A Commendation of Love

March 12, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

Growing up, my dad and my mom did an amazing job of getting my brother and me to school every day. This was over 20 years ago when kids were allowed to go to school sick. Going to school with a cough or a runny nose was almost a badge of honor, a sign that you were dedicated.

For the great majority of my schooling years, my brother and I had almost perfect attendance, and that included our senior year of high school. He and I had a perfect attendance record that year until the day we crossed the line in a fight at home.

As we were growing up, fighting at home was almost an everyday occurrence. I think my parents figured that since we’re identical twins, none of us had any kind of advantage over the other. Normally, we didn’t punch or kick, but we would wrestle all the time, even if there wasn’t a good reason. Eventually, I think my mom gave up trying to stop us. So, as long as we weren’t being too loud, and as long as nobody was crying, and as long as nothing in the house broke, we fought.

One the one hand, there was some slight psychological damage from pranks intended to annoy or humiliate the other, within reason. On the other hand, there was also the physical damage we inflicted. As we got older, we got stronger, and the potential for damage to the house and to our bodies increased.

My memories of our fights are a little jumbled, but I know that I went to the doctor once after taking a hit right in the middle of my spine. And I also have memories of one of us drawing blood with a stapler and with a hole puncher.

But one of the last physical fights I remember was the one during our senior year. I have absolutely no idea what started it, but it ended with my brother immediately taking his hands of me, slumping forward as he stood, and saying, “Something popped! Something popped!”

I figured it would heal soon just like everything else, but I think my brother knew this was different. The pain of what had happened forced him, for the first time, to miss a day of his senior year. He wasn’t able to stand up straight or to take a deep breath.

A doctor’s visit determined that I had cracked the bottom part of his sternum, which is known as the xiphoid process. It’s a little piece of bone sticking out that can be injured sometimes during CPR.

By God’s grace, it eventually healed, and life went on. I’m glad it hadn’t been something much worse.

Thankfully, the fights between us generally weren’t very serious, and deep down, I think we knew we loved and appreciated each other. But that didn’t mean my parents enjoyed us fighting, right?

Arguments, fighting, and strife between siblings is particularly painful for mom and dad. I think every parent with multiple kids of similar ages wonders why it is that they fight or argue so often. And the Bible indicates that God feels the same way.

At the end of Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul mentions degrading words, bitterness, and anger, and he connects those sins with grieving the Holy Spirit. In other words, God grieves at the hostility between brothers and sisters in the Lord, and so should we.

Just like there are fights between brothers and sisters in the home, there are also going to be arguments between brothers and sisters in a local church. Almost all of Paul’s letters address some kind of interpersonal problem in the church. It was sinful, but it was also very common.

Once in a while, however, just like you might find parents who say their kids don’t fight, we find a church that seems to have the same kind of reputation. That’s the kind of church the Thessalonians had.

A couple months ago, we paused our study of Paul’s initial letter to them, but now we are coming back to it. The church in Thessalonica was very dear to Paul’s heart, and one of its dominant characteristics was its love. That doesn't mean everything was perfect, but apparently there wasn’t a strife significant enough that it needed to be addressed.

Let me give you a quick review of this church. Go back with me to chapter 1. We’ll see how Paul describes this congregation. Look at First Thessalonians chapter 1, verses 2-4. First Thessalonians 1, verses 2-4. Paul writes—We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, [3] remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. [4] For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.

Paul was confident that the people’s salvation was genuine, and he gave thanks for them. Why? Because he remembered their labor of love. They worked hard to love. Just like they had been loved by God in Jesus, they loved one another. Their love for Christ and in Christ was so profound that verse 7 says they were an example to the other churches in Macedonia, which is the region where Thessalonica was in modern-day Greece.

This church’s love came from God; that’s the divine component. But there was also a human component, and that was the Apostle Paul. He had modeled God’s love and affection for them.

Jump down to chapter 2, and notice what Paul says in verse 8. Chapter 2, verse 8. He says—So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

The rest of the chapter explains how Paul ministered to them with the gentle affection of a nursing mother. And he worked hard and exhorted them like a father with his own children. For Paul, Thessalonica wasn’t just some stop on a mission trip. It had people that Paul loved, and he gave his life for them. He shared the gospel, and he shared his own life.

That’s why it hurt Paul so much to have to leave them. He was forced to do it, otherwise he might have been killed. You can read about that in Acts 17. Paul didn’t want to go, but he was compelled to do so, even possibly by the church. They had to send him away for his own protection.

