It could be said we live in the retaliation generation. Social media is used to play a game of “gotcha” as everyone tries to outdo one another with clever posts aimed at degrading anyone who disagrees with our self-proclaimed truth. We must spout off our unique perspective on every issue of life and never let the opportunity slip by where we can cut another human being down to size. Although this is the way of the culture that surrounds us, these destructive actions have also crept into the church and caused strife and division to arise in the Body of Christ. We try to define our worth by labels such as conservative, liberal, republican, or democrat, instead of through Christ. We look to worldly things to save us and make us feel better, and God is given a backseat to our passions and motives.
1 Thessalonians 5:14,15 shines as a bright light in this dark culture by giving the Christian believer five essential commands of sanctified living. These five commands fly in the face of the ways of this world but are vital to the Christian being the salt of the earth and the light of this world. When we obey these commands, people will see Christ in our words and actions. These commands concern our outward relationship to other believers in the Body of Christ and even to unbelieving people in the world.
Now we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 14See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always diligently pursue what is good for one another and for all people.1 Thessalonians 5:13,14 (REV)
The Apostle Paul prefaces these five commands by using two important words: “now” and “urge.” The time for the Christian to obey these commands is now—not tomorrow, or when we feel like it, but now! It cannot wait. The word “urge” intensifies the importance of doing these things immediately with no delay. It is a call to action in the sense of desperately imploring or earnestly begging, conveying an intense desire and a deep sense of responsibility. This same word is translated “beseech” in Romans 12:1 and “implore” in Ephesians 4:1, calling attention to the immense importance of these actions for the believer.
1. Admonishing the Undisciplined
The first command is to “admonish the undisciplined.” The Greek word for “admonish” means “to so lay it on the mind of a person that it affects their will and emotions”. It is to alert someone of the serious consequences of their actions and to give instruction about an improper course of conduct. The Greek word for “undisciplined” means “one who is out of step and going his own way”. It describes someone who is out of order and thus disorderly, lazy, and idle. It was used of a soldier who broke rank or an army that advanced in disarray, and describes irresponsible behavior.
Christians are supposed to be disciples, or “disciplined ones” of Christ. We cannot be lazy or idle in our Christian lifestyle. We must exercise discipline physically, mentally, and spiritually. We should be disciplined in the fundamentals of Christianity, reading and studying the Word, praying, giving, witnessing, walking in the spirit, and fellowshipping with God and our fellow believers. Discipline is a critical component in our walk with God as we are surrounded by a very undisciplined and unruly culture. We cannot admonish the undisciplined if we ourselves are lazy when it comes to living the Christian life. It takes discipline and determination to master these fundamentals.
We must guard our hearts against the sin of idleness and disorder. Thomas Brooks in his 1665 classic “The Privy Key of Heaven” states:
Take heed of an idle and slothful spirit. An idle life and a holy heart are far asunder. By doing nothing men learn to do evil things…Idleness is a breeding sin and the devil’s anvil on which he frames very many sins…O shake off the sloth! The sluggish Christian will be sleeping, or idling, or trifling, when he should be in his closet-a-praying…There is nothing that gives the devil so much advantage against us as idleness.
When we are undisciplined, we step out of God’s way onto our own path, and it breeds discord and disruption. Paul admonishes the Christian that they must run the race of life that God has set before them with everything they have. We must bring our body and emotions under control and exercise self-control daily as we pursue the prize of our high calling in Christ (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
2. Comforting the Discouraged
The second command in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is to “comfort the discouraged.” The Greek word for “comfort” means “to come along side of someone and speak kindly so as to comfort in disappointment, loss, sadness or trouble.” It is a compassionate and tender uplifting of a burdened soul, to encourage so as to stimulate to action. The Greek word for “discouraged” means “cast down in spirit or disheartened and timid.”
Everyone has times in life where they are crushed in spirit by circumstances and overwhelmed with discouragement. Even the Apostle Paul “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). This is why there is such a tremendous need in the Church for encouragers and comforters that compassionately lift up the burdened soul. But the culture of this age has infiltrated the church, and instead of encouragement we often spew out accusations and wag our heads with condemnation. Our words tear down instead of edify; we blame, criticize and divide the body of believers by our toxic actions. We have allowed offense to blind our eyes to the beauty of Christ in each believer in the Body of Christ. God is the ultimate encourager and comforter, and we are to imitate our Heavenly Father and behave in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ.
