A man recently wrote in saying that he had a run-in with the lady at his church who takes the initiative to arrange “pastors' appreciation”. He expressed opposition to her (and rightly so), but because she quoted Scriptures that seemed to support her view, he said that he did not know how to answer and was at a loss for words. He said that this woman used three Scriptures: 1Thess 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:17 and 1Cor 9:14 (two of which were quoted from questionable Bible “translations”), to try to justify her view.
[Note: “pastors' appreciation” refers to the all-too-common ritual in the modern church where a special (and often large) offering is taken for the Senior Pastor and sometimes includes associate pastors as well who generally only receive a much lesser portion of the proceeds divided among them. Depending on the church, this event may take the form of just an offering or may also include one or more of the following: a full blown special “service”, gifts (from cakes to cars), awards, special guests, entertainment and/or emotional pleas and “testimonies” to loosen wallets and open pocketbooks. Regardless of the form, this often manipulative and exploitative event is probably most commonly referred to as “Pastor Appreciation Day”.]
Here is my response (edited and expanded for publication):
Hi (name withheld for privacy),
First of all both the Message and NLT are not just loosely translated Bible versions, they are even worse, they are paraphrases. The Message is especially problematic. It is not a Bible translation at all. It is one man's (Eugene Peterson's) very skewed commentary put to chapter and verse and passed off as a real Bible. False pastors and their minions love this version because it vividly supports various false doctrines.
Secondly, even if we were to accept the loosely translated idea of "overwhelm them [the pastors] with appreciation" from 1Thess 5:12-13 in The Message “Bible”, isn't it interesting how the modern church almost always interprets this passage (even from a good Bible translation) as having something to do with money and material things? There are many ways to show appreciation that have nothing to do with money. Have churches become so materialistic that they think the only way to truly show appreciation is by giving money or other valuable gifts? The best way that someone can show appreciation to a genuine pastor is to believe and obey the Scriptures that such a man points to.
The Proper Rendering of 1Thess 5:12-13
12And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
So are we to somehow believe that “esteem highly” means to lavish money and gifts on these men or to “overwhelm them with appreciation” as The Message “Bible” claims? The underlying Greek does not support these ideas in any way. In fact not a single one of the English equivalents for the Greek word esteem (hegeomai) has anything to do with money or even physical property or the transfer of such.
Strongs defines hegeomai as: “middle voice of a (presumed) strengthened form of agw - ago 71; to lead, i.e. command (with official authority); figuratively, to deem, i.e. consider:--account, (be) chief, count, esteem, governor, judge, have the rule over, suppose, think.”
Hegeomai in the context of this verse refers solely to “esteem” which is a state of mind of respect. And, while I suppose you could stretch the concept of respect to include some amount of appreciation, nevertheless the idea of “overwhelm” is simply not there, let alone with any connection to money.
Not surprisingly, the very first command of this verse is the most neglected: “to know them which labor among you”. The word “know” here in the Greek basically means to be sure and aware of. Most Christians jump right over this part and don't have a clue who these men really are and what they are really up to. They don't really know them at all. They just believe the positive pulpit persona that these men cleverly portray.
You rarely if ever hear a pastor today focus on the “know them” part of this verse. Instead they push the ideas of “over you” and “esteem”. They don't encourage the flock to search the Scriptures daily (see Acts 17:11) in order to keep an eye on them and watch their teachings and lifestyle. No, these men don't want to be watched or held accountable, but they love to wrest this verse out of context to make it seem as if to support them having power and celebrity.
When we look at this whole passage in context, we see that these men (real pastors / elders - not counterfeits) are “over” their flock in the Lord only from the perspective of admonishing and warning them to obey God's written Word.
12And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. 1Thess 5:12-13 [Emphasis added]
This has nothing to do with controlling the flock or introducing their own standards and rules. This was the error of the Pharisees who Jesus strongly rebuked for commanding obedience to their own man made traditions and teachings rather than encouraging obedience to the Scriptures:
6He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things you do. 9And he said unto them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition...13Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which you have delivered: and many such like things you do. Mark 7:6-9,13
The Pharisees made the Word of God of none effect (ineffective) in their own lives and in the lives of those who they taught to obey their error. Similarly, I would say that there is probably about a 99.5% chance that the so-called “pastor” that the women in question wishes to honor behaves similarly in many ways. There is probably little chance that such a man is a true “admonisher” himself (meaning one who strongly encourages obedience to God's written Word), but instead is likely an ungodly controller. Churches are infested with these men. And most such churches lavish money on these false “pastors” while they reject any true admonishing pastors, genuine watchman who actually encourage obedience to the Bible as accurately taught. Of course we know that many of these men admonish obedience to their own skewed doctrines, and for those who are not paying careful attention, this can easily appear to be encouragement to follow the Bible when in fact that is not the case. These are the kind of shenanigans that make men like this appear to be staunch supporters, defenders and advocates of the Bible when in fact they really are not. It's all lip service. They are avid supporters of their own traditions and agendas in the name of upholding the Bible and Christianity.
