Likability or Respect?

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Several folks commented on the following section of my sermon yesterday on Hebrews13:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 13, “Make Your Leaders’ Work a Joy!” I thought I would post it.

God calls his sheep to follow their shepherds by offering them due respect (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13)

Verse 12 begins, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord….”; Paul continues with the same idea in verse 13, urging them “to esteem them very highly.”  This is where faithful following begins—with respect.  Nothing quenches the spirit of willing cooperation more than a lack of respect for those called to lead.  That is why it is significant that we recognize what Paul says in verse 13:  “…esteem them very highly in love because of their work (5:13). Simply put, we offer due respect to elders because their work calls for respect.

You will remember that in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul called the work of pastoral oversight “a noble task”—literally, “a good work.”  In verse 12 here in 1 Thessalonians 5 he immediately connects his entreaty to the elders’ “labor among you.”  The phrase “to esteem them very highly” is particularly powerful; the word translated “very highly” is the same word used by Paul in Ephesians 3:20, where he refers to God as able to do, as the King James translates it, “exceedingly abundantly above” all that we could ask or imagine.

The respect and esteem, then, that we are to offer the elder for his pastoral work is of the “exceedingly abundantly above” kind, if you will.  Now, I know that may seem a bit over the top, especially in a culture like ours that has been driven for the last 50 years to question and disrespect all authority figures.  On top of that, there are times in which we may not consider some leaders to be personally respectable; but often it is the case that we confuse respecting someone with liking someone. In other words, we wrap up their person with the work.

Every election season brings an abundance of polls—even polls asking things that many voters may never even think about until asked by a pollster!  But the one poll that bothers me the most, primarily because I am afraid it sums up just how shallow and emotionally driven our culture has become, is the “likability poll.”  I suppose it really shouldn’t be surprising that a perpetually insecure culture like ours places the kind of importance on likability that it does.

Let’s be realistic:  Likability has nothing to do with ability!  Whether I like a candidate or feel he is “in touch” or “out of touch” with me or any other person in the general public has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not he is up to the office he seeks!  A fellow may be the most likable on the face of the earth—but completely incompetent.  More than this, the reality is that “likability” comes and goes because our hearts are fickle—and if respect depends upon likability, then when likability goes respect will go with it.

It is the work that demands our respect—and when a man steps into the work he has been elected for or, in the case of being an elder, to which he has been called, he affords respect and esteem not because we like him but because of the respect due his work.

Now, for the record, let me make clear that none of this means that an elder or leader can just throw likability to the side; the elders of the church are especially called to model Christ in the way they work, as we have seen in the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 (“…an overseer must be…not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome…”) and a wise elder knows he can’t just bulldoze his way through the flock, always commanding the sheep to listen and “eat their peas” because the elders said so and know what it is best for them; there is certainly no value in being deliberately unlikable!  Nor am I suggesting that there is no connection to respect and a man’s character; as regards the overseer in the church, we have already seen how important the foundation that respectable character and personal integrity lay for all godly men, whether they are called to office in the church or not.

What Peter seeks to emphasize, like Paul in 1 Timothy 1, is that the work of an elder by definition commands our esteem and respect.  The elder labors in teaching God’s Word, studying and proclaiming truths that sometimes hurt in their application; the elder labors to minister God’s grace and truth in difficult marriage and family situations; he gently but faithfully applies the comfort and hope of the Gospel in tragedies and in the face of death.  Though it is indeed hard work, to those who have been called it is a labor of love—and because it is so the sheep are to offer respect to their shepherds for the blessing of their God-given work.

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