Summary: We have a spiritual capacity, but whether we are among the "strong" or the "weak" in this sense, we are called to help one another and be patient with all.
April 20, 2008
1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NASB77) And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.
1 Thess 5:14 (NLT) Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.
Encouragement. Help. Patience. After the initial admonition to warn of idleness, or laziness, this is what this passage of scripture is urging us to do.
In some ways, this passage could be seen as a follow-up to what we looked at a few weeks ago – dying to self – taking up your cross to follow Jesus. Because I think we explored, at least implicitly, the warning about being idle, this morning, I want to focus on these other things – encouraging the timid, or some versions say fainthearted, helping the weak, and patience with everyone.
The truth is these things more often than not take a death to self to accomplish. I want to explore an idea with you a little bit this morning related to helping the weak and fainthearted.
I’ve been thinking about this word “capacity.” Not necessarily in physical terms, as we just witnessed, but in spiritual and emotional terms. I believe we all have a spiritual and emotional capacity. This includes the amount of stress, the kinds of challenges we face, and just plain how much we can handle.
Here’s a dictionary definition of capacity. As I read this, think of how these ideas might be translated into the emotional and spiritual realm:
1. the ability to receive or contain: This hotel has a large capacity.
2. the maximum amount or number that can be received or contained; cubic contents; volume: The inn is filled to capacity. The gasoline tank has a capacity of 20 gallons.
3.power of receiving impressions, knowledge, etc.; mental ability: the capacity to learn calculus.
4. actual or potential ability to perform, yield, or withstand: He has a capacity for hard work. The capacity of the oil well was 150 barrels a day. She has the capacity to go two days without sleep.
I, for one, don’t have much capacity to learn calculus. Eric Dunn, on the other hand, probably does. But does that mean I cannot learn it at all? What it might mean is that Eric has a greater capacity to learn and understand and apply calculus, than I do. But the reality is, in many, if not most, issues of mental capacity, I can grow in my capacity and understanding, and so can Eric.
Now, of course, there are those individuals who have some sort of learning disability who might never really be able to learn calculus. But for the most part, all of us can grow in what we know, and not stay where we are in terms of knowledge.
I think this is even more true when it comes to spiritual things. So, even though we may say that Eric has a greater capacity for calculus than I do, we cannot say that I can’t grow in what little I have.
Let’s move that, for a moment, to the emotional and spiritual realm. Do you think it’s true that some of us have a greater capacity for handling emotional or spiritual stress and strain than others? Do you think some of us might have a greater capacity to deal in faith and strength with the challenges, the workload, the trials of life, than others?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’ve come to a conclusion. I do think some of us have a greater capacity when it comes to emotional and spiritual things than others. But where we have to be careful is where this passage, and others we’ll look at in connection with this idea, gives us some guidelines.
In our human pride, or perhaps even in just a reasonable and realistic assessment of ourselves, not necessarily related to pride, we might classify ourselves among the strong, rather than among the weak.
Now, it may be absolutely true that one person has a greater emotional and/or spiritual capacity than another. The apostle Paul did. And he wasn’t afraid to recognize it. I think he implicitly indicated this assessment in this passage from Thessalonians, and he did more specifically in Romans.
Romans 15:1-3 (NIV) We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself…
Paul was clearly identifying himself among the strong. He wrote to the Romans, “we who are strong.” Also note that there’s no hint of superiority, or hierarchy. It’s just a recognition of reality. Some are strong. Some are weak. It’s written in a sort of matter-of-fact manner. Now, the context here in Romans is in what’s required or not required in terms of Jewish rituals, as it applies to Christian believers. It has to do with strength of conviction and strength of conscience. Paul spends all of Romans chapter 14 talking about the strong ones who are able to eat anything with total freedom of conscience, versus those who are weak in the faith, and cannot in good conscience consume the very same things.