Four Ways You Can Serve the Lord
I Thessalonians 5:14
October 15, 1989
This week I attended a fascinating seminar entitled “How to Handle Criticism, Conflict and Difficult People in the Church.” Somebody heard that I was going and asked if it wasn’t a little early to be going to a seminar like that. That’s true, but this isn’t the first church I’ve pastored. After a while you get used to almost anything.
The best part of the seminar was the section on the twelve most common troublemakers in the church. They gave names to each one, explained how they act and why and how to deal with them. I thought you might enjoy hearing the list. And who knows? We may have one or two around here.
The Charging Bull
The Sneaky Snake
The Roaring Lion
The Wimpy Weasel
The Heckling Hen
The Tight-Lipped Tiger
The Creeping Crab
The Emphatic Elephant
The Pompous Panther
The King of the Hill
When I heard that list I was feeling pretty good about it. And then the instructor said, “Remember, we’re all difficult people some of the time.” And that made me think of what Brian said in the Crossroads Service last night. The church is full of weirdos and we’re all wierd some of the time and some of us are weird all the time.
Straighten Out The Cantankerous
I am addressing my remarks to those of you who would like to have a ministry to other people but don’t know where to begin. You aren’t sure which program to join, you aren’t sure where to sign up, you aren’t sure what your gifts are or where you can do the most good. But you would like to serve the Lord in some way or other. If that’s you, then pay special attention because this morning I’m going to talk about four ways you can serve the Lord.
My text is only one verse of Scripture—I Thessalonians 5:14. It reads this way in the New International Version, “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” For those who don’t mind a dose of reality, here is the same verse from the Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles, “We encourage you, brothers, to straighten out the cantankerous, lend a hand to the spiritual runts, doctor the sickly, and get along with everybody.” Frankly, I like that version a lot better.
It suggests a couple of useful ideas. First, it suggests that in the church there will be several different classes of people—the cantankerous, the runts and the sickly. Or if you will, the Charging Bulls, the Sneaky Snakes, the Creeping Crabs and the Wimpy Weasels. Second, different people need to be treated in different ways. Some need to be straightened out, some need to be doctored, and some just need a little tender loving care.
There is a third useful idea in that verse. It is that ministering to all the different people in the church is the job of the whole church. That’s why he says, “And we urge you, brothers.” He didn’t say, “I urge you, pastors,” or “I urge you, board members.” He could have said that but he didn’t. This is for the whole church.
So then, here are Four Ways You Can Serve the Lord:
I. By Warning The Unruly verse 14a
The NIV has it, “Warn those who are idle.” Actually the other version is better: “Straighten out the cantankerous.” The Greek word is ataktous. It’s a military expression that means to break ranks, to get out of line. Demosthenes once used this word to describe those ancient Greeks who refused to serve their country. It refers to those who are undisciplined and irresponsible, soldiers who are idle because they are out of position.
In the church there are those who are ataktous. Some of them are spiritual draft-dodgers. Some are idlers, some are gossips, some are busybodies. They are unruly, irresponsible and undisciplined.
Paul says we are to “warn” them. A better word is “admonish.” This is an exceedingly strong Greek word. It literally means to “put into the mind.” When a brother or sister becomes unruly, Paul says we are to “put them in mind.” You might say we are to talk some sense into them.
It implies a personal, face-to-face confrontation, precisely the kind of situation most of us want to avoid at all costs. It is hard, painful, difficult work. It is very scary. In its barest form, it means to speak to someone about his conduct.
I told this story at the Men’s Retreat but it bears repeating. I have a friend in Texas whose name is Randy Miller. During the five and a half years I pastored in Garland, he was one of my elders. He has a great mind for administration, and I learned a lot from him. But he also had a heart for God, and I learned a lot that way, too.
One of those years Randy served as the chairman of the elders. In that position we talked together many times. I remember that several times during that year Randy would call me and say, “Ray, I need to talk with you.” He’d come by my office and take out a little note pad. Always there would be four or five things he wanted to talk about. Then he would pause and say, “There’s one other thing I need to mention to you.” And he would mention something I had said or done that wasn’t the best or the smartest. It always stung a little bit even though he was a good friend. He only did it three or four times but every time—mark it down—every time he was right.
The last time it happened I had left the church and gone to work for Shepherd Ministries. One day Randy called me up out of the blue. I hadn’t heard from him in several months. He said, “Ray, this is hard for me to do.” And he proceeded to talk to me about something I had said. I guess you would call it a value judgment I shouldn’t have made, some dumb comments that would have been better left unsaid. It really hurt when he said it. I told Marlene, she cried, and called him the next day. And you know what? We both agreed he was absolutely right. And we needed to hear what he had to say.
That was a few months ago. Would you like to know how I feel about Randy Miller? I love him like a brother. Just before we left to come to Chicago, Marlene and I spent an evening with Randy and Janice and another couple. We laughed and talked and had a wonderful time. We love them and they love us.
Randy is a true friend, one who cares enough to say, “Ray, I love you but you’re out of line.” By the way, if someone ever does that for you, don’t get angry. Thank God for the correction and thank the friend who had the courage to come to you.
Any believer can do that. You don’t have to be a pastor or an elder. That’s one way you can serve the Lord. By carefully, lovingly, tactfully warning the unruly.
II. By Encouraging The Fainthearted verse 14b
If the first way is severe, this one is the opposite. Not everyone is unruly. Many are fainthearted. The word is very unusual. It literally means to be “small-souled.” This group of people is easily discouraged and despondent. They are overwhelmed by stress and burdened with problems. They are discouraged because the courage they need, they cannot find. It especially includes those who shrink before persecution, who fall under great temptation, who face trials at home, at work, at school, who find the Christian life one continual struggle.
