The Lord's Day Evening
August 12, 2012
“Pastors and People”
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
I'd invite the rest of you to turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians chapter 5. As we were looking at this passage a couple of weeks ago, I knew that this is exactly where I wanted to come again for this service and so I skipped over my first point in that sermon pretty quickly because there were some things that I wanted to save and say tonight. It's the perfect passage for an ordination service and this is a very happy occasion at First Presbyterian Church. Whenever you see ministers and elders ordained, you are seeing a visible demonstration that Jesus Christ is reigning at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and ruling the world by His Word and Spirit and in gifting His church. Why do I say that? Because in Ephesians 4, Paul says that He led captivity, He ascended on high, leaving captivity captive and giving gifts to men, among those gifts — apostles, prophets, pastor/teachers, shepherds, elders, ministers of the Gospel. So when you see ministers of the Gospel ordained and installed in local churches, you are seeing proof that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, giving His church just what she needs to thrive and grow and carry out the mission that He has uniquely given to her. So I love ordination services and it's an enormous privilege to be able to preach to you, my brothers, and to you, my dear friends. So let me ask you to look at 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verses 12 and 13 and before we read it we’ll pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Grant that by the Spirit we would believe it, that we would be encouraged by it, that we would be instructed by it, changed by it, challenged by it, and moved by it to give You the glory due Your name and to enjoy You forever. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 beginning in verse 12:
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
There are two things that I want to say from this passage tonight – one especially to Ralph and to David, one especially to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow members and elders and deacons of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.
First, this word. Dear friends, my brother pastors, lead with your labor and teaching — lead with your labor and teaching. Where do I get that from? I get it from Paul's words. “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and who are over you…and admonish you.” Labor, lead — you are over, you are guiding, you are giving leadership, you are shepherding, you are watching over — labor among you and over you and admonish you. Those are the three parts of the work of the eldership or the pastorate that Paul describes here. He goes on to say to us as a congregation, “esteem them highly because of their work.” Well what is their work? Well John Calvin summarizes it in these beautiful words: “Their work is the edification of the church, the eternal salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and in sum, the kingdom of God in Christ.” That's all; that's all. Your work is the edification of the church, the eternal salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and in short, the kingdom of God in Christ. That's all. If that won't drive a man to his knees I don't know what will, but what a glorious thing it is that you've been called to that work. Think of it, God could have done this by Himself without our aid, but in His kindness, He uses weak, sinful, fallible men like us to do a work that is far more glorious than we are. Praise God.
How do we do it? Three things — labor, lead, and admonish. Labor, lead, and admonish. The word that Paul uses here, labor, “respect those that labor among you,” is a strong word. It's typical of Paul to talk about ministers working hard. He uses even words for the toil that farmers go through in planting and plowing and harvesting. It's sweat-inducing labor that Paul is talking about. He uses illustrations like farmers and soldiers and athletes to describe the kind of work that he has in mind. And so here's the first thing I want to say. Brothers, let us labor together, let us sweat together, let us toil together, let us work to exhaustion. I love what C. H. Spurgeon once said about his own ministry. He said, “I work myself to death and pray myself alive again.” Let's work hard. I love what Calvin says about this passage. He's commenting on this passage that Paul uses the word labor and he says, “From this it follows, that all idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors.” Now that's important because the pastorate can be a place for lazy men to hide. I understand that; that can happen. The pastorate can be a place for lazy men to hide, but brothers, here's my endeavor, here's my aspiration for you and for me and for the band of brothers here at First Presbyterian Church — let us establish that it is a hallmark of the ministers of First Presbyterian Church that they have a work ethic. Let no one in this congregation ever think that we are not sweating and toiling and working hard with joy in our hearts in this pastoral ministry. So labor, toil.
Second, lead. Paul speaks of the congregation respecting those who are over them. He's using the language of Acts 20:28 — watching over, guiding, shepherding. He's talking about what used to be called the cure of souls, which literally means caring for people's eternal wellbeing – the cure of soils. And he's calling on us to especially care about the eternal wellbeing of this congregation. And so here's the second thing I want to say. As you lead, as you care in this flock, constantly think about eternal things and the eternal destinies and the eternal wellbeing of these dear people. They are surrounded on every side by a thousand cares and details of life, so much sometimes that they can forget the things that will last forever. And we as a class of men, elders and ministers, are called to constantly hold before those eyes things that will last forever and so be concerned with their eternal wellbeing. So constantly think about things that are eternal and eternal destiny and the eternal wellbeing of these dear people. There will be a day when we will stand with the elders of this congregation and give an account to the Lord Jesus of our ministry in their midst. Let us stand that day knowing that we have spent all that we can spend of ourselves in watching over their souls.
Third, admonish or instruct. Paul uses that language again; you see it in verse 12. “Respect those who admonish you.” Admonition, here, is a strong word; it's not a harsh word. It involves confrontation when necessary, to be sure. There's a brotherly tone around it, but as Leon Morris says, “It's a big brotherly tone.” It means that we're to put the people of God in mind of God's Word. We’re to hold the Word of God before them, we're to teach with authority and confront when necessary. And so I want to encourage you, brothers, especially to hold the Gospel up before their eyes and hearts. Let us make together, my friends, the word of the cross our constant theme. The Gospel is all we have. Jesus is all we have, but it is more than enough. It is the power of God unto salvation. Let us hold the Gospel and the Lord Jesus and the cross up before their eyes and let us show this congregation that we believe every word of the Word of God.
Just today I was talking with one of our deacons. His son has been in another state and has visited around in various churches and he was debriefing with his father about those experiences and he was talking about one particular congregation and he said, “There was something missing there, I can't quite put my finger on it.” And his father said to him, “You know, son, sometimes it's not what they say it's what they don't say that lets you know where they stand.” And in the course of the conversation he said to his son, “At any point in the service did they say, ‘This is the Word of God’ or ‘We’re going to hear the Word of God’ or ‘We believe in the authority or the infallibility of the Word of God’?” And his son said, “No, they never said that.” And his father said, “Ah-ha! Ah-ha!” Brothers, let our friends and fellow Christians, our flock, know that we believe every word of this Book, every word of it, and we're ready to live and die by it. So there's my exhortation, brother pastors — lead with labor and teaching.
RESPECT, ESTEEM, AND LOVE YOUR PASTORS
Now an exhortation to you and to me. Dear friends, fellow Christians, respect, esteem, and love these your fellow pastors. Respect, esteem, and love these your fellow pastors. Listen to Paul speak here. “Brothers, respect those who labor among you…esteem them highly in love because of their work.” That means to acknowledge and honor and think highly of their persons and labor. It means to prize, to value, to regard them because of their work, to respect them and to esteem them and to love them, to let your hearts be knit with them and to care about them and to be concerned for them and their families. I want to say, brothers, I respect and esteem you and I love you. I love that you love Jesus. I love that you love your family. I love that you love the Word of God. I love your heart for ministry. It's an honor to work with you. I consider it a privilege. And I also want to say this congregation knows how to love ministers and how to encourage them and it's my prayer that they will love you well and encourage you always and respect and esteem you so that it makes even the hard things that we have to do in ministry well worth it and well rewarding.
Well those are my words. Lead with your labor and your teaching. Respect, esteem, and love these your pastors. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word, a timely Word, a needed Word, an important Word. Work it deep into our hearts. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.