There is something immensely satisfying about hard, physical labor. For example, when you have finished mowing the yard, you can stand in the shade, covered in sweat, drinking an ice-cold glass of tea, and see what you have accomplished. It feels good! Sadly, church work is rarely like that. Yes, it can be exhausting and turn your brains to mush, but there are few times when you can see what your lessons and sermons have accomplished. No one applauds (or even says amen anymore). You might get a handshake and a “good sermon preacher,” as people walk out the door, but you are just as likely to have Brother Curmudgeon gripe about something that rubbed him the wrong way. It can be exhausting.
Paul told the Thessalonians to “to respect those who labor among you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). The word “labor” means “work that wears you out.” He is talking about all Christian leaders from preachers, to teachers, to elders, and deacons. We rarely think about “church work” as real work but trust me. It is! Why is that?
First, the care of souls is serious business. The consequences are not inconsequential! Eternity may hang in the balance. Leaders will give an account to God for their work! Paul told the Ephesian elders:
You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ … I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:18 – 27).
Second, the work is never done. In this same passage, Paul said, “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”
Third, the task of ministry depends on your spiritual maturity, patience, wisdom, and often loving the unlovable. The rewards are often intangible. (Someone recently told me as a preacher, I had a great retirement plan. Unfortunately, you must die to claim it!)
That is why Paul concludes his first letter to the Thessalonians by encouraging them to
Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
The word translated “respect” by the ESV is also translated as “know” by the KJV, ASV, D-R, ERV, and the first English Bibles, Wycliffe, Tyndale, ad the Geneva Bible. How well do you know your leaders? They answer to God for your souls, shouldn’t we “show your appreciation” (GW, ISV, NASB, and NCV translations)? The GNB, RSV, and NRSV read “show your appreciation” while the GNB, RSV, and NRSV remind us to “pay proper respect” or “give recognition” (HCSB). The Contemporary English Version tells us to “be thoughtful” and The Message tells us to “honor” them.
Caring for souls is hard work – work that causes sleepless nights, exhaustion, and indescribable joy. It is the greatest work in this world – and the next!