I Thessalonians 4:9-12
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I remember how important it was to me, when I was younger, to get Valentine’s cards so that I knew who liked me. Later, when I was a teenager, I was always hoping that some special girl would give me a card to indicate that she liked me. More than just on Valentine’s day, we want to know - “who likes me?”
Of course, Valentines day also gives us an opportunity to express our love to those we care about.
There is a sense in which Valentine’s day is a good day for Christians. For most people, the day focuses on romantic love, but if we think about love, we are reminded that God has communicated His love to us. We have the privilege of knowing that we are loved by God, which is a really important thing to know.
Having experienced the love of God, He then asks us to declare, “who do you love?” and invites us to express that love.
In our study of I Thessalonians, love has been one of the themes of the letter. In 3:10, Paul has expressed his desire to be able to “supply what is lacking in your faith.” In his wish prayer, in 3:12, he expresses that one of the things they need to increase is their love. He prays, “may the Lord make your love increase.” In 4:9-12 he expands on this theme and encourages them to love one another. It seems that today is an appropriate day to think about our love for one another.
Paul begins by saying, “now about love…” Although he begins this section by talking about brotherly love, he goes on to talk about agape love. Brotherly love is the love between family members. It is a love that is felt, but then, as he goes on, he also talks about a love that is chosen, which is agape love. What about this love? How is it to be lived in the life of a Christian?
Love is basic to the life of a Christian. One of the things which Paul says is that he doesn’t really need to teach them about love because they are taught of God. This truth is based on the new reality which comes with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In Jeremiah 31:34 we read the promise that God made about what would happen in the future. He says, “No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. In John 6:45, Jesus repeats this promise, “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’” This promise came true after Jesus lived on earth, died on the cross, rose from the grave and then sent His Holy Spirit to indwell each believer. One of the areas in which we are God taught, not self taught, is in the area of love. This is so, as explained in Galatians 5:22 which tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love…” I John 4 also clearly indicates that we learn to love because we are believers. I John 4:7 says, “…Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…”
Love is foundational to being a Christian. We learn love from God because God loves us.
And so, these Thessalonians had in deed learned to love. In 4:10 we discover that they were doing so when it says “and in fact, you do.” Actually, Paul has already indicated much about how they had become a loving community in Christ. In 1:3 & 3:6 he has already talked about the love that was present in this church. Now he again indicates that they are a loving community. He indicates that they are not stingy about their love. In verse 10 he says “you love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” How did they show love to the Macedonians? Thessalonica was a city which saw a lot of people traveling through. Perhaps they showed love by being hospitable with Christians who came from other areas to and through Thessalonica. Whatever they did, their love was evident.
However, even though they had learned to love from God and expressed love, Paul still encourages them to do so more and more. We can always learn more about how to love one another.
So we see that the reason to love is because we are taught by God to do so. It is a natural result of being a Christian. One reason to love more and more is so that outsiders will see God in us. In verse 12 he says, “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” This phrase responds to all that is said in this section and is an important reason why we should also learn to love more and more.
We, as Christians, are always being observed by people outside the church. They watch how we act. They see our values. They see how we respond. Sometimes Christians are criticized because of their values. At times in the history of the Christian church, people have been persecuted for saying that Jesus is the only way of salvation. That is, as Paul calls it in I Corinthians, the offence of the cross. Sometimes, however, Christians are criticized because of their conduct. They act in a way that is not appropriate to a follower of Jesus. When that happens, we bring offence to the name of Jesus, which ought not to be. The most important thing, which is repeated often in Scripture is that love ought to be the mark which identifies us as followers of Jesus. People ought to see the love in us and know that we love because we have been changed by Jesus. Jesus himself said in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
So…what does loving because we are Christians and so others will know we are Christians mean in practical terms? Where is it that this love is to be exercised?
The text begins with the concept of brotherly love and is directed particularly at those who are brothers and sisters in the church. The Greek word is “Philadelphia” which has to do with the love of those who are brothers and sisters in the church. We are brothers & sisters because Jesus calls us brothers and sisters as it says in Hebrews 2:11, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Because we are brothers and sisters, we must care for one another in the church. It is an outworking of Christ’s love which it is natural to find among Christians, but must be increased and deepened.
The Bible Encyclopedia says, “According to Jesus, brotherly love is the badge of true discipleship and has the potential to reflect His love for the world even to those who have not known Him or seen Him…The manifestation of this Christian virtue amazed pagan society, as Tertullian testifies: “See how they love one another … how they are ready even to die for one another” ( Apol . 39).
There are two areas of brotherly love in the church that I would like to talk about just a bit. One is the love that needs to be expressed when we don’t agree with one another. It is impossible to think that we will all agree on all issues with one another. How does love behave when we don’t agree with someone else? What love does not do is hate the other person or avoid the other person or mock or gossip. What love does do is be honest in your own feelings thoughts and ideas, but make sure that you still support and encourage and care about the person who sees things differently. If we all agreed on everything, what need would there be to say, “love one another?” It is in the times when our feelings are challenged that the choice of brotherly love must be made.
The other time when love must be particularly chosen is when we are wronged by someone. At such times, forgiveness must be the loving choice. Someone told me a story a while ago about how they had been hurt by someone. They shared how they had come to terms with that hurt by choosing forgiveness. They chose forgiveness even though the other person never confessed their wrongdoing. Forgiveness means choosing not to hold the wrong done against the other person. It means bearing the cost of the hurt without it being made right. That is what God did for us and what we need to do for others. If not, we have not learned brotherly love.
