Summary: Last in a series through the book. This message is a call for every person to put encouragement as a deliberate act into practice.
Joke – Have you heard the story about the guy who wasn’t too bright who got a job painting the lines down the middle of the highway? His first day, he finished 5 miles. Then his output dropped way off. The next day, he only finished 2; the next day, only one. The foreman called him in to ask about it. “You started out so well. Why has your work dropped off so badly?” “Well, I keep getting farther away from the paint bucket!”
You know, I have received or witnessed a lot of people being careful to be good encouragers these past 2 months. I Thessalonians has been a good bucket to draw from, hasn’t it? But there’s a danger as we finish it up that we’ll get too far from the bucket and we’ll suffer a drop off in our encouragement output.
If I were to come up with a title for this part of I Thessalonians, it would be “Paul runs out of paper.” No kidding! Up to this point, there have been these very preachable sections of Scripture, mostly limited to a few good points that all string together. But as he gets near the end here, it seems like he’s either about to run out of writing room or he’s in a hurry to get this in the mail. So, it reads like a student who has to write a paper at least 10 pages long, he covers ¼ the subject in the first 9½ pages and then makes a sprint to the finish. One day, I’m going to ask Paul about the end of this letter.
But then, I notice that it builds on v11. And there’s that theme again that has been running all throughout: Encouragement
I can just imagine Paul is thinking about everyone’s encouragement output and how he doesn’t want that to drop off. So, he puts together these closing remarks - kind of like the last things the salesman tells you about as you take a car off the lot. All along he’s been telling you how it works, but, now that you’re leaving, he’s running over some of the maintenance things you’ll need to know.
Well, we’ve spent a lot of time on this subject of encouragement. Now there are a few maintenance items you need to keep up that ministry of encouragement.
I. Treat People According to Their Needs (vv12-14)
The wording as this section starts out gives the sense: “OK, you’re convinced to be good encouragers, so let me tell you some places where the need for that is the greatest.”
A. …Is Sensitive to a Person’s Situation
If you’re going to be a good encourager, you have to pay attention to this.
Want to know who needs encouragement? Here are some:
hold them in the highest regard in love…
• Why? What is it about the leaders in the Church that makes respecting and regarding them so important? Is it they way they dress? After all, don’t all of the elders wear a tie on Sunday morning? Surely that’s not why we’re to hold them in the highest regard!
• Is it because of their popularity? Well, maybe not. Can you name our 8 elders without looking at the bulletin? Did they become elders by being popular? Do you think that, since they became elders, they’ve become more popular? Most of them would tell you that’s not the case.
• Is it because of the way they wield power in the Church? You know – to hire and fire and discipline and rebuke and all that? Well, no. Really, it seems like our men aren’t spending most of their leadership energy on that sort of thing. Besides, Jesus reminded his followers that they weren’t to “lord it over” people.
• Is it because of their perfect personalities? No, probably their wives could point out a few of their foibles if you were to ask them - Just like the rest of us.
• Is it because, in the working world, they’re all in managerial positions or they all have superior education? Well, no, that’s not true of all of them either.
The reason we’re supposed to respect and hold these men in the highest regard has nothing to do with them personally at all. Look one more time in v13 and you’ll see the reason: their work. That’s what it’s all about. The work these men are involved in demands that they be well-regarded – for the sake of the Church and its work.
What they do is a self-sacrificing work. Just like any other volunteer work in the Church, they don’t receive a paycheck for what they do. The fact is, they’ve taken on a job involving meetings and pressure and stresses, but for no financial gain. What a job like that at least deserves in return is for the church to hold the position in high regard.