Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14–15—NKJV)

Biblical church membership is more like being grafted into a tree than simply being a member entitled to have a part and a say in the goings on of a corporation. It is easy to lose focus of the primary duties of membership in a local body of Christ and only emphasize organizational activity. This kind of imbalance leads church outsiders to accuse us of being “a poor man’s social club” instead of being a dynamic agent of mutual spiritual transformation and maturation.

Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonian church emphasizes the duties of church membership. The context, as always, is important. The verse preceding our passage details the duties of church members toward church officers. In the verses following our passage, Paul presses upon them their duty toward personal spiritual exercises. Couched in between these two areas are verses 14 and 15 outlining the believer’s dutiful obligation to other believers within the body of Christ.

There are four duties outlined in verse 14. The duties in any other context would appear to be meddlesome; after all that is how the unregenerate world regularly evaluates expressions of Christian conscience. However, in the context of a local church humbly pursuing the Great Commission of being disciple-makers, there is beauty in the members of the organism seeking their own spiritual health and the spiritual health of one another.

The first duty is to warn those who are unruly. The duty to warn is characterized by admonishment and “to put into the mind warning.” Some have great need to know where their conduct is wrong (2 Timothy 2:19). Those who are to be warned are those who are “unruly” by not keeping order—a military term signifying marching out of order or quitting ranks (2 Thessalonians 3:6). There is a duty of local church membership to reason earnestly with someone against something they have done or intend to do when it runs counter to the Word of God.

The second duty is that of comforting the fainthearted. The Greek word for comfort means “to speak closely,” denoting a consoling communication with a great degree of tenderness, to soothe and yet to build up. Faintheartedness is literally “small-souled” or despondent (Isaiah 57:15, Proverbs 18:14). Be on the lookout for those who need a confidentially encouraging word to keep on going for Christ. The third duty is that of upholding the weak. Weakness covers a wide gamut of symptoms from infirmity to spiritual inabilities including indecision, powerlessness and inabilities. The caring believer is to support by “holding oneself directly opposite to another” and hold to another in order to support them, endure together, and help. This is an investment of life for the sake of a brother or sister in the name of the Lord.

The fourth duty is that of patience. This particular kind of patience is the type that is long-suffering with people as opposed to things; this is the more difficult of the two graces. It is the kind of patience that is mild, slow in avenging, anger or frustration. Be not just a fair weather friend.

Paul concludes by exhorting to maintain an atmosphere of Christian love and fair play with one another, coupled with an active desire to defeat evil. Keep up the chase after good in all your relationships. Are you treating your church membership biblically as a holy calling to discipling of yourself and of others? Trust and obey.