Paul says we are to “encourage” them. That is, we are to put courage into them. The word means to appeal to the emotions. We would say it means to find these people and give them a little TLC—Tender Loving Care.
Sometimes this won’t be easy. But it pays a great reward. This week I got a call from my old friend Frankie Cooper. It took me by surprise because I hadn’t heard from him in fifteen years. He graduated from the same Christian college that Marlene and I attended. After graduation we lost track of him until this week when he just called up out of the blue.
He mentioned that he got married about eleven years ago, so I asked him if he had any children. He said no, but they have had kids living with them nearly the whole time. It turns out that Frankie is a youth pastor down in Waco, Texas, and over the years he has taken in kids who had nowhere else to go—kids from broken homes and difficult backgrounds. He mentioned one young man who came to live with them because of a bad home situation. That was a few years ago. He’s now attending that same Christian college we attended. The night before, he had called Frankie and they had discussed his latest campus romance. Frankie said, “Of all the kids we’ve kept, he’s the most like a son to us.” And you could hear the pride in his voice.
It hasn’t been easy. But Frankie would gladly do it again.
That, I think, is what Paul is talking about. You find someone who is down and discouraged and you wrap your arms around them, you hug them tight, and you say, “We’re going to walk through this together.”
That’s a second way you can serve the Lord. You can encourage the faint-hearted. Take a look around you. There are people on every hand who need the help only you can give. Go ahead. Do it. Don’t wait for anyone else.
III. By Helping The Weak verse 14c
There is a third group of people you can serve in the church. Paul calls them “the weak.” It simply means those without strength. These are people who are a step beyond being fainthearted. They have completely run out of gas. They are the ones who are exhausted, burned out, wrung out and worn out. They are morally and spiritually and physically drained. They feel as if they cannot go on.
Often these are most easily overlooked. The weak drift in and then drift out and a growing church never sees them. They slip in late, sit toward the back, and slip out as soon as the service is over. They are on the periphery, looking, searching, hurting. The fainthearted were running strong and then were worn out. The weak never got in the race.
Paul says to “help” them. It means to “hold oneself over against.” It is a very close, intimate term. It means to cling to someone. Paul says, “Don’t let the weak go. Hold them tight. Don’t let them drift away. Pick them up and carry them along.”
Many of you know who Mother Teresa is. She is the founder of the Missionary Sisters of Charity. For most of her life she has lived in the dark slums of Calcutta tending to the poor and sick. Day after day she has gone into the streets finding the sick and needy and bringing them in. She’s 79 years old now and her heart is failing, the price of a lifetime spent for others.
A few years ago she won the Nobel Peace Prize. During her acceptance speech, she told the following story: “I’ll never forget when I brought a man in from the streets. He was covered with maggots. His face was the only place that was clean. And yet that man, when we brought him to our home for the dying, said just one sentence, ’I have lived like an animal, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.’ And he died beautifully.”
That is what it means to help the weak. It is a ministry anyone can perform who will reach out to the hurting, the needy, the suffering, the hungry, the lonely, the forgotten, the dying. The weak are all around you. They are nearer than you think.
You that are strong, will you lift up the weak? It is a way you can serve the Lord.
IV. By Being Patient With Everyone verse 14d
There is yet one more way you can serve the Lord. Paul adds it lest anyone think that ministry to individuals is easy. It’s the last phrase in verse 14, “Be patient with everyone.” The word means to be long-tempered. It has the idea of being tough and durable under pressure. Be slow to anger, slow to give up. Don’t lose your patience as you help others. We must not give way to exasperation.
There are two problems we face whenever we try to help someone else:
1. Many people are slow to respond.
2. Others will refuse our help altogether.
When they are slow to respond, we tend to get discouraged. When they refuse our help, we tend to get disgusted. That’s what Paul is warning against.
Matthew Henry wrote these words 300 years ago. He said that when we try to help other people we:
“must not be high in our expectations
nor harsh in our resentments
nor hard in our impositions,
but endeavor to make the best we can of everything
and think the best we can of everybody.”
That fairly well sums it up.
Now if you don’t care and never get involved with others, this doesn’t apply to you. And if you only hang around the beautiful, clean, healthy types, you won’t need much patience.
But if we get involved with others, patience is our greatest need. Remember what Charlie Brown said: “I love the world. It’s people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to feel that way, so we need a great deal of patience.
So, then, here are four ways you can serve the Lord:
Warning the Unruly
Encouraging the Fainthearted
Helping the Weak
Being Patient with Everyone
They aren’t tricky or complicated. You don’t need a seminary degree. You can start today.
By the way, we need to hear this because it is part of the covenant which binds us together. The very first declaration says that we promise “That we will exercise Christian care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully warn, exhort and admonish each other as occasion may require.” In plain English, we have promised that we would do this for each other.
He Came For Us
To live like this is not easy. It’s easier just to let everything slide, to overlook the needs of people around me and just hang around the beautiful people. But if Jesus had done that, he would have stayed in heaven. He never would have set foot on the earth.
But he made the trip, didn’t he? Born in a manger, born in Bethlehem, born in obscurity, born like a servant and not like a king.
We weren’t beautiful, but he came for us.
We weren’t rich, but he came for us.
We weren’t clean, but he came for us.
We weren’t noble, but he came for us.
We weren’t trustworthy, but he came for us.
We weren’t good, but he came for us.
We were a pretty miserable lot, but he came for us. We rewarded him by hanging him on a cross. And when he died, he died for us. And all our sins were laid on him. And that’s the Gospel truth.
No, it’s not easy to live like this. But there is this reward. When we live this way, when we dare to get involved, we are doing what Jesus did. In giving up the beautiful in favor of the needy, we are following in the steps of the man who came from heaven. At least we know we’re not alone.