God’s command is crystal clear: come alongside your Christian brother or sister and comfort them in times of trouble. We should be beacons of kindness and tender compassion to one another and never let the atmosphere of this world harden our hearts. We need each other in the Body of Christ for our spiritual growth and the effective witness of the Gospel.
3. Helping the Weak
The third command in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is to “help the weak.” The Greek word for “help” means “to hold fast to, to cleave to, to hold firmly and support”. It is to hold tightly and tenaciously, and expresses a strong sense of attachment that demonstrates loyalty, devotion and love. In other verses it describes holding fast to the faithful Word (Titus 1:9) and our full devotion to serving God rather than worldly riches (Matthew 6:24). This word is more than dropping off some canned goods at a food pantry; it is not just a stray prayer or a momentary kind thought. It is a deep relational word that expresses a relentless commitment where we are heart-to-heart and face-to-face with another person. It is a knitting together of our hearts where we so care for another that we help them through their time of weakness.
It reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan, when a certain man was stripped and beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. The two religious leaders did not want to help and walked on the other side of the road. It was the cultural outcast Samaritan who bound up his wounds, and cared for him with great compassion. He sacrificed his time, reputation, and money to make this man strong again.
This is what it means to love with sacrificial, unconditional agapao love. Jesus was our example of this love when he was moved with compassion toward those who were harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36). This kind of love awakens in our heart a sense of value in the other person. Our agapao love compels us to help one another.
The Greek word for “weak” means “without strength” and describes both physical and spiritual weakness. It is to be limited in capacity to do or be something. In Scripture, it is used of those who are sick or have a physical infirmity (Matt. 25:43, Acts 4:9. Acts 5:15). In the spiritual arena, it is used of weak in faith (trust) (Rom. 14:1), weak conscience (1 Cor. 8:7), and weak in the flesh (Matt. 26:41).
As Christians we are not exempt from weakness. We all experience bouts of weakness both physically and spiritually. How are we to respond to weakness in the Body of Christ? Do we condemn and judge others who are weak? Do we give them a good lashing on social media? Do we turn our back on their weakness and associate ourselves with more “spiritually together” people? Absolutely not. We are to tenaciously hold firm to each other and devote ourselves in love to one another. Hiebert in his commentary on1 & 2 Thessalonians beautifully states the responsibility of the Christian believer: “Let the strong put their arms around the weak and hold them up. They need to be assured that they are not forgotten or despised because of their helplessness.”
When was the last time we put our arms around a weak brother or sister and held them up in love? How long has it been since we committed ourselves to help each other grow stronger in Christ? When was the last time we touched the physically weak with compassion? Can you remember when you held tightly to those weak in the faith encouraging them instead of condemning them? Or are we just too busy with our daily lives that we forget to love each other? We can become so self-focused that we neglect to help each other when weakness arises.
The Word of God in Romans 15:1 admonishes us that “we who are strong in the faith have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of others and not to please ourselves.” Romans 14:7a says “none of us lives for himself.” Can you imagine living a life not for ourselves? Can you envision what a revolutionary impact this would have on the church and the world if we loved God and each other to a greater degree than we love ourselves? We have allowed the “me generation” thinking of selfishness to creep into Christianity, where we honor our goals and priorities more than we honor each other. We resent more than we love; we envy more than we serve; we hoard more than we give. We hold tightly to our pride and ambition rather than each other. In the midst of all these cultural trends of division, arrogance, and hatred, God commands us to help the weak.
4. Abounding in Patience
The fourth command in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is to “Be patient with everyone.” The Greek word for “patience” means to “exercise self-restraint in the face of provocation of others without retaliation.” It is a patient endurance of people even to the point of bearing insult or injury without bitterness or complaint. It is the quality of holding off on getting angry when you find another person’s conduct difficult, bothersome, or exasperating.
There is very little patience in the world today and in the Body of Christ. Our generation specializes in fuming anger, lashing out against all who disagree with us. We become entrenched in unforgiveness, wanting to inflict revenge on anyone who dares challenge us. These actions harden our hearts to our brothers and sisters in Christ and bring to a screeching halt our spiritual growth and the opportunity to help others. God has never given up on you—why do you want to give up on each other? We have allowed our hearts to be conformed to this world as we often speak more insults than blessings, manifest more hatred than love, and show more indifference than genuine caring. We have lost patience with one another.