But soon after Paul left them, he sent Timothy back for an update. And when Timothy reunited with Paul, what did he report? Look at chapter 3, verse 6. Chapter 3, verse 6—But now...Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you.

The church had not lost its love and affection for Paul and for one another. And Paul gave thanks again because of that. It brought him great joy and comfort. At the end of chapter 3, as Paul remembers the church’s love, he prays that they would continue in the love of God. Look at verses 11-13 with me, and this will wrap up our review of the Thessalonian church. First Thessalonians 3:11-13. This was Paul’s prayer.

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, [12] and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, [13] so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Paul knew this was a loving church, and he wanted that love to keep growing and growing. That’s the heart behind our passage today as we come to chapter 4, verses 9 and 10.

Paul has just finished a section addressing the vital topic of sexual purity. Apparently, this was an especially pertinent topic for the church, and so Paul give them a strong reminder about God’s design for their lives here.

But now Paul switches to the topic of love. And though it’s significant as well, it’s not an area that this church seems to be struggling with. Look at verse 9 with me again. Paul says—Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you.

That phrase “brotherly love” translates just one word in the Greek—philadelphía. Philadelphía is a combination of two smaller Greek words—philos, which refers to love or affection or friendliness, and adelphós, which refers to a brother. So, you put those words together, and the idea is brotherly love or brotherly affection.

The more well-know Greek word for love is agápe, which is the word Paul uses at the end of verse 9. Agápe focuses more on self-sacrifice for the service of others. Philadelphía is a synonym, but its emphasis is a little more on the feelings of love, the affection. We know that love must have actions; it can’t just be a feeling. But we don’t want to swing so far away from feelings that they no longer exist. That’s not biblical love either. We don’t want cold love. We want tender affection.

In Romans 12:10, which Richard spoke of last week, Christians are commanded to show brotherly affection. Hebrews gives us the same commandment, and so does First Peter in chapters 1 and 3. Within the church, within the body of Christ, we are commanded to have brotherly love for one another.

The word itself includes an important reminder, which is that in Christ we are family. Those who have surrendered their lives to Christ, those who have been born again by His Spirit, are adopted as sons and daughters of the eternal God. And that produces love.

Before Paul gives any commands about love to the Thessalonian church, he simply praises them for the love that is evident among them. He commends them—You have no need for anyone to write to you.

Now, even though he says they don’t need something to be written to them, Paul writes something anyway. And that’s because he doesn’t want to do the bare minimum for the church. He wants to edify them and encourage them.

In looking at Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonians church, we have three helpful reminders about love. These are foundational principles to the Christian life, but we all need to be reminded now and then.

The first truth we see is this: Love is part of God’s eternal nature. Love is part of God’s eternal nature. We see that in Paul’s very next line.

Why is this such a loving church? Paul says it’s because you yourselves have been taught by God. In saying that, Paul uses a word that is not taught anywhere else in the New Testament. He says they are theodídaktoi. The first part of that word is theós, which means God, and the second part is didasko, which means to teach. It’s where we get the word didactic, which means that something is intended to teach.

When someone comes to Christ, they receive God’s Holy Spirit. And then, from that day forward, the Spirit of God is working in them teaching them, training them.

Paul isn’t talking about a one-time teaching. He’s talking a present and ongoing reality. Those who belong to God are taught of God. They are disciples of Christ. A disciple is a student, a learner.

If God’s spiritual DNA has entered into your life, and if God, by the spirit of Christ is educating and training you, what’s going to be the result? It’s going to be love.

John 3:16 reminds us that God loved the world by sending His one and only Son to die for sinners so that whoever believes in Him would not face judgment but have eternal life. The dominant characteristic in that is love. That’s what the Pharisees had forgotten.

First John 4 says God is love. Jesus said God’s greatest commandment is to love Him.

God is a God of love. Love is not an appendix to His being; it’s part of His eternal, divine nature, and it gets passed on to His children in the new birth.

That’s why First John repeatedly says that if there’s love in our hearts and for our brothers, we belong to God. That’s the evidence. But if you love the world, or if you don’t love your brother, you don’t really belong to God; you don’t truly know God.

Even before God created mankind or the angels or the universe, God was a God of love because He eternally exists as Trinity, three persons in one Essence. You don’t have to unpack the mystery of that to understand that God is perfect love within His own essence. That’s a distinct mark of the New Testament trinitarian view.

If someone believes Jesus was a created being or that God is not three Persons in one Essence, that individual cannot really believe that love is part of God’s eternal nature, because then there would have been a time when God’s love was only possible or theoretical. It wasn’t active.

