“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NET).
The parameters given to us here in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 are important to remember whenever we experience conflict with a church leader. For instance, let’s consider a situation where a minister has acted insensitively or failed to meet our expectation in some way. Or perhaps there is a clergy member who holds a different opinion on a debatable issue or minor theological point.
With these scenarios in mind, we should ask if these conflicts permit us to ignore the directive given to us in the passage quoted above. In other words, do such disputes allow us to act disrespectfully or broadcast our differences in a way that serves to undermine a ministry leader? Do those disagreements give us the right to treat the clergy in a way that we do not wish to be treated?
Thankfully, the passage quoted above offers a change of perspective that can help. Notice that the acknowledgement, respect (ESV), and appreciation (GW) given to a ministerial leader is not rooted in the person but in the work that person does: “esteem them most highly in love because of their work” (emphasis added). One commentary expands on this idea with an important observation…
“Some church leaders do not command as much personal respect as others, but Paul taught that all should be held in esteem because of the nature of their responsibilities before God. Not just some respect, but the highest respect is due these leaders, and it is to come from an attitude of affection (in love) for them, again, because of their work, if for no personal reason.” (1)
While a title does not automatically elevate someone to a higher level of esteem, this portion of God’s Word instructs us to treat pastoral leaders “…with the highest regard and love because of the work they are doing” (CJB). We can turn once again to the definition of love given to us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to implement this directive in our relationships with church leaders…
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (ESV).
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [1 Thessalonians 5:13]