Abounding in Love
March 19, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Thessalonians
Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:10
Last week, we looked at verse 9 and the beginning of verse 10 where Paul commends the Thessalonian church because of their love. He praises them because the love of Christ is evident among them.
We know that in a general sense God loves the world. That love is expressed through His patience and His willingness to reconcile. But there is a distinct kind of love God has for those who belong to Him and are in Jesus Christ. As Paul says at the end of Romans 8, nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That eternal love of God brought our justification, which is forgiveness from the penalty of sin, and it guarantees our final glorification, when we will be completely saved from the presence of sin in the body and in the world. In between those two realities, God’s love also produces our sanctification, the ongoing process of being freed from the power of sin in our daily life.
Romans 5:5 says God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. So, because of God’s love, and by His Holy Spirit, all of us who belong to Him are continually growing in the expression of our love. That love is not supposed to stop.
The season for avocados from my tree has stopped. We had a few months where the tree was bearing fruit, and we look forward to the next season. No one in my family is saying, “We had such a good season of avocados, I won’t mind at all if the tree never gives us more.” Nobody is thinking that. We want more. we expect more, because that’s the nature of a tree. It continues to grow and bear fruit.
The same is true with our Christian life. We are never supposed to look back on some evidence of God’s grace in our lives and say we’re done. We are always supposed to be growing and bearing fruit.
For that reason, even though the Thessalonian church was such an amazing example of love, Paul urges them to continue. The church needs to keep working to showcase the love and the holiness of Christ, especially in a culture that rejects them.
Look with me at the second half of verse 10. Paul commends the church for demonstrating God’s love among themselves and throughout their regions, and then he says this. Middle of verse 10—But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
Verses 11 and 12 continue the theme of church that stands out in the world, and Lord willing, we’ll talk about that next week. But for today, I simply want to draw our attention to the end of verse 10—we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.
The “this” there is clearly the love and affection Paul mentioned in verse 9. As brothers and sisters in the Lord, as those who have been adopted by their heavenly Father, Paul wants them to keep growing. As their spiritual father, he pleads with them to persevere in love.
The New American Standard uses the word “excel,” which I like. Another good translation would be “to abound.” He wants them to go way beyond the minimum, to surpass any expectation. He wants them to overflow with love continually. He prayed for this back in chapter 3, verse 12, but now He’s instructing them to do it.
This is an important theological note. On the one hand, we know that love is a product of God’s work in our lives. We should pray for it to increase. But that the same time, we need to work to make it happen. We need to exert ourselves.
Personally, what can you to abound in the love of Jesus Christ? Think about that for yourself—as a husband or a wife, as a brother or sister, as a member of this church, or as a neighbor to others. How can you grow personally?
If all of us are growing personally, then the church will grow collectively, right? Because the church is the people. Paul wasn’t calling the church to simply start some kind of love ministry; he was prodding everyone to grow in love.
So, even if you don’t attend the “Love Thy Neighbor” outreach on Saturday, you who are members of this church are expected to showcase God’s love. And if you do attend, you don’t get to sit back and say, “Well, I’ve done all my loving for today. I checked that off my box.” This command never expires. We need to be growing in love.
Now, in looking at this instruction, I want to draw one principle out of this passage, and then I am going to spend the rest of our time giving you some more tangible examples of love. So, this will be a little different from what we normally do, but I think it’ll be profitable for us.
Here is my one observation. In giving this instruction, Paul models for us a helpful principle concerning love in the church. And this is the principle: Christian love is a product of grace, not guilt. Christian love is a product of grace, not guilt.
Let me explain what I mean. The Apostle Paul was not afraid to expose error and to rebuke and correct. You can see that clearly in his letter to the Galatians and to the Corinthians. Those churches had clear problems that needed to be addressed, and Paul did so. But in urging the church to grow in love, he doesn’t approach the subject in the same way.
I’m sure Paul could have thought of ways for the church to grow in their love. But he doesn’t mention those things. He doesn’t rebuke the Thessalonians for what’s missing. He encourages them to keep growing.
Let’s say a junior higher comes home with an ‘A’ on his midterm algebra exam —a 95 percent. How would you expect his parents to respond? How do you think they should respond? Should they say, “What’s wrong with you?! How could you miss those five points?! What’s wrong with you?”
I’ll be honest, I would be tempted to say something like that. But I hope you know that’s not going to help. The kid got the highest letter grade possible. He should be commended and encouraged to continue.
That’s what happened with the Thessalonians. I don’t know what grade Paul would have given them for their love, but he knew it was commendable, even though there was room to grow. This is what I mean that love is produced by grace, not by guilt.
If you or I start looking around at the church as if we’re the love police, that’s not going to move us in the right direction. That might do a good job of making people feel guilty, but it isn’t going to grant the grace of God that helps us grow in love.
I came across a book this week where the author touched on people in the church who make things harder for everyone. He called them “well-intentioned dragons.” Well-intentioned dragons. He writes that “in most cases, though not always, they do not intend to be sinister; in fact, they’re usually quite friendly. But their charm and earnestness belie their power to destroy.
“Within the church, they are often sincere, well-meaning saints, but they leave ulcers, strained relationships, and hard feelings in their wake. They don’t consider themselves difficult people. They don’t sit up nights thinking of ways to be nasty, Often the are pillars of the community—talented, strong personalities, deservingly respected—but for some reason, they undermine the ministry of the church. In most cases, they are not naturally rebellious or pathological; the are loyal church members, convinced they’re serving God, but they wind up doing more harm than good.”