But in John 17:24, Jesus says to the Father—You loved me before the foundation of the world. Love is part of God’s eternal nature. Therefore, those who truly belong to God, those who are being taught by God Himself, will be characterized by love.

The second truth we see in Paul’s exhortation is this: Love is part of God’s final purpose. It’s part of God’s eternal nature, and it’s part of His final purpose.

At the end of verse 9, when Paul says that the church is being taught by God to love one another, he’s not focusing on the content of God’s instruction. He’s not saying, “God says we need to love one another.” It might sound like that in English, and it’s a true statement, but the Greek makes it clear that Paul is talking about God’s purpose. The people are being taught in order that they would love one another. Love is God’s objective; it’s His goal, His desire.

In our sanctification, our spiritual growth, the goal is love. Galatians 5 and James 2 say that love is the summation of God’s law. Jesus said the second greatest command was to love our neighbor. It’s the summation of our spiritual growth. To grow as a Christian is to grow in love. All the other attributes—like joy and peace and patience—are expressions of love.

Love is the object of the Christian life—not the superficial sin-affirming love of the world, but the God-glorifying, righteousness-exalting, self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ. It’s the same love shown by Christ when He gave up His life to rescue rebels. That’s what God is after in our lives. He’s after love right now and love for all eternity.

Love is the driving force of our spiritual growth which leads to our glorification, our perfect holiness before the Father. That’s what Paul said in his prayer at the end of chapter 3. The church increases and abounds in love, so that their hearts would be established blameless in holiness before God when Christ comes.

Just like love was present in God before creation, love will be present for all eternity between God and all His people. Love is God’s final purpose.

The third and final reminder we get in Paul’s commendation comes at the beginning of verse 10. Speaking of the church’s love, Paul says this—for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.

Here's the final reminder: Love is part of God’s crucial method. Love is part of God’s crucial method.

Do you remember that back in chapter 1, Paul said that the Thessalonian church had become an example to all the churches in Macedonia? How did that happen? What gave this church such an impact in their region? It was their faith; it was their hope; and it was their love. That’s what Paul is saying.

The church had an amazing reputation because of its love. That’s not a coincidence, that was by design. That’s how God works.

Today, churches want to be famous or impactful because of their music, or because of their building, or because of their amazing programs for kids. But we need to make sure that none of that ever overshadows God's desire and design that we be known for our love.

Jesus said, “The world will know you are  my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is God’s method for working in the world.

Most of you know what First Corinthians 13 says. Paul says, “I can have all the greatest gifts and abilities and knowledge and faith, but if I don’t have love, I’m useless. I’m nothing.” Don’t forget that. Love is crucial. We cannot be effective for God’s purposes if we do not have love. That’s why 1 Corinthians 16:14 says: Let all that you do be done in love.

Love is part of God’s eternal nature. Love is part of God’s final purpose. And love is part of God’s crucial method. In thinking about these three important truths, I’d like you to turn with me to the final verses of John 17. I mentioned the passage to you earlier. This is Jesus on the night before He died praying to the Father on behalf of His current and future disciples. John 17, verse 20. These are the final recorded words of the prayer. John 17:20.

You’re going to hear all three principles here. Love is part of who God is. It’s part of what God wants for us, and it’s how God works. Jon 17:20.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [22] The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, [23] I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. [24] Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. [25] O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. [26] I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

In being reminded of these principles, as we wrap up our time today, I want to step back for a moment from the theology and remember what Paul is doing in this passage. He’s praising the church. He’s commending them because they are wonderfully showcasing the heart of God.

And in remembering that, I want to, as your pastor, encourage and commend you for all the wonderful examples of love I see and hear about.

I know there are relational problems and difficulties. I know our church isn’t perfect. I know how easy it is to focus on what’s deficient or frustrating. But we do not want to forget the positive examples of God’s grace in our live.

Paul’s heart is to commend, so let me commend you as well. You are a loving church, showcasing the loving heart of God on Sunday mornings and throughout the week, toward each other and toward those who do not know Christ.

In the grace of God, you are worshiping together, eating together, praying together, serving together, meeting together, crying together, and laughing together. That pleases God, and it’s a tremendous joy to be a part of it and to be an unworthy recipient of your love.

God is using us. Even if we can’t see it or we don’t feel it, God is working, and He is bringing us together and using us for the glory of Jesus Christ. Let’s keep moving forward as the body of Christ.

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