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October-November 2023

Forging Ahead


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INTERSECT | Four Obligations for the Church


“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

It is much easier to go to church than to be the church. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with saying we are “going to church.” When you are trying to get your family to church on Sunday morning, it is common to say, “It is time for us to get ready to go to church.”

Yet, we must also keep in mind that, as Christians, we are the church. When we live with that reality, we embrace certain responsibilities or obligations we must fulfill toward one another. This passage presents these fundamental obligations to others in the church family. The first three are similar as Paul describes people in different situations in the church family and explains how we should respond in each situation. Then, he follows with a single ingredient that must be present in every situation.

Warn the unruly. The word warn or admonish, as it is sometimes translated, literally means to put in order or to arrange. Picture soldiers out of rank on a parade ground. This word describes a person whose life is disorderly rather than disciplined. Paul expanded on this in the second letter to the Thessalonians (3:6-12) where he wrote about those living in idleness and not working to support themselves.

In our context, this passage suggests we should admonish (warn or correct) other believers living outside the lines. Not as an enemy, as Paul said in the 2 Thessalonians passage, but as brothers and sisters.

As Christians, we haven’t drawn our own lines, our own standards of behavior. Instead, we live within the clear boundaries God has given us in the Bible. When those we know and love stray “outside the lines,” we have an obligation to warn them.

Comfort the feebleminded. The word translated feebleminded, or sometimes fainthearted, is a compound word in the original language and is used only in this verse. The first part of the word means little or small and is combined with the word for soul. So, literally, it reads little-souled. Obviously, this does not mean one person’s soul is smaller than another's. Rather, this word reminds us Christians sometimes find themselves disheartened in spirit, in a state of discouragement. In those moments, they need the presence and words of a brother or sister to soothe, comfort, and encourage.

Unlike the first situation, this person doesn’t need scolding or rebuke but someone to come alongside with words of comfort and hope. Climbing out of the pit of discouragement is hard, and we have an obligation to let down the rope of encouragement to help our fainthearted brothers in need.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor executed by the Nazis at age 39, wrote in his little book, Life Together:

God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. …The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.

Support the weak. Most commentators believe this word points to the spiritually weak, although I think there is room to include the physically weak and infirmed. When we know of someone experiencing weakness, the text says we should help—bolster, fortify, reinforce, and support.
Physically, we all understand this. Someone is injured and cannot walk properly without some help.

Maybe the help comes in the form of a steadying hand, or maybe the injury is so great we must put the person’s arm over our own shoulder, supporting his weight and walking along together. As believers, we must be ready to support other believers struggling spiritually and physically.

Each of these first three obligations shares one common ingredient, an overarching obligation to...

Be patient toward all. Have a long fuse. Be patient with those exhibiting frustrating behavior. Toward all implies patience with self as well as others. Patient help takes time. If a person fits the category or condition of being fainthearted or depressed, we shouldn’t expect to offer a few encouraging words and for him or her to snap out of it. We must be patient and persistent in our help.

We live in an age of instant gratification. We demand quick results. If we aren’t careful, we bring this mindset and disposition to helping people, and it simply does not work. Depression, grief, anxiety, and spiritual growth are not microwaveable. Helping others takes time. So, how do we stay patient? We must keep in the forefront of our minds how patient God has been and continues to be with us.


Four for you and four for me…

There is no such thing as a perfect church. We all know this, and yet we need to be reminded of it. The very fact Paul lists these four obligations points to these imperfections. A person might think, “I wish I could go to a church without people who are unruly, feebleminded, and weak. I wish I could go to a church where everyone lives up to their potential, has a positive mental attitude, and is strong.”

Let me be clear. You will never find such a congregation on this side of eternity. And, at any point along the way, you find yourself as the one needing help. Sometimes, we may be the person admonishing; other times, we need a warning ourselves. Sometimes, you will bring encouragement to others; other days, your own “faint heart” may need to draw strength from other believers. Some days, you will be strong. On other days, you may be the weakest link. And, as every good sports coach understands, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. Through it all, we must be patient with one another, demonstrating the longsuffering God has extended to us.

Sure, it is much easier to go to church than to be the church. But by the grace of God, and by fulfilling these four simple obligations to one another, we can grow stronger together.

About the Columnist: Dr. Barry Raper pastors Bethel FWB Church near Ashland City, Tennessee. He also serves as program coordinator for ministry studies at Welch College. Barry and his wife Amanda have five children.

©2023 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists