I just listened to a wonderful sermon preached by my mentor, Vasile Filat. I am currently listening to it again so that I can translate it into English for this article so that you can be blessed by it the way that I was.
How much do you appreciate your spiritual leaders? Do you have spiritual leaders/mentors? God has orchestrated the Christian life to be one of a person having a mentor, being a mentee, and then becoming a mentor while still being mentored. This process is laid out for us in Matthew 28. We see it explained by the Apostle Paul in II Timothy 2:2. Paul was mentored by Jesus. Paul mentors Timothy. As Timothy is being mentored, he begins to mentor others. Those whom Timothy mentors begin to mentor others. Jesus –> Paul –> Timothy –> new disciples –> their disciples. Unfortunately, there are many in the church who have never experienced God’s amazing plan of being discipled. Even if you do not have a direct mentor, you have a spiritual leader if you are part of a local church. Paul explains this in Ephesians 4. The spiritual leaders pour into the lives of the members and the members serve one another and together, reach out to the community to make disciples.
I. Appreciation is a command
The foundational text for this message is I Thessalonians 5:12-13.
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,
13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
The Greek word that is translated to English as “appreciate” is “Oikeios” and it means to consider them part of your immediate family. This is the type of honor that you are to give to them because they labor to lead you in the ways of the Lord by teaching you how to know God through His Word and follow Him. The next word that I would like to point out is “esteem” in verse 13. It is a translation of the Greek words “Hegeomai”. The idea is to watch them carefully to learn the specifics of their character so that you can imitate them. It could almost be translated as “become like them by hanging around them”. The same Greek word is used by Paul in I Thessalonians 4:5 when he is writing about the pagans who do not know God. It does not mean that they do not know about God. It means that they do not walk with Him intimately in order to become like Him.
5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
You can know about God from a distance and not be like Him. When you get to know Him intimately by walking with Him, you begin to become like Him. This is the idea of what it means to esteem your spiritual leaders highly. Spend time with them. Get to know how they think and act. Let their character rub off on you. If your relationship with your spiritual leaders is just Sunday to Sunday, you do not and cannot esteem them highly. You are not appreciating them as you are commanded to do. Paul uses this same Greek word again in II Thessalonians 1:8 to prove the fact that we can know about God without walking with Him and this will be shown in our actions.
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
The person who claims to know God and yet does not obey the Gospel, he reveals the fact that he knows about God but is not walking with God and God’s character is not rubbing off on him. You may know facts about your spiritual leaders but, if you are not walking with them in order to learn from them, again, you are not esteeming them highly nor are you appreciating them as you are commanded to do.
II. They are training your soul
The spiritual leaders have a responsibility to God and because of that responsibility to God, they are to take their position and authority very seriously. They know that one day they will have to give an account to God for the way they served in their position and authority.
7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:7, 17)
In the above passage, the spiritual leader’s responsibility is, as he spends time with you, he invests the Word of God in your life. Make sure that your spiritual leader is teaching you the Word of God and not his own ideas and thoughts about the Word of God. As a spiritual leader, make sure that you are investing the Word in the lives of others and not your own thoughts and ideas, or even worse, a theology that you picked up from someone else. Also, as you learn from your spiritual leader, you need to spend time with him so that you can see his conduct and faith in action. Again, if you are just seeing each other Sunday to Sunday, how do you know that he applies what he teaches you?
17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
18 For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (I Timothy 5:17-18)
Paul again places emphasis on the fact that the spiritual leader is to work hard teaching the Word of God to you and give you specific opportunities to apply what you learn. This is what he is to spend the majority of his time doing. This is what the spiritual leaders in the early church did. We have a much different pattern today than what they had then. Many spiritual leaders spend way too much time alone preparing one or two messages that they are going to explain to the crowds in a general sense a couple of times a week. Because of this pattern, they do not have time to sit with individuals and instruct them specifically from the Word of God. If we look in Acts, the apostles spent most of their time teaching, not just preparing to teach. I believe that if we will begin to esteem spiritual leaders highly and appreciate them as we are commanded to do, we will see a shift in this trend and begin to develop genuine relationships like the first disciples developed during their lifetimes.As a spiritual leader, are you really training people’s souls? Do you know them well enough to know if your teaching is having an impact? As a spiritual leader, I have to ask myself this constantly because our system is set up today to keep relationships general and not really know if I am training a person’s soul or not.
III. Examples of those who appreciated their spiritual leaders
Paul paints a picture for us of examples from his own ministry. He was training souls and he shows us the results by using his disciples as examples. In Philippians 2, we learn of two of Paul’s disciples who appreciated him and esteemed him highly.
Timothy is also a servant as is Paul. Timothy was mentored by Paul. Timothy is obedient to his teacher, Paul, both in his presence and also in his absence. Timothy is genuine in his walk with the Lord and in his service. He has proven his worth in the ministry. He has dedicated his life, at an early age to serve in the Gospel. When Paul needs him, he is ready to drop everything and do whatever Paul needs. Epaphroditus is another example that Paul uses. Epaphroditus has dedicated his life to serving, coming to the point of death in the ministry for the furtherance of the Gospel. When Paul needs him, he is ready to drop everything and do whatever Paul needs.
In II Timothy 1, we learn of Onesiphorus. This man was not ashamed of the Gospel or of Paul. When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, Onesiphorus put his own life on the line to search for Paul, find him, and to minister to his needs. Onesiphorus appreciated and highly esteemed his spiritual leader. The final example that I would like to consider is Stephanas. He is mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 16
15 Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints ),
16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
17 I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part.
18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
Paul is Stephanas’ spiritual leader and he highly esteemed Paul and appreciated him by serving his needs in the ministry. Would your spiritual leader be able to use you as an example of someone who appreciates and highly esteems him or her? What changes do you need to make in your own life based on what the Scriptures teach?
May the Lord help us appreciate our spiritual leaders and highly esteem them in our daily lives!