The Bible is clear that it is impossible to love one another without patience. It is the first quality of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Patience is also a fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22,23 and is produced in our lives as we walk by the spirit. Patience tag-teams with the other fruits of the spirit, temperance or self-control, as we must exercise patient endurance of our fellow believers if we are ever to truly walk in love. When it comes to people, we must always be on guard against anger, resentment, and bitterness establishing a root in our hearts. As Christians, we are not perfect and fall short in our habits and manner of life. Our trust in God often is lacking and we have let fears and anxiety grip our lives. All of us have broken fellowship with God and allowed sin to push us around. But this does not give us the right to be offended with each other and refuse to forgive. This does not give us an open door to retaliate.
God is amazingly patient toward us daily. In fact, without patience God would have given up on us a long time ago.
Yahweh passed by before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh! Yahweh, a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in covenant faithfulness and truth.”Exodus 34:6 (REV)
But you are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in covenant faithfulness, and did not forsake them.Nehemiah 9:17b (REV)
The Hebrew phrase “slow to anger” literally means “long of nose” or “long breathing” and paints a picture of God taking in a long breath through the nose, letting His anger pass. This is God’s deep breath of patience. He is so patient with us! His patience is always intertwined with His compassion, grace, mercy, faithfulness, and truth. It is a fundamental characteristic of His love. The patience of God is a wonderful trait that is foundational to the gift of our salvation and the riches of our glorious inheritance in Christ.
Jesus Christ exercised perfect patience while upon the earth and is a flawless example of patience with people. Many times he endured the ignorance, wrong thinking, and pride of his inner circle of disciples without exploding in anger or lashing out with insults. He was patient with the throngs of people who crowded to hear him speak or to experience his healing touch. He was even patient with the religious establishment who attacked him and tried to discredit him. He knew what God had called him to do and patience flowed out of his character even as he was obedient to the suffering, torture, and death of the cross. Finally, he is extremely patient with us as our resurrected Lord (1 Tim. 1:16,17).
The Apostle Paul is also a tremendous example of supernatural patience with people as he fulfilled his ministry and calling from God. Scripture declares in 2 Corinthians 6:6 that Paul demonstrated himself to be a servant of God by much perseverance, living in the sphere of patience. He also encouraged Timothy to closely follow his patience (2 Timothy 2:3:10). 1 and 2 Corinthians demonstrate Paul’s great patience with the divisive and jealous believers of Corinth who were walking in many patterns of sin and ignorance. In Galatia, Philippi, Antioch, Jerusalem, and many other cities in the Book of Acts, we again see Paul’s loving patience with people. In 1 Thessalonians 2, among his brothers and sisters in Christ, the Apostle Paul was like a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own children and treated them as a father treats his own children (1 Thessalonians 2:7,11). He shared the depth of his soul—his thoughts, feelings, and emotions—with the believers because they were beloved to him (1 Thessalonians 2:8). This is the heart of patience toward each other in the Body of Christ.
We are to imitate our Heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ and our brother Paul and be patient with each other. Like we put on our clothes every day, God exhorts us to clothe ourselves with patience, seasoned with compassion, kindness, humility and meekness (Col. 3:12). With patience we bear with one another in love and forgiveness (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13). The word “bear with” in the Greek means “to put up with, to tolerate, to endure and to forbear.”
Christianity is not lived in isolation. We are part of the Body of Christ, made up of our brothers in sisters from many backgrounds, races, and cultures. Believers are flawed people and will often disappoint, irritate, exasperate, frustrate, and exhaust us. We are all human and striving to grow more like Christ. Do we become upset, angry, and throw up our hands in disgust at each other when these things happen? No, we exercise patience toward every believer, holding back our emotions; not hurling accusations, but walking in great love and forgiveness. We are not just to occasionally like each other, but we are to love each other like a nursing mother loves her child.
We cannot do this in our own strength. The flesh can never produce this type of patience. As we walk by the spirit and are energized by the power of God, this fruit of patience is cultivated in our lives. The world has very little if any patience, and it is becoming less tolerant and patient every day. Imagine the revolutionary impact to the Christian Church if we were patient with each other instead of trying to bite and devour each other. It would revolutionize the outreach of the Gospel and strengthen our unity as the Body of Christ.
5. Diligently Pursuing Good
The fifth command is in 1 Thessalonians 5:15—to “see that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always diligently pursue what is good for one another and for all people.”
