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Pervasive Mutuality – 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14

Posted by on Jun 4, 2013 in discipleship, edification, fellowship, scripture | 5 comments

When I talk about or write about mutuality among the church, I tend to focus on a few passages, such as Ephesians 4:7-16 or 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. However, mutuality is much more pervasive in Scripture than these or other popular passages.

For example, there is an awesome passage in 1 Thessalonians that paints a beautiful picture of mutuality among the church while combining the work of mature believers (leaders) and the work of all believers as they help each other grow in Jesus Christ together.

Here is the passage:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 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. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14 ESV)

Now, before I get started, I need to say that there is one part of the translation above that I think is problematic. It’s the participle translated “[who] are over you.” Given the broader teachings in Scripture and the range of meanings of this verb, I think it’s much better translated as “[who] care for you.”

The passage begins with a general exhortation to “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and the praise that they (the Thessalonians) are already doing that. It’s important that this instruction about encouragement and edification follows the statement, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ESV) Thus, for those of us who are still “awake,” we encourage and build up one another to continue to “live with him.”

Next, Paul follows this general exhortation toward encouragement and edification with 1) a recognition that some are more mature and capable in their ability to encourage and edify and 2) an exhortation for all to do the work of encouragement and exhortation.

First, Paul says that we should highly respect those who are actually working hard among the church, who are caring for others, and how are teaching and admonishing each other. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) (By the way, notice how this passage is parallel to 1 Timothy 5:17, which may help us understand what Paul means by “double honor” in his letter to Timothy.) Paul has also offered himself and his apostolic co-workers as examples of what it means to “work hard” among the church and care for others. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-12) I do not think Paul is intending to point out certain offices, positions, or titles here. He could have easily said “elders” or “overseers.” Instead, he points to those who are actually doing the work among the church what all should be doing, whether they have been recognized (as elders) for that example or not.

Next, Paul does not stop at the work of these leaders. He continues to exhort all the brothers and sisters to encourage and edify one another using very similar language that he used when referring to the leaders previously. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Putting these last three verses together, we see that Paul expects all believers to encourage, admonish, help, and show patience (among other things), while offering respect to those who are actually doing these things consistently.

Again, this is not a very popular passage when it comes to mutuality. It’s not one of the passages that are often quoted to encourage the church toward one another’ing. But, it’s a very important passage because it shows how leaders and the whole church work together for the encouragement and edification of all.


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  1. 6-4-2013

    I appreciate this teaching, thank you. It certainly gives me some breathing room and peace to hear these interpretations/challenges here instead of the typical ones.

    You mentioned I Tim 5 verse 17

    Would you agree that “preaching and teaching” is an accurate translation there?

    verse 17 combined with verse 18 is probably the most used passage I’ve heard in my experience to justify the church as business model and the rich young ruler written about yesterday on here. Often this passage will be given to a new church (or church not paying their preacher enough). And in general, the ‘leader’ won’t give this verse himself…. but often, the denomination that backs that ‘church’ will send in somebody “higher up” to encourage the Church to give more pay to their preacher/pastor/CEO. In the corporate world, this person would be called the “district manager” I guess and actually, I think that’s what they called it in the last denomination I was involved with. So interesting. I remember a visit from a district manager for this purpose… and the whole visit was just… weird. Just thought I’d share.

    verse 18 is…. “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

  2. 6-4-2013


    Literally, vs. 17 says, “…especially those who labor in the word and teaching.” Usually, Paul uses “the word” to refer to the gospel, so he may be talking about evangelism. It’s hard to know exactly.

    Yes, I’ve seen 1 Timothy 5:17-18 used to justify salaried positions for certain church leaders. Most commentary writers agree that this could not have been what Paul had in mind.


  3. 6-5-2013

    You know I haven’t looked at this in context of mutuality:

    And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

    Admonish the idle – don’t just sit there – go after the Lord and get something for the group – get in the game – we need you – not to sit idle on the sideline – but to get into the mix.

    Encourage the fainthearted – each piece is an important piece and your piece is as important as the Type-A’s piece. Don’t think for a moment that what God has given you is any less life-changing than what God has given someone else – please share it with us – please pray YOUR prayer – please say YOUR revelation.

    Help the weak – which is just the opposite of the way most churches function – where the ushers, greeters, administrators, etc are all there to support Saul (help the Pastor). If someone is totally consumed in just getting thru another day – then take the load off of them – free them up – so that they too can start to give and flow.

    Leaders are people who encourage all of this to happen – not people who build statues of themselves and force the whole group to focus on the front and center. If you usurp the true head (Christ) – then leadership becomes a replacement for Jesus – and it should be just the opposite – put people in place so that the true head (Christ) can be connected to the whole body. Lead the group io honoring others – not expecting or forcing others to honor you.

  4. 6-5-2013


  5. 6-9-2013


    You said, “Leaders are people who encourage all of this to happen…” I agree completely.