1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 (NASB95)
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,
13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
There is an awkwardness in any pastor standing at his home pulpit to preach this passage. A man stands before you to read a text which says to acknowledge or respect or honor him to show him great esteem. What we hear in such words is honor me, highly esteem me. This easily leads us to rebel against such an apparent display of pride: Who does he think he is? Why does he think himself so very special? There are others who preach better, who pray better, who care better, who live better. There are others who are more holy, and so on, as think how to knock him down from his perch.
How does any man preach this passage faithfully and avoid sounding like a egotist? How can he tell you to esteem those who teach, all the while referring to himself, because we know the application is he is the one who is teaching you.
And even if we surmount that first barrier, what could it possibly mean to esteem, to respect? Is the congregation subservient to some man who happens to have the job? Can we disagree with him, ever?
Let us take the objection first. Until we get over the trouble here, we can never get to the application. Even if it is not everyone, someone will be fussing the entire time, ready to object about the apparent self-serving nature of this passage.
Let us then concede that one could easily preach this passage as the work of a vain egotist, seeking to gain adherents for himself. But such vanity is not in the text; it is nowhere to be found in these words. The vanity would be in the man. And it is a real temptation for a pastor to take up these words and misuse them for his own ends.
When a judge applies the law, the judge does not make himself a king over others. The authority which the judges exercises is in his robes and in his seat. The judge is given authority to apply law. When he takes off the robes and steps down from the bench, he lays that authority aside. If a judge pronounces sentence in a courtroom, the sentence stands. If he pronounces judgment in his living room, it means nothing more than the sound of the words.
The authority is in the office and the exercise of that office. The authority is not in the individual human being.
And so it is with the pastor. The pastor’s authority lies in the office, not in the man.
But that still needs some qualification. The authority of the pastor is not precisely the office, either.
If a judge begins to make-up rules and apply his own whims and claim the authority of law for his imagination, he loses that authority. Other judges will reverse his decision, because he has become a lawless judge. He will be removed from his office, because he has abused the authority of his office.
A pastor has authority only so far as the Word of God has authority. His authority is in the Word, not in himself. Look down at the text. If you start in the middle of verse 12 you will this:
Appreciate those ….
And now go to the end
Who give you instruction.
It does not say that you are to give this appreciation to a bishop because of his consecration. It says that appreciation is to be given to those who teach. If someone takes the office and exercises the apparent authority and then also does not do the work of the office; if he does not instruct, the office has become a weapon and the outcome is merely sin. If a police officer uses the authority to stop and search to harass and abuse, the officer is a criminal even though he wears a badge.
Appreciate those who give instruction. And it is right you should.
The work of delivering a sermon may look easy. Someone stands and speaks for some period of time and then is done. It all seems so easy. But the hour on Sunday comes after hours and hours throughout the week. And that comes after years of experience and school.
Every task appears simply when it is done by someone with skill. To see a task performed well is to hide all the difficulty which came before. Watch a musician or athlete. The great ones look like they are at perfect ease. When we watch them we say they play. They play an instrument; they play a game. This wor looks like play. But that play comes after years of work.
That does not mean that you show this appreciation and esteem to the pastor because he has worked hard. It is just to say that you should not despise his work because it appears easy to you.
Moreover, you are not respect the pastor because he has done a good job. It is not the appreciation of his personal worth. Perhaps you respect the athlete because of his performance, but the appreciation of a pastor is not a matter of appreciation his effort.
You are showing respect for the office he holds; and even more than that, you are showing respect to the Word of God which establishes the office and gives authority and worth to what he does.
There is another way which showing esteem for the pastor shows esteem for the Word of God. Look down at your Bible. This instruction to appreciate, to esteem those who teach is an instruction found in your Bible. By complying with this instruction, you are showing that you give honor to the Word of God. You cannot say that you honor the Word of God and then decide which commands you will abide. If you refuse a command, you are refusing the one who gave the command.
But someone will say, This particular ma nis not as good a pastor some others I have known. He does not preach as well Mr. X, or whatever comparison you may wish to make.
Now if the concern with the pastor is one of sin; then the Scripture is clear on how to respond. If the concern is the pastor is not truly fit for the work, then perhaps he should find another way in which to serve. But I hope that you had made such a determination before you retained him for the work.
