In sum, know these in men in their office, esteem them their labor, do this work in love.
How then are we to appreciate and esteem them? What labor is the congregation called upon to render as a fit reward for such labor.
Before we look to the text, let us consider the relationship between the work of the elder – that is to instruct – and the reward for such work. What actually convey esteem in such a context?
There are some who have coached a children’s sports team, gave instruction in piano, taught someone how to read. Parents teach their children how to drive a car. What is the joy of a teacher when seeing a student?
You are at a piano recital. The teacher is there with her students, the parents and other family are in the room. As each student comes forward and plays their piece, what does the teacher hope? What would give the teacher joy in that moment? Her students doing well; their success.
The coach rejoices in a victory. The school teacher rejoices in the students reading.
A teacher is rewarded by the student having learned the matter and putting the instruction into practice. And it is just this which Paul writes to this congregation. Turn to 1 Thessalonians 1:2
We give thanks always for all of you
Why is that. Look at verse 3:
Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
Go now to chapter 2, verse 19:
For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not ever you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our joy and glory.
What then shows esteem and appreciation for the pastor’s work? Your labor, your love, your hope. Your sanctification is the honor shown to your pastor.
Think how wicked a thing it would be withhold this esteem and respect to your pastor. If you withhold your own life of holiness so as to refuse esteem because you have decided that the pastor is not worthy of such respect, it speaks of remarkable wickedness. You are injuring yourself to refuse such esteem.
You would like someone who be burnt to death in your own house because you have a personal grudge against the fireman who comes to save you. You clutch to the flaming beams and shout, I will die here before I give you the honor of saving me!
Now that you know what you are looking for you will see this point is made throughout the New Testament. Turn over to 3 John 4:
I have no greater joy than this to hear my children are walking in the truth.
Do you seek to honor your pastor, then honor the truth which he strives to teach you week after week. Walk in the truth.
This is for your benefit. In the Christian life, the giving what is due is a blessing to the one who gives. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35. The work of the church is the work of everyone. Walk in the truth.
Who is the one who is blessed? As it says in Psalm 1:2, the blessed man is the one who delights in the law of the Lord. The 119th Psalm begins with these words:
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
The teacher teaches. You bless the teacher by showing that you have learned your lesson. But in this case, you are the one who is blessed. The pastor who labors to teach the truth and to show you the straight path which leads to the heavenly city is seeking your good.
And how do you bless him? By walking in that straight path which leads toward the heavenly city. And what is the cost to you? You will be blessed. This is like a magic treasure that the more you give the more have. Will you esteem your pastor? Then make much of his Lord. The pastor is a steward, the Lord is the pastor’s joy.
Do you think this wrong? It comes from Paul himself.
When Paul was in prison, there were Christians who sought to make Paul’s imprisonment more painful by preaching Christ. This thinking is sad and bizarre. But perhaps these preachers thought: See, we are preaching freely. We are the ones blessed by Christ! Paul is in prison. This only proves that Paul was not all he pretended to be.
It is such a strange thing that when we read of this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it seems it must not be true. Paul writes that these men “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition.” Phil. 1:17. These were busy trying to dishonor Paul by preaching Christ. They thought they would “cause [Paul] distress.”
How does Paul respond?
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.
Phil. 1:18. You see, Paul was not looking for human beings to praise him; he was looking for praise which comes from Christ:
In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Let us think again about the fear that a pastor preaching our passage in 1 Thessalonians 5 to respect to esteem a pastor. We immediately think, Oh, we must place this man on a pedestal. This means he wants us to all give praise to him. But what does Paul say, My joy is in you and in your holiness. My reward is from Christ. Perhaps you did not anticipate that turn in our investigation.
But there is more. In John chapter 5, and you should turn there now to see these words for yourself, Jesus is speaking with the crowd at the temple. And as seems to have always happened, there at the temple a dispute broke out. These people were seeking proof of Jesus’ claim.
In verse 41, Jesus says, I do not receive glory from men.
Then Jesus applies this principle to all of the people present:
How can you believe, when you receive glory from one-another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?
Now think we me along these lines. The esteem which are to show to your pastor is not directly give glory to him. It is not praise for his brilliance. That is not the way to esteem him.
There is a story told of the great preacher Charles Spurgeon. After a sermon someone said, “That was a great sermon.” He answered, “I know, Satan already told me.”
I do not mean that you should never encourage him. The work of being a pastor can be mighty discouraging. To pray for him, to show friendship to him is all very good. When he has helped you learn a thing, it is right to thank him. But do not think that esteeming the pastor is about praising him as if he were some vain entertainer. That is not the point; but do treat him as a dear friend. We do not give vain to our praise to our friends, but we do encourage them.
You know how to encourage those you love. Do that.
So we have established that walking in the truth is the way in which you actually esteem your pastor. Your holy life is proof of his labor and will become his joy and reward on the day of judgment.
Let me show you this one more time how this works. Paul writes to the church at Corinth. Turn to Second Corinthians chapter 3.
He begins by telling them he is not trying to commend himself: that is, Paul is not seeking to be praised by them. Instead, he writes the Christians of Corinth are actually a letter written by the Spirit:
2 Corinthians 3:1–4 (NASB95)
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?
