This is a short letter to a dear brother, who, in an attempt to defend the current system which exalts pastors above the people, quoted the KJV version of 1 Thessalonians 5:12 to me as some sort of proof text that we are to esteem pastors above others.
Here is the KJV version of 1 Thessalonians 5:12…
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you…”
Here is the letter …
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Some study into the original languages can give us deeper and keener insight into the scriptures and can help to get us away from translator bias. In regard to 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13, the KJV is not the best of translations. There are some others which are far more accurate than that. Below you will find one of those better ones; Jonathan Mitchell’s translation.
Jonathan’s translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13 more accurately shows that Paul was encouraging the Thessalonians to comfort and exhort one another, and to recognize and esteem (in love) those who were laboring among them for the edification of them all. This passage of scripture was never intended to support the unbiblical clergy/laity system that we see today which exalts pastors above the people. There is no biblical model for that (except for King Saul’s rule maybe). “Comforting and exhorting one another,” and “recognizing and esteeming in love those who labor among us” is much different from setting a pastor up as a king over the people. Jesus warned of doing such a thing when He said …
“Don’t let men call you ‘Rabbi.’ Don’t be called ‘Rabbi,’ for only One is your Teacher, the Christ, and all of you are brothers. Also call no man on the earth your father, for One is your Father; He who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for One is your Master, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Anyway, XXXXX, here’s Jonathan’s translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13 (for your edification) …
11 “Wherefore, you must continuously call each other alongside (to encourage, comfort, exhort), and you must habitually one build up (lit., build a house; edify) one (or: the other), according as you are even continuously doing. 12 But we are continuously asking you, brothers, to know (to have perceived) those continuously toiling wearily among you and continuously making themselves to stand before you (placing or setting themselves before you; presiding over you) and continuously admonishing you (lit., putting their mind in you; or: putting you in mind) in the Lord, 13 and to continuously lead them above, out of abundance in love [or: lead the mind through a reasoning process to a conclusion and consider them exceedingly distinguished in love] because of their work. You must continually be at peace (cultivate peace) among yourselves.”
XXXXX, because someone labors for your edification (there really should be many saints who labor for your edification in a healthy congregation of Christians), that does not entitle them to be called “my father,” “my pastor,” or “my teacher.” As I have shared, Jesus warned of doing such a thing, and He did that because it makes way for a spiritual dynamic to work which ultimately causes religious oppression rather than spiritual growth.
I can assure you, XXXXX, if you look unto a man as your teacher, you might become very much like him someday, but it is highly unlikely that you will ever progress much beyond him spiritually. If you look unto the Lord as your Pastor and your Teacher though, then there will be no limit whatsoever put upon your spiritual growth.
XXXXX, all of this is not saying that there are not apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists who are given as gifts to the church and who are to labor among the saints until we all come to the stature of the fullness of Christ. These are those ministers who continuously toil and labor among the saints as servants and this for no other purpose than just to see others brought closer to God. These beloved ministers live as sacrifices for the benefit of the people. They do not desire any special recognition from the people, and they certainly do not allow themselves to be exalted above anybody.