The Christian life is an ongoing construction project. It doesn’t matter what corner of the church you peer into there are multiple ongoing construction projects in progress. In my twenties I spent a couple of years working within the walls of our local community hospital. I worked midnight shift and I remember walking the halls of the hospital during the night and thinking to myself, “There is always new construction taking place somewhere in this building.” I later found that this was not unique to our community hospital because as a pastor I have frequented many of the local hospitals in my community and in the surrounding communities where I have and do minister and I find that the vast majority of hospitals are seemingly always conducting some aspect of building remodel or additional construction.
Local churches share in common with local hospitals the business of health and construction. Hospitals undergo construction remodels and additions in order to service the multi-faceted physical needs of the people in its community in order to promote good physical health. Local churches are called to service the many multi-faceted spiritual needs of the people of its community and in fulfilling that calling they are busy, not so much about the physical construction of buildings, but about the business of constructing people’s lives for the glory of Jesus Christ. In every one-on-one relationship in the church, every small group, every Bible study, and every Sunday school class there is the ongoing spiritual construction of lives being built for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Here’s how our church states this mission: We are called and committed to the multi-faceted ministry of joining God in His endeavor to construct healthy spiritual people who follow Jesus together. This business of construction is a dusty and dirty business. It is a messy business. In every corner of the local church we hang our signs that read “Please excuse our dust. Construction in progress.” Yes, in every corner of the local church there are multiple messes going on at the same time with multiple people involved partnering with God the Holy Spirit to build spiritual houses on the foundation of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many verses in the New Testament that I could appeal to in order to prove that this life-on-life multi-faceted construction of spirituality is ongoing and messy business, but for the purpose of this writing I appeal to this one found in 1 Thessalonians 5:14,
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”
Based on this verse we might say that there are three types of people in the church: the idle, the fainthearted, and the weak. That’s probably too narrow of an approach to pigeonhole every person in such fashion and I don’t believe that is Paul’s intent in writing. However, it can be truthfully stated that in every local church at any given time we will find people who are idle, people who are fainthearted, and others who are weak. The admonition of scripture is for we fellow brothers and sister to be patient with all of them. Can I suggest that this patience is not merely a passive kind of “I’ll put up with idle, fainthearted, and weak people” in the sense that I merely patiently endure their presence. Patience most certainly does call for endurance, however this endurance is not passive endurance, but engaging endurance. That’s right, the Bible commands all believers in the local church to patiently engage in the messes we find in every corner of the church. So, let’s put on our hard hat, strap on our tool belt, and with the spiritual means and methods of prayer and the Word of God and in the power of the Spirit of God join God in building the spiritual health of the people around us. Might I add, that in this endeavor we also see ourselves as one of the messes undergoing construction, and in seeing that, we invite others to enter into our mess for the purpose of them helping us build spiritual health and growth and maturity. Notice in our verse that Paul sets forth the shape of our patient (enduring) ministry. We are to patiently admonish the idle, patiently encourage the fainthearted, and patiently help the weak. Let’s look more closely at this multi-faceted construction that we are engaging in within local church ministry.
Patiently Admonish the Idle
The word ‘idle’ describes one who is living in undisciplined disorderly and unruly retreat. This is describing the person in the church who claims to know and love Jesus Christ but is walking in the sin of laziness. The term has a military context to it and could be used to refer to a soldier who is behaving out of rank and order. Paul urges that fellow soldiers in the church are to patiently assert corrective influence on those in the church who are living in undisciplined sinful regression in their spiritual walk. What is being described here is what we typically refer to as the process of church discipline. In every local church, at any given time, there are professing brothers and sisters who are falling back into patterns of sinful regression. They are going backwards spiritually. They are sin sick. Idleness comes in many shapes and forms. As many ways as a person can sin, they can also be idle. In this case we’re talking about ongoing unruliness. This is describing a person who is habitually living in unrepentant sin while claiming to be a believer.
Life-on-life ministry requires patiently correcting those who are living in sinful regression. This is messy business. This messy business requires careful personal ministry of prayerful engagement with the skill of applying the corrective Word of God given for the profitable use of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). This corrective ministry is not only given to the pastors of the church, but Paul here especially addresses this messy ministry to the “brothers”, meaning congregation members.
