You Can’t Help Others Until You Understand Them

On February 20, 1995, Willie King, a 52-year-old diabetic, was scheduled to have his right leg amputated below the knee. As if losing a leg wasn’t enough, when Willie regained consciousness from the operation the surgeon informed him that he had accidentally amputated the wrong leg. In this case, a lack of accurate information cost Willie King his leg, cost the hospital $900,000, and the surgeon was ordered to pay out $250,000. This misdiagnosis led to far more damage than if nothing had been done at all.

Similarly, we can do more harm than good when we try to speak truth to someone without fully understanding them or their circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 gives us a few categories to have in our brains as we are seeking to help others. Paul wrote, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

This passage is a command for all believers to be engaged in what is called interpersonal ministry, or discipleship. As Christians speak God’s truth to one another the church matures into Christlikeness (Ephesians 4:1-16). This act of engaging in interpersonal ministry can be quite intimidating. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 provides hope for fearful disciple-makers by helping us understand the person we are trying to help and how we should respond to them.

3 Dispositions & 3 Responses

First, there are those that are unruly. The unruly, or idle, are those that deliberately disobey the teaching of God’s Word. An example would be the professing believer who is abandoning his family to pursue an adulterous relationship. Or, the lady who is stealing from work by clocking in when she is not actually at the office. The proper way to respond to the unruly is to warn them of the dangers of sin (Proverbs 13:15) and to admonish them to turn from sin and return to Christ (2 Samuel 12:7). They often need help to see the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

A second disposition is the faint-hearted. These are the ones that are discouraged and tempted to give up in their pursuit of Christ. This might be a teenager whose parents are in the middle of a messy divorce. It could be the widow who is wondering if she will ever get used to going to bed alone. This person doesn’t need a warning the way the unruly does. Instead, we should seek to encourage by leading the faint-hearted to the gentle Savior. Often, the faint-hearted are very aware that God is ruler and judge, they often need reminding that God is also Father. We can come alongside and help by pointing them to God’s faithfulness, love, sovereign care, and unending grace.

Lastly, Paul mentions the weak. The weak could refer to those that have a weak conscience (Romans 14:1), those who are particularly susceptible to sin and temptation (Romans 5:6), or those that society has abandoned like the poor, the addict, or the refugee (1 Corinthians 1:27). The weak do not need a rebuke and encouragement will not go far enough. They need to be upheld. They need the kind of attention and care that the world would say is over the top. To hold someone up is to say, “hitch your life and faith to mine and we will get through this together.” As God’s people, we don’t run away from the weak. Instead, we take an interest in, pay attention to, and remain loyal to those who need to be upheld.

The Need for Balance

1 Thessalonians 5:14 is a call to action, but it is also a call for balance in the way we deal with people. David Powlison says, “Probably each of us who does ministry tends towards one of the characteristic forms of helping. It’s your gift. But left to itself, it remains unbalanced. That is part of why God has given us [1 Thessalonians] 5:14, to keep us from being blinded by our best gifts. We are called to broaden our vision, to work out of our comfort zone. A hammer thinks everything is a nail; a blanket, treats everyone as shivering; a wheelchair thinks everyone needs a lift. But wisdom sees people for what they are and gives what is needed.”

We need wisdom to discern the need of the moment. We don’t comfort the unrepentant adulterer, we don’t rebuke the sexual assault victim, and we don’t admonish the one who just found out she has cancer. We take time to consider whether the person sitting across the table is unruly, faint-hearted, or weak and we respond appropriately.

We also need the courage to do what does not come naturally to us. Personally, I lean towards encouragement above admonishing and upholding. I don’t enjoy the awkwardness of admonishing others. So, if I’m not careful I will seek to encourage when correction would be more appropriate. Consider which of these 3 responses–admonish, encourage, uphold–you are more prone to and ask God to give you the courage to respond in a way that doesn’t suit your strengths.

Lastly, we need patience. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 ends with a call to be patient with everyone, regardless of their current disposition. We exercise great patience as those who are cognizant of the fact that God has been patient with us. Peter reminds us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). We seek to be patient with others in an effort to imitate our patient Savior.

May the Lord grant us the wisdom, courage, and patience we all need to engage others in discipleship.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Thessalonians 5:14 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

David Powlison in “Familial Counseling: The Paradigm for Counselor-Counselee Relationships in 1 Thessalonians 5,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2007, PP2-16

Disciple-Being: A call to be discipled

In 1992 Gatorade released the “Be Like Mike” commercial in which viewers were called to be like Michael Jordan. He had become such a household name that his renown was felt nationally. Most people already wanted to be like Mike, the commercial just gave voice to this sentiment. Since then this commercial and its message have been scrutinized many times by pastors and Bible teachers as they call their listeners not to be like Mike but to be like Jesus Christ, and rightly so. But how do we reconcile this noble commitment to not mimic other people with passages like Philippians 3:17 where Paul says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”? Are we to be followers of Christ or other people? Biblically speaking the answer is both.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

What Paul is getting at in Philippians 3:17 (and again in 4:9) seems counterintuitive to our modern Christian mindset but this does not need to be the case. Paul does not view his words as a challenge to following Christ because Paul is only calling his readers to follow him to the extent that he follows Christ. This is most clearly observed in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In Paul’s theology he considers it a grace to be in the presence of other brothers and sisters in Christ who are more mature and seasoned in the faith. This concept of imitating other believers as they imitate Christ is also found in 1 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9; 2 Timothy 4:12; Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3.

Disciple makers are being discipled

I’ve heard Mark Dever say, “If you say you are following Jesus but are not helping others to know and follow Jesus then I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘I follow Jesus.” Dever’s point is hard to accept but is certainly biblical (Matthew 28:19-20). It should be part of our normal Christian experience to help others follow Jesus. But making disciples is not the only ‘normal’ part of our Christian experience.

What Paul’s words remind us is that being discipled is also part of our normal Christian experience. God intends both being discipled and making disciples to be coexisting realities for the life of believers. We never graduate to the role of ‘disciple-maker’ in such a way that we can leave behind our need to be discipled. Maybe ask yourself the question, ‘who is currently helping me better follow Jesus?’

Clarifying comments


This commitment to be disciples doesn’t mean that there must be a person whom you have formally asked to disciple you or that there is a person who sees himself/herself as being your spiritual father/mother/counselor/advisor/mentor. Often these relationships are informal and organic in nature. The person you see fulfilling this role for you may even be surprised that you see him/her in this way. For others, this relationship may be may formal and structured and that is more than okay.

The core of what Paul is calling believers to is to identify individuals who are more mature in their following of Christ than you are and to imitate them. The person you have in mind may not be more mature in Christ than you in every way but he/she must necessarily be more mature at least in many ways and therefore a good source of imitation. Having someone(s) you look to as a point of reference for imitating Christ helps us see the commands of Scripture come to life in concrete and culturally ways.

Praise God that He saw fit to grow us into Christ-likeness along with others!

Credits

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Quote from Mark Dever obtained from The Gospel Coalition book review for Dever’s book Discipling.