Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly,
comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
Here’s an odd verse to find seeking its home in this book. Yet it did not only seek this place; it demanded it. Paul has just exhorted the church at Thessalonica to “Be at peace among yourselves,” and the very next thing he says is, “…warn those who are unruly.” He is actively working to help the Thessalonian church become as strong as it can be and the four things he speaks of here are vitally important to such strength.
…warn those who are unruly
Interesting. He doesn’t say, “mutter and complain behind their backs.” Rather, he says, “warn those…” The warning is to be given in love, of course—that should be understood where Christians are concerned—yet it is to be given, and given directly to the person. If we would all do this one thing, and shut down the behind-the-back griping, what a difference there would be in the church.
Now, I am well aware that not everyone can warn everyone else. It may be that my flesh is too irritated and I know I could not approach a particular person in love, or perhaps the unruly person is one who, for whatever reason, specifically will not receive from me. There must be someone they will receive from, however, someone they will listen to, someone who can give the warning in love and it be received in the same way.
…comfort the fainthearted…
We’ve all had our times of faintheartedness and thank God for those who brought comfort in those times. I do not refer simply to the shoulder given to cry on, but also the voice that shares the comfort of God’s Word. For years, I was a member of multiple email loops and, in one particular loop, I had a friend who, whenever anyone in our group faced trials, would respond briefly and remind us to read her signature and remember God’s promise. Her signature contained the text of Jeremiah 29:11 and her gentle reminders were often that one thing needed to bring comfort and peace.
…uphold the weak, be patient with all.
I’ve included these two phrases together because this is the way they presented themselves to me…to my dismay.
Most of us have things that really irk us, things people do or characteristics they exhibit that really get under our skin. In my case one of those truly irksome things is perpetually baby Christians. I get horribly tired of seeing someone who ought to be mature in the Lord still fighting baby battles – deciding not to go to church this evening because they have a headache, moving from one church to the next in search of that elusive “perfect church,” continually needing reassurance on the same foundational principal… or, different angle, but still babyish behavior… never bothering to be on time, continually arguing over or ignoring basic church or ministry rules, whining, gossiping, backbiting… babies!
I suppose it was really no surprise when, after one grouch session with God (“God, why are so many Christians still babies? Will they ever get their acts together and grow up?”), a minister read this verse and I heard God answer, “Tammy, they are weak; uphold them. Be patient with them in all things.”
And there it is. I don’t have to like dealing with baby Christians any more than I have to like changing dirty diapers, but God has commanded me to uphold the weak, to be patient with them, and baby Christians (even perpetually baby Christians) fall into this category.
Others fall into this category too, of course. Many, like the elderly and physically infirm, I do not mind upholding, being patient with; it is those who create the weaknesses within their own selves that drive me nuts. What God has reminded me is that He sees all types of weaknesses the same in this case—as weaknesses in those He calls us to uphold, to be patient with.