The Greek word for “see” means “to take heed, to beware, be on guard, and to make sure”. Hiebert says that this command “implies that watchfulness is necessary to keep the prohibited practice from creeping in. The plural imperative ‘make sure’ is clearly addressed to the church as a whole, not just the leaders. All have a standing duty to see to it that this undesirable practice does not gain entrance. The temptation to retaliate generally comes on the personal level, hence each member must see to it that he on his part does not give in to it.”
Each believer must be on guard that retaliation and revenge against each other does not creep into our thinking and actions. Retaliation is a dominant characteristic of this age, where we are considered weak unless we forcefully retaliate against every insult or breach of our beliefs. But God commands us that no one in the Body of Christ should retaliate against another believer. It is a forerunner of division and strife, and a destroyer of unity in the church of God.
The Greek word for “repay” means “to give back or render what is due”. It is in the aorist tense and indicates we must constantly be on guard that there is not one single instance of anyone paying back “wrong for wrong”. The word “evil” in this context means that which is injurious or harmful, caused by evil intent. This can be physical or emotional harm that causes pain, sorrow, distress, and calamity.
It is not our business to repay. We don’t give people a bit of their own medicine. God clearly tells us “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” Romans 12:17,19 commands us in no uncertain terms. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” and “do not avenge yourselves.” There are no exceptions. 1 Peter 3:9a says “Do not repay evil for evil, or insult for insult, but on the contrary, give a blessing, for to this you were called…”
God does not value who gets the last zinger in, and we should never act with an intent to injure or harm our fellow believer. Accusation, disdain, and finger-pointing flow out of the sin nature like a mighty river. We cannot allow these powerful emotions to rattle our souls and take root in our hearts. The world loves a good insult, but we must guard against this dangerous desire to retaliate. We cannot give into this temptation to repay evil for evil and insult for insult, or we become a catalyst for division in the Body of Christ.
Life is not always fair, and we cannot get into the habit of becoming offended and lashing out in anger every time we feel we have been wronged. People can talk about you behind your back, falsely accuse you, treat you unfairly, ignore you, and refuse to listen to you. What is your response? “To diligently pursue what is good for another and all people.” The Greek word for “diligently pursue” means “to press hard after, pursuing with earnestness in order to obtain. At all times and on all occasions, we are to diligently pursue good for one another and all people”. “Good” means what is useful and beneficial to others. Galatians 6:10 says that at “every opportunity we should do good to all, but especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We make a special effort to diligently pursue what is useful and beneficial to our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. It must become a priority in our lives. We must become less “me” focused and look rather on how we can be a blessing to others and how we can do what is honorable for each other (Rom. 12:10,17).
It begins with the words we speak, which should edify and encourage, not tear down and insult. We were created in Christ Jesus to manifest goodness, love, and affection to one other. Evil intentions and actions have no place in our relationships. We cannot be ignorant of Satan’s devices by walking in unforgiveness and harboring resentment toward each other. We must replace these emotions with a tender heart full of compassion, love, and kindness. It takes humility to diligently pursue what is good for others.
The REV commentary on Galatians 5:13 shares these words of wisdom:
The Body of Christ would be much better off both individually and collectively if Christians would obey God’s command to give other Christians special love and blessings…Sometimes we just don’t take the time to find out how to specifically help other Christians in our day-to-day dealings. But that goes against the teaching of Christ. His new commandment was that we are to love fellow Christians with an elevated and special love, just as he loved us (John 13:34). To do that will take our time and energy, but it is clearly what Christ commanded. There are many verses with specific commands about being focused on our fellow believers and how we can help and bless them rather than being focused on ourselves and our wants, needs, and concerns.
These five commands in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 & 15 are in the present imperative in the Greek, which calls for a long-term commitment to continually and habitually make them our lifestyle. They are not suggestions, but commands. Can you imagine how each one of these would revolutionize our Christian fellowships? We would become of one heart and soul with each other and begin to reflect the mighty church in the Book of Acts. The impact would be mind-boggling around the world and the witness of the Gospel to all peoples would be exhilarating.
 The Privy Key of Heaven (A Discourse of Closet Prayer) (London 1655, republished Kessinger Publishing, LLC 2009)
2 D. Edmond Hielbert, I & 2 Thessalonians, (BHM Publishing 1996) pg. 253.
3 Hielbert, pg. 254.
4 Hielbert, pg. 254.
5 Revised English Version, Commentary on Galatians 5:13 (Spirit and Truth International 2013)