Translation & Notes

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

12 Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, εἰδέναι τοὺς κοπιῶντας ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ προϊσταμένους ὑμῶν ἐν κυρίῳ καὶ νουθετοῦντας ὑμᾶς

Now we ask you, brothers, to recognize those who labor among you and who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you,

Ἐρωτῶμεν or “we ask” seems to be at the very least an authoritative form of asking. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Paul paired this word with “we urge you.” Paul clearly is not asking the church for information, but he is urging them to adopt a certain attitude toward their leaders.

εἰδέναι or “to recognize” could be translated as either “to recognize” or “to honor,” though of course these ideas are not mutually exclusive. We know that, at times at least, Paul’s ministry included appointing elders for the churches (Acts 14:23). Given Paul’s limited stay in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), we can only speculate about the state of the church leadership in Thessalonica. Paul clearly did want the church to honor these leaders, but here, Paul may be calling for the church to recognize or acknowledge those who served as leaders among them, ensuring that the church had established and recognized leaders.

τοὺς κοπιῶντας ἐν ὑμῖν or “those who labor among you.” The article here introduces the first of three participles describing what these leaders do. Paul used the noun form of this verb three times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians to describe his own ministry , his own labor and toil, among the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:9, 3:5; 2 Thess. 3:8). The implication is that church leaders should be hard at work, laboring in the ministry.

ἐν ὑμῖν or “among you” refers to the realm of these church leaders’s ministry. This phrase supports the idea of recognizing these church leaders, since these leaders are laboring on behalf of a specific church.

προϊσταμένους ὑμῶν or “who care for you” can be translated in one of two ways (see our word study for 1 Timothy 5:17-25). The word προϊσταμένους can mean to exercise a position of leadership or to care for. These ideas are related since those who exercise positions of leadership should care for those they lead. The emphasis in this verse seems to be on “those who care for you” since Paul is listing a series of things these church leaders should do. That these same people exercise a position of leadership is implicit in that the church is to recognize them, but the focus of this term seems to be that these men are to be recognized because of their care for the church.

ἐν κυρίῳ or “in the Lord” puts an important qualification on this care for and leadership of the church. “Their authority can be exercised only in so far as the Lord has given them authority to act. The phrase in the Lord throughout Paul refers to the sphere in which the Messiah’s presence dominates and empowers one to exist as a Christian generally and to function specifically in various capacities as a Christian, so that identification with Christ is highlighted.”[1]

νουθετοῦντας ὑμᾶς or “who admonish you” is the third in the list of roles these church leaders perform. The word can refer to teaching or to warning, particularly related to a person’s conduct. This admonition was a hallmark of Paul’s ministry (Acts 20:31, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Colossians 1:28) and something Paul expected of the church as a whole (Colossians 3:16), but here it is a primary task of church leaders in relation to the church. The ministry of church leaders is continually viewed as both positive and negative, teaching what is right and correcting what is wrong both in relation to doctrine and living.

13 καὶ ἡγεῖσθαι αὐτοὺς ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ διὰ τὸ ἔργον αὐτῶν. εἰρηνεύετε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς.

and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

ἡγεῖσθαι αὐτοὺς ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ or “to esteem them very highly in love” means that the church should hold these faithful leaders in high regard. “Very highly in love” describes how the church should esteem their leaders.

διὰ τὸ ἔργον αὐτῶν or “because of their work” gives the reason that the church should hold these leaders in high regard. The implication is that these church leaders have demonstrated their hard work, their care for the church, and their faithful admonition of the church. As in 1 Timothy 5:17, church leaders are to be honored and respected because of the work they do on behalf of the church. Certainly false teachers can worm their way into positions of church leadership, so there is a certain danger in respecting the office only for the sake of the office, but church leaders who have demonstrated their care for church deserve the honor of that church.

εἰρηνεύετε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς or “be at peace among yourselves.” There is some question as to whether this phrase is connected to the rest of 5:12-13 or whether it is a separate, unrelated admonition. Given that 1 Thessalonians 5:14 begins with “we urge you,” mirroring the opening words of 5:12, it seems best to connect this phrase to the rest of 5:12-13. While we don’t know all the details of the situation in Thessalonica, perhaps we can at least say that both faithful church leaders caring for the church and churches properly honoring those leaders promotes peace in the church. “Peace will result when love increases among those in the church, especially between the shepherds and the congregational flock.”[2]

[1] G. K. Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians, IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 160-61.

[2] Ibid., 162.

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