Christian ethics is not primarily an individualistic, one-on-one-with-God brand of personal holiness; rather it has to do with living the life of the Spirit in Christian community and in the world. (Gordon Fee)
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess 5:14)
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27)
Take a moment to re-read these verses, but this time do it really slowly. The Christian life is a life immersed in community. In fact, the Christian life is meant to be an undoing of the isolating and individualistic effects of Adam & Eve’s ‘fall’ (Gen. 3). Put another way, lone ranger Christianity is not … Christianity! Yes, the issue of community life is of that magnitude. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says … “Now you are the body of Christ”. Nothing makes sense in the Christian life if we try to do it as an island of self! In fact it is worse than that! We insult Christ by assuming we don’t need his mechanism for helping us thrive and mature. Let me underscore it again for us all, living in the ebb and flow of life in community with other Christians is essential.
Paul gives us a brief picture of what this type of community life is going to look like in 1 Thessalonians 5. Rather than using this passage as a scorecard for how the rest of Kingsgate is doing, why don’t you reflect upon yourself and how you’re doing?
ADMONISH THE IDLE
To admonish someone is to point out a deficiency for the purpose of change. It’s that moment when someone carefully corrects you (ouch).
We’re told here that community life looks like the admonishing of those who are not pulling their weight (the idle). How would that play out with you? How would the conversation go if someone came and said “hey, I’ve noticed on a Sunday you never serve and only ever blast through the doors at 10:29.59am? Why do you do that? Can’t you see that other people are serving their socks off?” What heart reaction would happen – would things go nuclear?
In a true and authentic community, there needs to be a place for challenge and admonishment otherwise the body is left weak, because to be idle means to take without ever contributing, thus weakening the body and not strengthening it.
Please note, there are always seasons in life where people need to rely upon others and rely upon the strength found in the church (see the next point). However, what the Apostle Paul is talking about here is a consumerist mindset to church life. Is that something that needs admonishing in your heart and life?
ENCOURAGE THE FAINTHEARTED
Secondly, the Apostle Paul speaks about encouraging the fainthearted. My observations of the culture we live in is that we are in an almost constant deficit in relation to encouragement. Sarcasm and criticism, the oxygen of our culture, sucks the life out of our hearts making them faint! In light of this, we need to be deliberate in looking for opportunities to encourage one another!
Notice also how the Apostle Paul speaks about encouraging the fainthearted! There are some streams of Christianity that try to pretend that they are never fainthearted and always faith-filled. However, here the Apostle Paul shows that within a church community there will always be people who face seasons where their hearts grow faint! Let’s reject the nonsense of the “I’m too faith-filled to ever grow fainthearted” tribe and recognise that together we have a responsibility to encourage and strengthen one another!
So are you an encourager of the fainthearted? In fact, who could you encourage today? Don’t wait till tomorrow because the problem with tomorrow is that it never comes … but today you have the opportunity to encourage someone who is fainthearted.
HELP THE WEAK
Thirdly, we’ve been called to help. This is the ‘sleeves rolled up’ aspect of community life. Help is the mucking in nature of life together. Help is one of the reasons why church community can never be done at a distance. You can’t help without being involved in one another’s lives.
Help also points to the cost of true community. It’s certainly going to cost time as you unblock someone’s drain or cut out hundreds of craft activities for the kids team. Yet it might also cost money, energy, and certainly the convenience of your own diary. No one’s drain gets blocked when you have a spare halfday to help!
Community life is costly but also beautiful. Notice how the Apostle Paul points to helping the weak. So much of our society is about trampling upon the weak, yet in God’s community we’ve been called to show special help for those who are weak.
Maybe this sounds a little overwhelming? Yet when we look to the cross we see one who stepped into our weakness and our need and helped in a way that we could never help ourselves. So to be Christ-like means to give of ourselves to others so that they might flourish!
BE PATIENT WITH THEM ALL
Finally, notice how the Apostle Paul finishes this brief picture of what community life is meant to look like with this catch all phrase; “be patient with them all”. My observation is that a significant amount of upset in community life is a result of lack of patience. Patience prefers people over projects. Patience plays the long game so we can take the whole church community with us. Patience recognises that the pace of the church community may not be my pace, in fact it probably isn’t! Patience loves the straggler. Patience loves the bruised and hurt. However, true patience can only ever be expressed when we are living for the good of the whole community — Christ’s community (the church).
So, how are your patience levels with others? What ‘triggers’ you and why? My observation is that often the way God grows us in patience is to put us alongside people who naturally would wind us up, so we can learn what it means to love (through patience) like Christ!