So in this church, the love we have for one another must be very evident and as Paul says of the Thessalonians, I would say about this church. You do love each other, do so more and more.
Another aspect of love is the love we have in the community at large, for those outside the church. One way of looking at these verses is to say that practicing love towards those who are outside the church means doing the things mentioned in verse 11 - “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands.”
Why did Paul write this? Some suggest that perhaps some of these Thessalonians had quit their jobs in anticipation of the soon return of Christ. Because they were not working, they soon became dependent on others. With time on their hands, they began to meddle in other’s affairs.
Whatever the background is, the teaching is relevant to us. How can we show love to those who do not know Christ. We do so by living in a gracious way and being known as those who love. That includes not being loud and obnoxious. We ought to be quiet, that is, those who are seeking peace in the community. We ought to be independent enough that if we are able, we look after our own needs. We also ought to mind our own business. Fundamentally, we need to find ways of living in a way that will be respected by those who don’t know Christ, so that they can see Christ in us.
Last week, Bryan encouraged us to defend marriage. Being Valentine’s weekend and having been encouraged to lift up marriage, it seems appropriate to talk about love in our marriages today as well. Hebrews 13:1, 4 makes this connection when it says in verse 1, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” And then goes on in verse 4 to say “Marriage should be honored by all...” Once again, the value of this is that if those who do not know Christ, see us love one another in the marriage relationship, they will see Christ at work.
There are 7 basic words about marriage in Scripture. As we live each of these in our marriage relationship, we will love more and more. Because we often hear these truths from a male perspective, Carla and I will talk about these things together. I hope that it encourages you to grow the love in your marriage.
Carla: read verse 18
George: One of the times when I really enjoyed this togetherness was before Christmas. We had both been very busy with different pursuits. One evening after running from one appointment to another in the city, we went to the Spaghetti Factory and had a relaxed dinner. It was great just to be together and to have a good talk.
I appreciate the friendship we are able to have, but I know that this friendship is one that can’t be taken for granted. It needs to be nurtured. We need to invest in the relationship. Andre Maurois, once said, "A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day."
Carla will read vs. 24.
Carla: I enjoy contemporary worship music. George: and I enjoy classical music.
Carla: I enjoy running. George: and I would prefer to ride my bicycle.
Carla: I love football games. George: and I would rather go to a hockey game.
George: One preacher once said “Let there be some spaces in your togetherness.” Unity does not mean that you are together all the time and that you do everything together, but it does mean that your direction and hopes and values are one. Unity is illustrated in that when we get married, we are thought of as a unit.
Carla: How do you maintain that unity?…
Carla: read vs. 6b.
George: “A young mother woke up one morning, looked at her sleeping husband, and realized with a sinking heart, "I just don't love him any more."
Carla: "What would it take to make you leave this marriage?" the minister asked the bright-eyed pair who had come for premarital counselling. The groom-to-be replied without hesitation, "If I found someone I liked better."
George: “The empty-nesters were eating yet another dinner in uncompanionable silence. "All of my friends have left their husbands," she was thinking. "Why don't I have the nerve to leave?"
George: “Sooner or later, most married persons reach a line marking the watershed between romance and love. But few are told to expect it, and they are devastated when it comes. Some try to recapture the sensation of being in love, either with their spouse, or with a new lover. Others resign themselves to a loveless marriage. But those who cross the line discover a new understanding of love.
“The romance is gone. The thought of him, the touch of him, no longer thrills. The line has been reached. The choice now is not if I love him, but whether I will love him. Because crossing the line means taking control and responsibility for what used to seem uncontrollable and serendipitous. Romance happens; love doesn't.”
Permanence in marriage comes when we make the choice to love.
George: As the song goes, “love will keep us together” but the relationship is a blessing if there is faithfulness.
Carla reads vs. 4a
George: Faithfulness must be chosen not only in our bodies, but first and foremost in our minds. Jesus has taught us that if we allow our minds to wander and if our heart begins to be attached to other possibilities, we have already crossed the line and broken the vows of faithfulness within. Therefore, the battle for faithfulness must be won in our hearts and minds first of all.
Carla: reads vs. 22
George: read vs. 25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
This text tells us that the husband is the head of the wife, but what does that headship mean? If we understand the text, we soon discover that it does not mean that we are the boss in the home or that we have final authority. If we read the text carefully we take note that we are to exercise that headship as Christ did. We discover that just as Christ was the first one to lay down his rights when he came to this earth, we also ought to be the head in the sense that we be the first ones to lay down our rights. If we look at the life of Christ, we learn that Christ exercised his headship by being the first one to lay down his power when he hung on the cross. Therefore, we also ought to be the first ones to lay down our power in the home. Just as Christ laid down his rights and his power in order to give himself for the church to redeem the church, we also need to do the same for the purpose of doing what is best not for us, but for our wives. How often and how deeply we have misunderstood headship. We need to learn it and understand it as we look how Christ exercised it.
Carla: read vs. 7a
George: Gary Smalley’s makes an illustration that I find most helpful. He brings a broken down violin out to the audience and shows it to them. No one is impressed, until he tells them that it is a Stradivarius and is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. All of a sudden mouths drop open and people are impressed. He goes on to say that we need to look at each other with the same attitude. We need to be impressed with the value of our spouse. If we choose to look at one another like that, we will honor one another.
Carla: conclusion of this section.
You are doing so.
Do so more.
It is fundamental to our life as Christians and to our witness for Christ.
Bromiley, G. W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001, c1979-1988. Vol. 1, Page 551.