Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
1 Thessalonians 5:14
Paul continues his exhortations which are intended to maintain the “peace” just mentioned in the previous verse. “Now we exhort” is stated to ensure this is accomplished. The word for “exhort” is a common one which signifies “to call to” or “to encourage.” The exhortation is that they not be shy in carrying out the things necessary to maintain the peace. Instead, they are to act boldly and decisively.
This is, again, directed to the “brethren.” He continuously uses this term to ensure that they understand their position in the body, and that they then act on it from that perspective. First, they are to “warn those who are unruly.” Paul uses the same word translated as “admonish” in verse 12 to show the contrast between those who listen to their elders, and those who do not. He is showing the contrast between what is right and proper, and what is not.
The word translated as “unruly” is found only here. It is the negative of a word which means to “draw up” or “arrange.” Thus, it is those who are out of line, just as a soldier who marches to his own beat is out of line. Such people refuse to observe the guidelines of the Lord by living in faith in what He has instructed, and what is then transmitted to them through their ministers. If the unruly use their unruliness to divide the body, Paul then gives direct instruction to ministers concerning them –
Next comes his exhortation to “uphold the weak.” This indicates a demonstration of sympathy and comfort by the personal touch of smoothing speech and heartfelt attention. This is needed for those Paul identifies as “the fainthearted.” The Greek is a rare word found only here. It means “little in quantity,” and thus it is someone who is undeveloped, and who lacks individuality. A suitable synonym for such would be someone who is pusillanimous in nature.
Next he exhorts the brethren to “uphold the weak.” Charles Ellicott defines such people as “those who have not attained robust common-sense and breadth of conscience which discriminates between truths and superstitions, necessities and expediencies, or who are not yet ripe enough Christians to be sure of standing in persecution.” We are to reach out to such as these, and provide them with words which will build them up, correct them in their deficiencies, and encourage them to press on in their walk with Christ.
Finally he instructs the church to “be patient with all.” In Christianity, there is a truth that “everyone is a specialist except the minister.” People develop ideas about what is correct, and they can wear others out with their incorrect thinking. Ministers are to be patient in correcting people like this. Further, there are others who have real trouble grasping theological truths. They can be told the same thing numerous times, and yet they still will come back and ask the same question again and again. Believers need to be patient with such people, tending to them with care and courtesy, even if they are worn out by the tedium of the task.
Life application: There is a difference between those who are unruly or belligerent, and those who are simply lacking internal courage or right reason. For those who are “know-it-alls,” and who are disruptive about doctrine, there is always the “block” option of Facebook. But this should be used sparingly. There are many who are simply misinformed, misguided, or misaligned in their Christian instruction. We are to be patient with such people, tending to them in a manner which will lead them to a fuller appreciation of God’s word, and His intent for them.
Lord God, Your word asks us to be longsuffering and patient with others. It’s hard to know when “longsuffering” ends, and when we can walk away from an unruly or divisive person. Your word does give us that option, but give us wisdom in this so that we don’t unintentionally harm someone who is truly seeking out the truth. And, give us wisdom on the other side of that, so that we can effectively cut off those who do nothing but argue for the sake of arguing. Yes, give us this wisdom Lord. Amen.