In yesterday’s post, we began looking at Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians: “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14). We considered the first two kinds of people he mentions who need our personal one-another ministry: the unruly and the fainthearted. Today, we will look at the third kind of person as well as his final admonition which applies to our ministry to all.
The weak simply need our help. This word “probably refers to those who are morally or spiritually weak.” Richard Baxter writes of them,
It is a very sad thing for Christians to be weak: it exposeth us to dangers; it abateth our consolations and delight in God, and taketh off the sweetness of wisdom’s ways; it maketh us less serviceable to God and man, to bring less honour to our Master, and to do less good to all about us. We get small benefit in the use of the means of grace. We too easily play with the serpent’s baits, and are ensnared by his wiles. A seducer will easily shake us, and evil may be made to appear to us as good, truth as falsehood, sin as duty … We are dishonourable to the gospel by our very weakness, and little useful to any about us.
Weak believers don’t need admonishment or encouragement, but they do need help; that is, they need to “be firmly held.” They need “support” (KJV) or someone to “uphold” (NKJV) them. Jesus uses this word to describe the commitment that some make to material possessions: “he will hold to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24, KJV). Commitment, or steadfastness, is what Paul has in mind as well when he requires church overseers to be “holding fast the faithful word” (Titus 1:9). Our churches will include morally and spiritually weak people who need us to not let them go but instead support them and “hold their feet to the fire,” in the sense of helping them grow in commitment. These brethren don’t need the kind of help that feeds their weakness; they need accountability. They need to learn how to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
In addition to these three kinds of believers, “everyone” needs us to have the grace of patience. “Patient” comes from a compound word meaning “long-tempered.” Richard Trench argues that the noun form refers specifically to “patience with respect to persons” and cites David’s long-suffering in the face of mistreatment as an example (2 Sam. 16:10–13). While Shimei ran along the hillside cursing David and throwing stones at him, the king bore it patiently. This kind of long-suffering is one of the many qualities of biblical love (1 Cor. 13:4). In other words, when the biblical counselor has a patient spirit in bearing the offenses and injuries of others, he is modeling Christlike love to those he is discipling. Richard Baxter challenges us to carry out a personal counseling ministry for the spiritual well-being of those church members who may mistreat us:
We have to deal with distracted men who will fly in the face of their physician, but we must not, therefore, neglect their cure. He is unworthy to be a physician, who will be driven away from a phrenetic patient by foul words. Yet, alas, when sinners reproach and slander us for our love, and are more ready to spit in our faces, than to thank us for our advice, what heart-risings will there be, and how will the remnants of old Adam (pride and passion) struggle against the meekness and patience of the new man!
It is significant that all four of the verbs in Paul’s exhortation concerning this counseling ministry—“admonish,” “encourage,” “help,” and “be patient”—are in the present tense in the Greek, implying that these kinds of people will always be in all of our churches. Authentic counseling, therefore, recognizes the variety of struggles and levels of maturity within God’s family and ministers with great patience, consideration, and instruction, accompanied by sensitivity from the Holy Spirit.