Today Paul tells us:
12* But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13* and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
Who are these people that are over us in the Lord? Well we saw that Paul counted himself as one of them. At the beginning of the letter of the Thessalonians he said,
2:5 For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; 6 nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
But in today’s passage we know that Paul is not talking about himself b/c he we is writing back to the Thessalonians and he is telling them to respect “those who labor AMONG YOU and our over you in the Lord…” So it seems that when Paul left Thessalonica he left behind some people in charge. This is not surprising, as we learned in Acts 14 that this was his standard practice:
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them IN EVERY CHURCH, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.
Remember, the Letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest book we have of the New Testament, written in late A.D. 51. Thus, here we see that within 18 years of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus that Churches were being establish and that these Churches had HIERARCHY and leadership. We also see that it has DISCIPLINE, b/c those people that are over them in the Lord also can, “admonish”.
In fact, in Chapter 4, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they are subject to the decision of the Council of Jerusalem that occurred in A.D. 49 (and is described in Acts 15).
2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3* For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; 4 that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God…
So, with just a little knowledge of history and context we can see in the oldest book of Scripture of the New Testament a clear indication of the nascent Church with hierarchy, authority and discipline. We see evidence that Jesus founded an organized Church, not just a loose network of believers.