WEEKLY REFLECTIONS | Giving due respect and appreciation to church workers

BY REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
www.nordis.net

FIRST OF TWO PARTS

“But we request of you, brothers and sisters, that you appreciate those who diligently work among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you respect them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Church Workers’ Sunday

November 4 is designated as Church Workers’ Sunday. This is a time for us to offer due recognition, honour, and acknowledgements to our church workers for diligently working among us, caring for us, praying for us, taking charge over us and giving us Biblical and pastoral instructions for the living of our days. When we talk of church workers we are generally referring to those pastors, ministers, priests, nuns, deaconesses, etc. whose subsistence is dependent upon the honorarium, donation, remuneration, love gift or salary, whatever you call it, given by the church.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we honour church workers only on Church Workers’ Sunday, and despise them the rest of the year. Acknowledging good deeds should be our way of life as Christians. But even then, we have to set aside a day to remind ourselves, lest we forget, about our Christian responsibilities to our church workers.

The celebration of Church Workers’ Sunday is actually a practice that originated from the West. They call it Pastors Appreciation Day or Sunday. This kind of celebration was thought about because of the number of pastors leaving the ministry every month. According to The Christian Examiner, a bi-monthly magazine, there are 1,400 to 1,600 pastors leaving the ministry every month in the US, primarily because of being burned out.

Well, we don’t have a similar research done in our country on this issue. But I’m sure we are not far away from that reality.

I think there is no problem honouring our church workers as long as praise and honour ultimately belongs to God who has called us and sustained us in the ministry. I was invited onetime to give some lectures in an international gathering held in Mindanao. And after all my lectures, the coordinator came up in front and said at the top of his voice, “Honour belongs to God, but honorarium belongs to Pastor Luna!”

Problems of the Thessalonian Church

This brings us to our Biblical text. It is taken from the First Letter of Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians. This is considered to be the earliest letter written by Apostle Paul that was preserved and became part of the New Testament. Our text is part of the concluding words of Apostle Paul in his letter. He wrote, “We request you, brothers and sisters, that you honour and appreciate those who diligently work among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you respect them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Th. 5:12-13).

Now, we may ask why Apostle Paul wrote these words. Obviously, there were those in the Church of Thessalonica who failed to show respect and due regard for their church workers. There were those in the Church who did not morally and financially support their church workers. Some even opposed their church workers in their work.
To understand what was going on, we need to look into the situation of the Thessalonian Church. It is quite clear from the letter of 1 Thessalonians and the Book of Acts that the Church of Thessalonica received opposition from the Jewish community of that city. One part of the Jewish campaign was a personal attack on Apostle Paul himself. They charged that Apostle Paul had no genuine love and concern for his converts. They further claimed that Apostle Paul’s main motive was personal gain or profit.

We need to realize that there were many so-called preachers at that time who took advantage of the fluid situation in the early church to personally enrich their own selves. In this kind of situation it was easy for the Jews to charge that Apostle Paul was also a wandering impostor. The Jews wanted to discredit not just Apostle Paul, but above all his message about Christ.
The problem was that some members of the Thessalonian Church began to believe these charges. And so, they began to question not only the character of Apostle Paul, but also the message of Christ that he had preached to them.

Moreover, the Church of Thessalonica also faced the opposition of the Gentiles. Consequently, the Thessalonian Church was persecuted. And, because of this persecution some members started to fall away, to backslide from the faith.

Some members of the Thessalonian Church also had some doctrinal misunderstanding as well. Chief among them were their views on the second coming of the Lord. It seems that some believed that Jesus was going to return during their lifetime. When some of them died they began to question if Christ was even going to return at all. And, they wondered if their loved ones who had died were going to miss out on the events of the great day of Christ’s return (cf. I Thess. 4:13-18).

Their mistaken view about the date of Christ’s return had two consequences. First, work was viewed as being unnecessary. After all, if Christ is expected to return very soon, why bother with work, with laying aside for a rainy day, with planning for the future? As a result, some members did nothing to support their own selves and had to live on the charity of their fellow believers – which created resentment on the part of those who ended up supporting them (cf. II Thess. 3:6-10).

And secondly, those who were not working became idle busybodies; they had nothing else to do. So they interfered in the work of others, gossiped, criticized, and meddled in affairs that did not concern them (cf. II Thess. 3:11-15). This, of course, did great damage in the church.
Now, the church workers of the Thessalonian Church tried their best to deal with these problems. But some members did not appreciate these efforts. Some failed to show respect and regard for their church workers as they tried to deal with these problems. Some did not support their church workers in their work. Others even opposed and resented the work they were doing.

Work of Church Workers

Let’s take a closer look at the work of church workers in the early church.

First of all, Apostle Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica that church workers are “those who work diligently among you.” The word used here indicates hard work in the service of the Lord. Apostle Paul frequently used this term for the Christian ministry (1 Cor. 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10).

In trying to defend himself against those who are questioning his apostleship, Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth saying, “I have worked much harder, I have been in prison more times, I have been whipped much more, and I have been near death more often. Five times I was given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; three times I was whipped by the Romans; and once I was stoned. I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent twenty-four hours in the water. In my many travels I have been in danger from floods and from robbers, in danger from my own people and from Gentiles; there have been dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilds, dangers on the high seas, and dangers from false friends. There has been work and toil; often I have gone without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty; I have often been without enough food, shelter, or clothing. And not to mention other things, every day I am under the pressure of my concern for all the churches. When someone is weak, then I feel weak, too; when someone is led into sin, I am filled with distress.” (I Cor. 11:23-29).

Indeed, Church work requires hard work. This is a reminder for us that the Christian ministry is not for those who are lazy. Those who are not willing to invest of themselves, their time and efforts, and even their resources have no place in the Christian ministry.

This hard work is not to be approached with a spirit of resentment or pride. Rather, it is meant to be a labour of love. It is to be done out of love for God, love for His church, and love for the individual members. Church workers are to do their work in the same spirit as Christ – who taught and healed and prayed and suffered and died – all of it – out of love.

Moreover, Apostle Paul also says to the Church at Thessalonica that church workers are also those who “have charge over you in the Lord.” In the Greek translation, the phrase that is used here has two meanings. First of all, it refers to the showing of pastoral care and concern. And second, it also refers to the exercise of authority and direction. When we combine the two meanings, we see that God calls church workers to care for the church and to supervise the church.

And, they are to do so “in the Lord.” This means they have been called by God. This means the authority of their work comes from God. This means that God has gifted and equipped them for work. This means that their work is God’s work.

Furthermore, Apostle Paul also says to the Church at Thessalonica that church workers are also those who “give you instruction.” This phrase is meant to sound brotherly or sisterly – in other words, it is always done out of love and concern. Yet, it speaks of a big-brother or sister, an older brother, a wiser brother. It means that church workers are to give warning to those who are going astray or are in danger of doing so. This work of instruction also involves the difficult work of church discipline.

Now, it is in this last work that raised the opposition of some church members in Thessalonica. It seems that back then, just like now members did not appreciate instruction, correction and admonition. It seems that back then, just like now, people didn’t want to be told that they were wrong and needed to repent and to change their ways. # (To be continued next week) nordis.net

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