As a quick side note, I would also go so far as to say that the average counterfeit pastor seems to have quite a “nose” to sniff out real pastors or potential pastors to make sure that these men never gain too much respect in the church. Good men are often marginalized and discredited so as to fend off any potential competition for the throne, not that a good pastor would even seek or accept any kind of throne.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this passage (and passages like this) only refer to genuine pastors. A counterfeit pastor is not qualified or allowed to apply verses like this to himself, nor are Christians allowed to apply these verses to such men. Yet it is incredibly commonplace today to see passages that have nothing whatsoever to do with false pastors and false churches being continuously twisted to appear as if to support such people and their views.
Don't ask me why, but naive people in general not only love to be controlled, but they also love to bestow honors upon the ungodly men who control them. It is clear that those who seek to be controlled by men do not trust God to lead them. Beyond that, maybe the reason they honor these men is because they are afraid of them and are trying to gain their favor. Maybe they are impressed by illegitimate power and secretly wish that they had it themselves. Maybe both, maybe there are other reasons. Who knows. It's not so much the “why” that is important. The fact that this is going on is the far greater issue.
The woman in question also misquoted Heb 13:17 as part of her argument, which clearly shows that she upholds the idea of churchmen having power that they do not really have. Of course this has nothing to do with “appreciation” or monetary gifts, but since she quoted this verse, let's take a look...
The Real Meaning of Heb 13:17
The popular rendering of Heb 13:17 is incorrectly considered by many to be a rule of control rather than simply an authority to admonish obedience to the Bible, which is the proper view according to what the written Word teaches in full context. Of course every Christians has the authority to admonish and warn other Christians. The difference is a genuine pastor also has the additional authority and responsibility to watch over (not rule over) a specific group of Christians (that God has charged him with), which this same verse shows by saying that such a man “must give account”.
Sadly, when most Christians see the word “over” in certain Bible verses, they automatically assume that God has authorized pastors to be in control over them (from a worldly power perspective) and so they submit virtually every aspect of their lives to the whims of very dangerous men, men who do not disagree with this view or denounce it. No, they uphold and embody it. They do not set the captives free. They tighten their already heavy shackles. Many lives have been ruined, marriages destroyed, families split apart and potentially good personal ministries derailed all because of the egregious misuse of this one verse.
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Heb 13:17
Interestingly, the same word hegeomai which was translated “esteem” or respect as mentioned above in our discussion of 1Thess 5:12-13, has been translated here as “rule”. This may seem odd but depending on where and how used (i.e. the context), this same word can mean esteem (respect), judge, rule, etc. but never control in the situations and contexts that we are looking at. This shows us that the context of the verse determines which of the various potential English equivalents of such a multiple-meaning word is actually the correct one. And of course we know that “esteem” would make no sense here.
As mentioned above, Strongs defines hegeomai as: “middle voice of a (presumed) strengthened form of agw - ago 71; to lead, i.e. command (with official authority); figuratively, to deem, i.e. consider:--account, (be) chief, count, esteem, governor, judge, have the rule over, suppose, think.”
Now filling in the blanks, let's translate this verse a little better through expansion including the context of what the whole Bible teaches on the same subject:
Obey [the accurate teachings of] them that have the rule over you [to lead you to the Scriptures], and submit yourselves [obey God's Word]: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Heb 13:17 [Expanded, Emphasis added]
Now if a pastor really were to have some kind of “rule over you” per se, we would have to ask just what are the limitations or parameters of that rule? Simple. A pastor is supposed to watch and warn and encourage the flock to follow God's written Word. Period. That's it in a nutshell. That is their so-called “rule”, which of course is no rule at all as far as this word is used in our culture. In other words, such men have no rule of control whatsoever where they are allowed to crack out commands, dictate policies and give orders as if they are some kind of emperor. Yet sadly, this is exactly how many of these men behave and they do so thinking that the Bible supports their behavior when in fact it does not. The Bible teaches the exact opposite and these men are relying on misquoted and misapplied Scriptures to justify their actions.
When men move over into the realm of a rule of control, and fail to simply admonish obedience to the Scriptures, they are no longer upholding God's authority. They are in fact ruling by their own authority (authority which they do not have to begin with). And as it was in Israel, it is the same today. We have priests who rule by their own authority and sadly the people love it that way!
The prophets prophesy lies, and the priests rule by their own authority; and my people love to have it so: and what will you do in the end? Jer 5:31
Yes that is really the question: what will you do in the end? Listen to these men or listen to God? Throw a Pastor Appreciation Day or throw the bum out?
For more information on the widely accepted yet flawed interpretation (and often poor translations) of Heb 13:17, please see my article - Solving The Hebrews 13:17 Dilemma:
Note: The woman also quoted 1Cor9:14 out of context, but with space not permitting here, I plan to address this in my next article, “Has God Really Commanded That Pastors Be Paid?”