January 2010


Last Saturday I participated in and helped lead a GroupBoost Workshop geared towards strengthening and encouraging small group and Bible study leaders in a network of churches here in the south suburbs. We took the morning and sought to apply the four commands of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to group-life:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

As leaders of the workshop, our task was introducing and explaining the commands to the group at large as an aid to smaller round-table discussions, in which attendees hashed out specific applications of Paul’s words. It was a very enjoyable morning of interaction with those from other churches in the area who are also seeking to minister to those in our community.

I was responsible for introducing and briefly explaining the command to “help the weak” (which, for one reason or another, always reminds me of the B. B. King song, “Help the Poor”). You can find my thoughts and the questions we discussed below; I hope they are of some help to you.

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In the phrase “help the weak,” there are two key words to consider…, and one of them is not “the”. First of all, what does it mean to “help”? It carries the idea of support and upholding another person. In Bauer’s Greek Lexicon, he gives two definitions of this word, antecho, the first being “to have a strong attachment to someone or something; cling to, hold fast to, be devoted to.” It is used in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 where Jesus says that we cannot serve both God and money because we will be devoted to one (antecho) and despise the other. It is also used in Titus 1:9 in saying that elders must hold firm (antecho) to the truth of the word. Bauer’s second definition has the connotation of having a strong interest in someone. So it would seem that “help” here carries the idea of devotion and constant support. This is not a one time “love offering”, but it is ongoing aid to those who are weak.

So who are the “weak”? The word can be a reference to those who suffer from a debilitating illness or physical weakness, but also to those who are spiritually weak – weak in the faith. Their weakness is deep-seated and seemingly rooted in their character. They are easily overwhelmed, and, in the context of 1 Thessalonians, possibly rattled by the prospect of persecution or hardship. Paul talks to the Thessalonians about the day of the Lord, and the weak would be those who are anxious about what that day holds.

In small group ministry, the weak people are the ones who still have questions when everyone else is ready to move on. They are the ones that you need to personally invite to group each week so that they continue to come. They are the group members who are overwhelmed by situations that the rest of the group just takes in stride as part of everyday life.

The weakness Paul talks about may also be a reference to a weak conscience, such as those in 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 who had issues with meat offered to idols. In this case, supporting the weak may mean denying ourselves. It may mean not flaunting our liberty before those who may be affected in a negative way by it, because the weak are those who are is easily offended or shocked by the actions of a group member that everyone else is oblivious to.

You can see why Paul would say we need to cling to the weak, to hold fast to them, and to support them. Their weakness is not a one time thing, so our help to them cannot be either. We will need to be in their life for the long-haul. In addition, our help to them cannot be a task accomplished by one person – it takes more than a single individual to support a weak member in a group. They need a community of people around them, and unless we hold on to them and support them, they will crumble before us.

In my mind I picture a somewhat flimsy beach house – the kind that is up on posts for when the tide comes in further than normal. That house cannot be supported by one or two posts; it needs a small army of support, as do the weak. And, like the weak, the house never grows out of its need for those posts. Granted, the weak person may and should mature to some extent, but their weakness is also rooted in their constitution, so they will need consistent, ongoing support. Thinking about these things, it would seem that Paul had group-life in mind when he wrote this command, because the weak need a group to consistently support them.

Our temptation as group leaders or participants may be to be frustrated with the presence of the weak among us. However, having a weak person in the group allows a group to corporately show the love of Christ to a person in deep need. His or her weakness should not cause us to become discouraged or annoyed but should remind us of our own weakness and the fact that Jesus has helped us more than we could ever grasp. The weak person’s presence in our group is a divine opportunity to reveal God’s glory through our love for them.

In summary:

  • The help offered to the weak must be ongoing because their need is ongoing.
  • The help offered to the weak must be from multiple group members, both for the benefit of the weak and those helping.
  • The help offered to the weak may be expressed in self-denial or, if you will, “group-denial.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. We will consider the potential obstacles to having a weak group member, but what are some positives aspects of having a group member you might classify as weak?
  2. The weak can be frustrating to help and may not be readily received by all group members. How can you shepherd your group in the process of helping the weak, making it a positive overflow of God’s love and not an “unwanted” project”?
  3. Supporting the weak can become a group’s fulltime job. How do we support the weak without neglecting others in our groups or allowing them to monopolize each meeting?
  4. What might help you and your group stay committed to helping a weak group member over the long-haul?
  5. How we help the weak is often dependant on the individual, but do you have any general ideas about how to help the weak?

Some of the changes in life were imposed, and some were chosen – if by ‘chosen’ I may mean that I chose what I seemed already to have been chosen by, desire having obscured the alternatives. (From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, pg. 29)

As I was reading this wonderful novel about Jayber Crow, the fictional barber of the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, I was struck by this statement. As a student and pastor, I have done a lot of thinking and reading and musing and meditating about the issue of reconciling divine sovereignty and the human will. Haven’t we all? Questions pertaining to these seemingly contradictory truths arise constantly in small groups, youth groups, and countless other groups, and I often formulate answers that feel unsatisfactory, both to myself and others. Yet this simple statement penned by Wendell Berry made me wonder if it may be helpful to think of free will as Jayber does – as a perceived reality. He says that some changes in his life were imposed – forced upon him – while others he ‘chose,’ though his choice also seemed forced. That he in essence chose what was the only possible choice for him.

I don’t know if that’s what is meant by the statement, but the thought of an “imposed choice,” and that my will may only be a perceived reality is helpful to me. Even comforting. Probably because I find it to ring true with who God has revealed Himself to be in His word and who I have seen myself to be as I’ve looked into the mirror of Scripture.