But if the concern is merely a matter of preference, what is it that you are truly seeking to do? Is your concern first for the honor of God and good of the Church? Or is you concern rather for your own control, your own taste? Perhaps it is you are wrong in the matter.
Moreover, there are many directions which God gives for us to follow in the matter of relationship. And in these directions, God does not specify that you must be personally pleased before you give obedience.
You are to honor your parents. Not because they are the best parents, but because they are your parents.
You are to honor governors. Not because you have the best governor, but because the governor is the governor.
Wives are to respect their husbands. Not because they have the best husband, but because he is her husband.
Husbands are to willing lay down their lives for their wives. Not because they have the best wife, but because she is his wife.
You must fulfill these duties because God has told you to do so. You are not given some veto.
An old illustration may help you understand this. Let us say I have lent to you one million dollars. You are to pay me back $100 per week. On the first week you come to me with your crisp $100 bill. I tell you to give the bill to so-and-so, who happens to be someone you dislike.
I remind you, that you owe me the money and you must pay it as I direct. You pay the money, not because you owe so-and-so. You pay the money because you owe me.
The illustration is imperfect, but it should help. Our Lord has the right to demand of you, even your life. How many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, throughout the history of the Christian Church have given their liberty or even their lives because they would not refuse to obey Christ?
They have been obedient even to death. And yet you think that you should not be troubled to even hold your tongue? Your children must honor you, but you have no duty to esteem the pastor?
This I trust is sufficient to deal with the most troublesome objections to this passage, but there is one further matter to consider before we move on to the matter of what does it mean to appreciate and show esteem.
Ask yourself, Why does it irk me so to be told to honor my governor, honor my spouse—especially when they have not pleased me.
We must admit that there is rebellion here, a refusal to obey a direct command of God. Nowhere does it say to honor the governor because I think it is a good idea. Nowhere does it say submit to your husband because he is particularly amazing or because he thinks what I think is best. Nowhere are children permitted to cast the vote on honor, nor may husbands refuse to love their wives, even to the point of giving their own lives.
Can you see, that this rebellion is because we want to make our own rules. Can’t you hear an echo of the Serpent’s, ye shall be God in the refusal to give honor to whom God says we must?
But to the actual command in this verse? So far we have seen that the command is binding upon us, but what does the command entail?
First there are two sets of commands. One command is to the congregation, and that is clear. But there is a second command implied: this the command which describes the work of the pastor, to work diligently, to keep charge, to teach. We will leave the pastor’s duty to the side.
What then are the commands to the congregation? Paul gives two commands, first, “appreciate”; second, to highly esteem. We will look at those two commands, and then spend some time figuring how we actually do the work of appreciating and esteeming.
The command to appreciate comes in verse 12. Look at the beginning of the verse
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate ….
If you have another translation than the NASB, you may read, “acknowledge” or “respect” or “honor”. The reason for the differences in the translations is because the original word simply means “to know.”
But here the word cannot simply mean to know about the pastor, nor can it mean to simply have acquaintance with the pastor. That is certainly part of the idea, but it does not meet the usage here.
Here it means to meet him in the context of a particular relationship. You know this pastor in the context of the work which he does.
Let us say Mrs. Smith, you neighbor is a heart surgeon, but you know her as your neighbor. You know that she smiles and waives. You know how she keeps her lawn. You know when she takes out the garbage cans. There is not much in that to esteem her.
But then the day comes when your infant child comes near to death. The baby needs heart surgery. In the hospital, it is Mrs. Smith who is now Dr. Smith you operates and saves your child’s life. Before you knew her as your neighbor. Now, you know her as the surgeon who spared you untold sorrow. When you look at her, you look at her now through the prism of his new relationship.
Before you had an opinion about how she kept her yard. But now you know her, you respect and acknowledge what she has done for you. Your knowledge of her takes on a new and very special color because you now know her as a doctor.
The same is true of your pastor. One time you may have known him only as your neighbor. But now you know him as one who painfully labors to teach you the Word of God. And this is precisely how you are to know him
In 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul writes
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of mysteries of God.
Such knowledge is precisely how Paul instructs the Thessalonians in his letter. Look down at verse 13
Esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
It is the work which is the basis and sphere of your knowledge and esteem.