Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” Christians are to be concerned about how they respond to various members of their local congregation. The exhortations of this verse are not solely given to elders, but to all members. While elders play an important role in caring for the local congregation (v. 12), the burden of maintaining spiritual health in the local community of Christians is a shared responsibility of all; every member of the church ought to help other members to be built up in the faith (v. 11).
To do this the congregation must extend help to meet particular needs of each member. Within a congregation there are a variety of dispositions and we must respond in kind. Wisdom dictates that we not “warn the weak” nor “encourage the unruly.”
Instead we must “warn the unruly.” These are those who are literally “out of step,” or insubordinate to the commands of Christ. All too often congregations remain passive in the face of disorderly members who repeatedly flout the commands of Christ. The Scriptures teach the proper response to their conduct is admonition (cf. Rom. 15:14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Tit. 3:10).
A second group needing a particular response is the “feebleminded.” These are the timid and faint of heart. They may be discouraged and are in danger of giving up the Christian faith because they have suffered some sort of adversity. These individuals need a different response from the congregation than the first group. Rather than being warned, they must be persuaded not to give up. The response the congregation must make to these is to “comfort” or encourage them. Encouraging a brother or sister in Christ can go a long way toward helping them not to lose heart in the midst of worries.
Thirdly, Paul instructs the congregation to “support the weak.” These may be those who are weak physically. The sick among us are to be cared for (Matt. 25:43-44) and prayed for (James 5:14-16). The weak could also be those who are spiritually weak. The distinction from the second group would be that these are those who have scruples in regard to some externals. There were those weaker brethren in the first-century church who had hang ups about eating certain foods or keeping certain days (Rom. 14:1-12; 1 Cor. 8:7-13). The church’s response should be to help such people by taking an interest in them rather than walking all over them.
Finally, we are to “be patient toward all.” This call to be longsuffering would transform many congregations of the Lord’s church if it were practiced. Longsuffering is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). We have already mentioned that within the church there are a variety of people with a variety of dispositions and a variety of needs. Instead of responding curtly towards others, each of us can develop and exercise patience. Patience is needed with all these groups: the unruly, the feebleminded, and the weak. Whatever the situation or problem, patience is to be used at all times toward all people.
May each member of the Flatwoods congregation improve in responding to the spiritual needs of others.