Patiently Encourage the Fainthearted
Physically the word ‘fainthearted’ can mean someone who experiences shortness of breath. Spiritually it describes someone who is cowardly or shrinks back. The idea has to do with a lack of spiritual endurance. The fainthearted believer is one who under the experience of the pressure of life, in whatever forms those pressure take on, begin to shrink back in their faith. Whereas the idle push the boundaries of sinful rebellion, the fainthearted shrink and shrivel under the heat of life. The fainthearted are not marked by a walk of faith. Their faith is under test and trial. In fear and timidness they choose to play it safe in life. When persecution or suffering encroach upon this person’s life they wilt under the heat. Sometimes in shear exhaustion the one who does good but does not see the fruit of their good deeds can begin to grow fainthearted. In any case, their faith is not strong. They need encouragement. Encouragement means to come alongside of another with comfort. Here again, the Word of God serves as the best sort of comfort that will bolster the faith of the fainthearted.
The nature of personal constructive ministry that takes place in local churches between fellow soldiers must entail coming alongside of one another and patiently comforting those who are discouraged and in danger of growing weary in Christian progress towards maturity in Christ. This comforting ministry is done by believers in partnership with the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
Patiently Help the Weak
The weak are those in the body of Christ who are of weak faith, meaning that they are susceptible to falling into sin. Their strength has not been developed in the Lord. They can generally be said to be immature of faith in the sense that they have not developed the moral fabric of faith required to stand under temptation. These are susceptible to doubts regarding God, his character, and his ability or will to follow through on his promises. Those who are weak in the body of Christ are in need of support. The word ‘help’ means to ‘cling to’ or ‘to lend support to.’ In every church there are potentially some who are in need of another to walk with them and to lend support to their weak conscience or their weak faith so that they may not fall. The nature of this helping ministry is that of a nurturing ministry. It requires patiently and compassionately putting another’s needs above our own freedom in Christ. This laying aside of freedom does not entail putting aside obedience to the Lord, but rather laying aside individual liberties that one could engage in if it were not for the weakness of faith of our brother or sister. This nurturing ministry entails the glad surrender of one’s liberties for the glory of God in constructing a stronger faith in the one who is currently under weakness.
Where is God working in your heart?
Are you idle? Are you regressing in your walk with Christ because of active and ongoing unruliness and undisciplined laziness? I pray not, but if so, you need not wait for a fellow soldier to admonish you. Admonish yourself. Repent of your active sin of inactivity and turn back to Christ.
Are you fainthearted? Have you become weary in well-doing? Are you wilting under the heat of life’s pressures? Take refuge in the Rock of your salvation. Receive the ministry kindness and encouragement from a brother or sister in Christ.
Are you weak? Do doubts about the goodness and faithfulness of God to follow through plague your mind? Be prayerful. Be biblical. Study the Word to show yourself as an approved workman who does not need to be ashamed. Don’t lean on your own understanding but acknowledge God by seeking to strengthen your weaknesses of faith. Lean on a brother or sister to strengthen you for a time but be strengthened and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
If we are wondering where God is working in the local church, we need look no further than the idle, the fainthearted, and the weak. This is the fertile ground of spiritual advance in the ongoing construction of conforming people to the image of Christ. To be sure, there are messes in every corner of the local church. Spiritual construction is ongoing. Every Christ-follower is to be engaged in the building projects happening around us and in us. Where is God working in your sphere of influence within the body of Christ? Who do you know who is idle, fainthearted, or weak? Pray and discern how God would carefully use you to engage in the ministry of admonishment, encouragement, and helping.
Don’t shrink back in the face of the messiness that most certainly is a reality. To shrink back would mean for you to become the fainthearted. Don’t become idle by stiffening your neck and refusing to engage in this personal ministry. To do so would position you to be the one who needs the admonishment of another. Don’t succumb to weakness of conscience, doubting the goodness of God and his faithfulness to use you in these ministry opportunities. To do so would mean you need another to come and lift you up in order to give you support. Put on your hard hat and strap on your tool belt and get to work as a productive crew member in the ongoing spiritual construction projects in your local church.