Building on Strengths

“Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2).

Paul asks and even urges the Thessalonians to live their lives in a way that pleases God. Paul could have “ordered” them to do so (military style), but instead makes a gentle yet authoritative request. Domination was just not his style, even though as an apostle he could have commanded them (2:6-7). What was his style of leadership? Both reinforcement and encouragement were top priorities in urging his readers to become more like Jesus. Paul reinforces their positive behavior and encourages them to build on their strengths.

Throughout 1 Thessalonians Paul reinforces –

  • Their faithful work, loving labor, and hopeful endurance (1:1-2)
  • Their modeling the imitation of the Lord in the face of suffering (1:6-7)
  • Their reception of the gospel message (1:8-9)
  • Their turning from idols to God (1:10)
  • Their accepting the preaching as a word from God (2:13)
  • Their standing firm in the face of hostile countrymen (2:14-16)
  • Their loving steadfastly in spite of persecution (3:6-7)
  • Their loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia (4:9-10)
  • Their belonging to the light rather than the darkness (5:5)
  • Their encouraging one another and building up each other (5:11)

Are these people perfect? Far from it. Do they have problems? You bet they did and Paul was not afraid to correct them. But we must not overlook the reinforcing style Paul uses throughout this letter. His urging them to “do this more and more” (4:1, 10) is his way of encouraging them to build on their strengths. They were doing some things right and they needed to understand that and continue building on those strengths.

Paul’s reinforcing style is seen as even more remarkable when he is able to use it in writing even the Corinthians who are well-known for their troubles. In spite of their problems Paul writes about his “complete confidence” in them (2 Corinthians 7:4, 16), his boasting to Titus about them (2 Corinthians 7:14), and his boasting about their eagerness to give to poverty-stricken saints (2 Corinthians 9:2).

While there may be times church leaders refuse to address the faults of their congregation, perhaps as often they fail to see the good things happening in their midst. When we fail to address inadequacies the congregation’s growth will be weakened by the ignored sin. When we neglect to see any positives the church’s growth will be stunted by missed opportunities to build on strengths. Paul looked for the good and built on the strengths – not a bad leadership model!

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