Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14
The older our children get, the more I realize how different they are. They have different interests, different personalities, and different struggles. And as a parent, it’s my job to not just discipline and instruct them but to do so in a way that fits with who they are. I need to know my kids well enough to know not just what to say but to know how to say it.
Similarly, as Paul closed his letter to the Thessalonians, he gave some specific instructions for specific groups of people. While the letter is also full of generalized points, those broadly applicable to all the people in the church, here we find him drilling a little deeper and recognizing that there are different people with different personalities that need different kinds of instruction. There are, for example, those that work hard. Those people should be acknowledged and held in high regard for their work.
Then again, there are those who are idle and disruptive. Those people should be warned about their lifestyles so that they might persevere with the church in the faith. But there are also those who are weak and disheartened. They don’t need to be warned; they need to be encouraged.
And so on.
But even here, in this rapid-fire section of individualized instructions, we find something that applies to everyone:
The Thessalonians were not to be patient with just a few people but rather be patient with everyone. Be patient with the idle. Be patient with the disruptive. Be patient with the weak. Be patient with the disheartened. Be patient with everyone. And surely that instruction still applies to us.
There are many around us – around you – that might be difficult to be patient with. These are the frustrating people; the annoying people; the people who are difficult to be around at all. And yet we are to be patient with them, too. Why is that? Why should we still exercise patience with all?
Here are two very good reasons:
Because God is working in you.
Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. When we grow in things like love, joy, peace, patience, and a host of others, it shows that God’s work is real and active inside us. But we should remember that we are not passive spectators to the work of God in us; rather, we are constantly doing the hard work of faith and surrendering to His influence. What does that look like practically?
Well, we trust that God is working in us to make us patient, so we exercise patience. We do so despite the fact that the people around us might be difficult, argumentative, or annoying… through faith. We believe in God’s work in us, and that faith results in exercising patience.
Because God is working in them.
Inasmuch as God is working in us, He is also working in them. Those people that are hard to be around? Those people that are annoying? God is working in them, too, and He’s not done yet. Just as He’s not done yet with His work in us. No matter what group we come from, no matter what our personalities, and no matter what our struggles, the thing we have in common if we are in Christ, is that we are on the same journey. God is working in us all and moving us all toward Christlikeness. So we should be patient with those around us out of recognition of that work. We should embrace that these people, along with us, are moving steadily, if not slowly, toward who God has made us to be in Christ.
Be patient with everyone, then. This patience is an act of faith in the work of God in us and in all other Christians around us.
Written by Michael Kelley, Guest Contributor