisdom (Psalm 147:5) prescribes such warning as being spiritually beneficial. God is correct in calling for such action, is He not? In fact, if our efforts to exhort and warn the unruly go unheeded, God’s command is to take the step of refraining to keep company with them (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15). If we love the souls of our brothers and sisters, we will follow God’s guidelines.
Comfort the fainthearted – “Comfort” means to speak to someone in such a way that we attempt to encourage, console, admonition, and calm them [Thayer, word 3888]. That is what God’s people are supposed to do with those among us who are fainthearted (“feebleminded,” KJV).
Why would a Christian ever become fainthearted? Some may have grown weary while doing good (Galatians 6:9). Some may have faced what they consider to be major disappointments in their lives. Others have lost loved ones; in some cases, it may be their last parent, last sibling, or an only child. There are those who are having serious struggles casting aside sinful habits and so they are on the verge of giving up. Whatever the cause of a brother or sister becoming mentally weary and perhaps even ready to “throw in the towel,” we need to be ready to give them moral support, encouragement, and comfort.
Uphold the weak – In this instance, to “uphold” (“support,” KJV) carries the idea of holding firmly to a person, cleaving to and paying heed to him [Thayer, word 472]. It certainly does not mean to endorse or support a person’s sins. In addition, we are not to “baby” a member of the church that knows the truth but willfully and openly lives in rebellion against it. Rather, it is the concept of helping hold a person up who is struggling under the weight of a burden.
In some areas of life, only the so-called fittest are allowed to participate. Only the most skilled can represent their school or nation’s sports teams. Those who “don’t make the cut” are cast aside. Not so in the church, where “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). In the Olympics, if other athletes fall or become injured during the course of competition, the mentality of some is, “Too bad for them. That gives me a better chance to win.” In the Christian race, however, we do not rejoice when other saints become weak or fall. We stop to pick them up and do what we can to help move them forward. Why? Because we are family and we want what is best for all of God’s children – that is called “agape.”
Be patient with all – Longsuffering, that is the idea here, putting up with what goes on without losing our cool. The Bible says that we should bear with one another and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13). We are to demonstrate that approach with all, not just our best friends. It is, perhaps, one of the most challenging charges in the New Testament. Controlling our spirit and dealing rationally with others is no easy task. Yet, that is exactly what our Lord expects of us. The church is made up of people from different cultural and racial backgrounds, having differing customs, different family traditions, and sundry lifestyles. It is not always easy to understand and accept those whose appearance and approach varies from ours. But we expect them to do that when they deal with us, right?
May God help us to approach the four instructions of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 with both zeal and humility.
~ Roger D. Campbell ~