When I talk about or write about mutuality among the church, I tend to focus on a few passages, such as Ephesians 4:7-16 or 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. However, mutuality is much more pervasive in Scripture than these or other popular passages.
For example, there is an awesome passage in 1 Thessalonians that paints a beautiful picture of mutuality among the church while combining the work of mature believers (leaders) and the work of all believers as they help each other grow in Jesus Christ together.
Here is the passage:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14 ESV)
Now, before I get started, I need to say that there is one part of the translation above that I think is problematic. It’s the participle translated “[who] are over you.” Given the broader teachings in Scripture and the range of meanings of this verb, I think it’s much better translated as “[who] care for you.”
The passage begins with a general exhortation to “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and the praise that they (the Thessalonians) are already doing that. It’s important that this instruction about encouragement and edification follows the statement, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ESV) Thus, for those of us who are still “awake,” we encourage and build up one another to continue to “live with him.”
Next, Paul follows this general exhortation toward encouragement and edification with 1) a recognition that some are more mature and capable in their ability to encourage and edify and 2) an exhortation for all to do the work of encouragement and exhortation.
First, Paul says that we should highly respect those who are actually working hard among the church, who are caring for others, and how are teaching and admonishing each other. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) (By the way, notice how this passage is parallel to 1 Timothy 5:17, which may help us understand what Paul means by “double honor” in his letter to Timothy.) Paul has also offered himself and his apostolic co-workers as examples of what it means to “work hard” among the church and care for others. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-12) I do not think Paul is intending to point out certain offices, positions, or titles here. He could have easily said “elders” or “overseers.” Instead, he points to those who are actually doing the work among the church what all should be doing, whether they have been recognized (as elders) for that example or not.
Next, Paul does not stop at the work of these leaders. He continues to exhort all the brothers and sisters to encourage and edify one another using very similar language that he used when referring to the leaders previously. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Putting these last three verses together, we see that Paul expects all believers to encourage, admonish, help, and show patience (among other things), while offering respect to those who are actually doing these things consistently.
Again, this is not a very popular passage when it comes to mutuality. It’s not one of the passages that are often quoted to encourage the church toward one another’ing. But, it’s a very important passage because it shows how leaders and the whole church work together for the encouragement and edification of all.