2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.
The steward of Christ’s riches; the minister of grace; the pastor who teaches you truth looks to see if this truth is written in your life. If you walk in the truth, the pastor is blessed and you are blessed. Your life is proof and reward for his work. And a life of holiness is blessing to you, to your pastor, indeed to everyone about you.
Paul’s command to know, to esteem the pastor is no burden to you. The command is seeking your blessing. But we need one more qualification as we examine this matter of walking in the truth.
There is a way in which walking in the truth – or at least an appearance of the truth – can actually be sinful. It sounds so strange that I will need to prove this to you.
The Pharisees were known to be precise in their obedience to the law. They, of all people, could be said in a way to be “walking in the truth.” They have, but in a wrong way. Paul, writing to the church at Philippi writes in the third chapter of his life before knowing Christ. Paul writes of himself
As to the law, a Pharisee… as to the righteousness which comes from the law, found blameless.
You can take hold of the truth and misuse it. The wrong use of the law can make one rigid, proud, unloving. The truth can make one positively evil, when it is ingested in the wrong way. But the fault does not lie in the law, the fault lies in us. As Paul writes in the 7th chapter of Romans, the “law is holy, and the command is holy and righteous and good.” (12) But sin in us take the law up in the wrong way and turns that which is good to evil. That is the work of sin.
How then do we walk in the truth such that it does not turn to sin? The truth taken up in the right way causes no sin; rather, it brings a blessing as we have seen.
Look over the 2 John 6 and read:
2 John 6 (NASB95)
And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
Now look at 1 John 2:5,
but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.
The truth of God, the command of the Lord is kept in love. It is not a rigid, joyless obedience to a tyrant it is love toward God and love toward man. This is what the Lord himself said:
Mark 12:28–31 (NASB95)
28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;
30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
31 “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
What would true obedience look like? It would look like love. Love fulfills the law. This is what Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
Romans 13:8 (NASB95)
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Do you hear that? Do you want to truly fulfill the law, love. Paul continues on this point:
Romans 13:10 (NASB95)
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
You are supposed to esteem your pastor. How do you do that? You walk in the truth. What does that look like, living in love with one another. And what does love look like? Turn to 1 Corinthians 13. You know the passage well; we always read it at weddings. But I want you to understand something important: Paul wrote this to a church. Yes a marriage should be filled with such love. But it is to a local congregation that Paul gave this instruction.
Do you want respect your pastor? Do you wish to obey the commandment of this passage? Then live like this. When the members of this congregation come together, this is precisely how we should live. This is the fact of a congregation that esteem the pastor:
1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NASB95)
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
You want to bless the pastor, live like this. You want to esteem his labor, bear with one another. You wish to show respect for the Word of God diligently laid before you, explained and made plain? Be patient, be kind. Stop with your arrogance; put an end to seeking your own.
And do this to and for your pastor. He is a shepherd, but he is also a sheep. Show him patience. Be kind to him. Don’t engage in any silly jealousy. Don’t brag and speak as if you could all of this better. Do not seek your own. Don’t be provoked when he fails, because the work of a pastor does not confer perfect sanctification. Bear with him. Believe the best of his family. Weep with him when he weeps. Rejoice with him when he rejoices.
And a last note. Part of the love you must show this man and his family is to provide for their livelihood. You have determined that your congregation would best be blessed by a pastor who can devote himself full time to this work.
Sadly, it is at this point, that many, many congregations and pastors have come to conflict. Congregations routinely begrudge the pastor’s family sufficient money that they should live without constantly burdens. I have known truly sinful ways in which congregations have abused their pastors.
It would not profit at this time to rehearse the history of such stories. But know that it seems to be a mark of pride for congregations to impoverish their pastor; as if his poverty was a mark of their holiness! These same people would think it a scandal if they had to live in such straits. But to starve their pastor they excuse because the pastor will receive some heavenly reward.
Are their pastors who live too well, who abuse their congregation and “fleece the sheep.” Yes. But stealing from the congregation is the mark of a false teacher.
And starving the pastor is the mark of a selfish and sinful congregation.
Why should a pastor live worse than a plumber or painter? The plumber and the painter do good honest work and are rightfully rewarded for their skill. But the pastor? It takes years of education to become a pastor. The work and skill needed to become a pastor could easily have been turned to any number of careers such as being a lawyer or professor. The pastor has given up those opportunities to do good to you.
We want to pay for the best doctor, because we think the doctor can do good or evil to our bodies. And we treat pastors as if their work could be done by anyone, and we pay them accordingly.
The pay of a pastor is not the primary point of this passage. The point is to live in love with one another. But one application of that command to live in love is to care for and protect the pastor and his family – just as you should care for and protect the reputation, and the health, and the well-being of everyone in the congregation.
Esteem the Lord, walk in the truth, live in love. And in so doing you will become a blessing to your pastor.
[A Final Note: I wrote this sermon for a friend’s congregation. The structure is primarily such that someone who was not a member of the congregation would preach this. The reason for that structure is that in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul is not commending himself but the current leadership of the church. He is not writing, “esteem me”, but “esteem them”.]