“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
In continuing the practical instruction that underscores the remainder of 1 Thessalonians chapter five, this verse identifies the proper response to three distinct types of individuals: the disorderly (ASV), the timid (Phillips), and the frail (WYC). Notice that Paul the Apostle exhorts “the brethren” in this passage, a phrase that encompasses “brothers and sisters” or “fellow Christians.” (1) This implies that these instructions are not simply admonitions to church leaders; instead, they apply to every member of the church.
The first person described for us is someone who is irresponsible (HCSB), disorderly (Mounce), or undisciplined (NET). Interestingly, this word carries the following definition in the original language of this passage: “deviating from the prescribed order or rule used in Greek society of those who did not show up for work.” (2) Another source tells us that this word is used in “…describing certain church members who manifested an insubordinate spirit, whether by excitability or officiousness or idleness.” (3) Since Paul will address these individuals at greater length in his follow up letter to the Thessalonian church, we will simply note our responsibility to warn those who exhibit similar behaviors.
In comparison, the fainthearted and weak are to be comforted and supported. Much like a splint or cast that is used to mend, heal, and support a broken bone until it can return to its intended function, this passage identifies our responsibility to strengthen and help those who are in spiritual or emotional need. As they are taught, encouraged, and directed to depend upon Christ, those who are fearful or disheartened can find new strength and eventually become conduits of God’s comfort to those who are facing similar challenges.
The last quality involves “…patience toward all” (NMB). As one source observes, “To be patient with all is perhaps hardest of all, for the last lesson most of us learn is to suffer fools gladly.” (4) Another commentary closes our look at this passage with an important insight regarding patience…
“Patience is to be shown to all, even towards those who actually deserve far worse. ‘Getting even’ is not to be tolerated in the church (see Mt 5:44-48; Lk 6:27-36). Rather the Christian response to wrong, whatever the source, is to try to bring good out of evil. This challenges the spirit of our age in which retaliation is seen as strength and any attempt to return good for evil is seen as weakness.” (5)
(1) NET Bible notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:4 https://netbible.org/bible/1+Thessalonians+1
(2) G813 ataktos http://www.textusreceptusbibles.com/Strongs/52005014/G813
(3) W.E Vine, “Disorderly” Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Rev Terry Kulakowski, Editor [pg. 81]
(4) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:14”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-thessalonians-5.html. 1956-1959.
(5) Brower, K. E. “1. Respect for Leaders (5:12-15)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1102. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.