You don’t want to be that kind of person thinking you’re serving God but making things harder for the people around you. There will be clear and intentional sins that show a lack of love, and they should receive a gentle correction. But that’s not the same as pointing out to someone how to grow in love. I hope that distinction makes sense. To grow love in the church, we want grace more than we want guilt. Grace leads to love, and that’s what Paul models.
Well, that’s my one principle for you today. And now, as I said, I want to point us toward some practical expressions of love in our own lives. And to do that, I am simply going to refer us all once again to the seven areas of the Christian life which we mention in our membership covenant.
The Bible says that love is the summation of God’s commands. It’s the summation of the Christian life. And since our membership covenant is an attempt to summarize what the Christian life should look like, I think it’s good to use that as a grid to evaluate our own love and think about ways we can grow.
In the past, we’ve also preached about our membership covenant every once in a while, and since we just finished another membership class, I thought it would be good to review that now.
The first page of our membership covenant has 10 doctrinal declarations. The second page has 7 commitments, and that’s what I want to focus on in our remaining time. For a lot of you, this is going to be more of a review, but I hope it’s a good one, and that it helps prod us toward growing more and more in our love.
Number 1 is a commitment to corporate worship. Corporate worship. If you intend to follow Christ, then you will value gathering with His people to hear God’s word, worship in song, and encourage others. So, you love others in the church simply by showing up—by being here.
Are you more encouraged by coming to church when the room is almost empty, or when it’s more full? I think most of your members would say you prefer it when there are more people. It’s a reminder of our unity in Christ. It’s a joy to hear each other’s voices when we sing.
So, if you want to grow in your love, think about your meaningful participation in our corporate gathering. How often are you here? And when you’re here, how invested are you what’s going on? Are you greeting others, members and visitors? Are you asking about their life outside these walls? Are you helping others get here on time? Those are all ways to abound in love with regard to our corporate gathering.
When service is over, are you still investing in people’s lives? Does what you are hearing and thinking about here spill over into conversations outside these walls? A real practical consideration is what you do for lunch after church. That’s one tangible way to show love to others in connection to our corporate worship.
The second commitment of our membership covenant is holiness. Biblically, there is no such thing as a person who wants to honor and serve Christ, but isn’t committed to personal holiness. Your holiness is an expression of love to the church.
We see that expressed negatively in the Old Testament with a man named Achan. In Joshua chapter 5, before the people go fight against Jericho, the men all get circumcised because they had neglected that for the forty years in the desert. God wanted a people committed to and trusting in Him.
After the victory God gave them in Jericho, the people went to fight against Ai, which was not as strong as Jericho. But instead of experiencing victory once again, 36 Israelites died, and the army pf 3,00 men ran away. Why? Joshua 7 says it was because Achan stole some things from Jericho that should have been placed in God’s treasury.
Think about that. Because of one man’s sin, God’s people did not experience victory.
A New Testament parallel might be Ananias and Sapphira from Acts chapter 5. The church was growing, and people were loving one another in amazing ways.
People were probably expecting another wonderful worship service to sing and be taught, but instead they had a double funeral. The sin of one couple greatly affected the church.
On a more personal basis, Jesus and Paul both talked about how our sin can lead someone else into sin. Loving others means restraining my sin so I don’t lead others into temptation.
Abounding in love for others will also mean helping others in their struggles and including them in my own. We are stepping into one another’s lives and gently encouraging one another toward holiness. Love in the church means my life is going to be open to others and I will willingly step into someone else’s life to help and to bear their burdens. So, as you consider abounding love, think about it with regard to personal holiness.
The third category of our membership covenant is stewardship. The principle of stewardship is the recognition that everything I have—my time, my talents, my resources—were given to me for a reason.
Stewardship doesn’t mean I get to demand that someone else give me their stuff. Remember, Peter told Ananias that the field and the money were his to do what he wanted with them. But stewardship means that I recognize that I am responsible to use my things to serve others. And that’s something we can all grow in.
Serving in the church is a way to show love. You can serve in the nursery. You can serve with the kids or the youth. You can even think about teaching a class or serving with hospitality or security or with the ushers.
Instead of thinking, “Oh well, someone is already doing that,” you can think, “How can I support what’s happening? How can I contribute?”
When we talk about stewardship, we generally think about giving money, and that’s important too because it’s what makes it possible to do our ministry. But you also need to think about giving your time and your abilities. How can we abound in love to serve others and make more ministry possible?
So, we’ve got corporate worship, holiness, and stewardship. The fourth category is evangelism. Evangelism.
This is the love that extends into eternity. If someone hears the truth and responds to Christ in faith and repentance, they are spared from the wrath of God for all eternity, and will be reconciled to their heavenly Father forever. What could be a greater gift?
Intellectually, we know evangelism is an expression of love, but in practice it just doesn’t happen many times. We have the cure. We have the solution. And we have been sent as God’s ambassadors.
Paul quoted Isaiah when he said, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! It’s a beautiful thing to tell someone about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
A truly loving Christian will be a Christian who evangelizes. And a truly loving church will be a church that evangelizes. What can you do to grow in your love expressed through evangelism?
We can evangelize at home with our children. We can evangelize at work. We can open our homes and our lives up to our extended family and our neighbors. God has placed us where we are and in the relationships we have so that we would proclaim His truth. We can love others through evangelism.
Category number 5 is prayer. Prayer.
Does it convey love when you pray for others? Of course, it does. And can you and I get better at praying? Absolutely. One of the reasons we usually give out a members list at our members meetings is so that you can use that to pray for one another.
If you don’t have a face to go with a name, then come find out who they are. And even if that hasn’t happened, you can still pray for them. Praying well for someone means there’s an investment in that person’s life.
If you really don’t know what to pray about for someone, you can give them a call or send them a text. Just ask, “How can I pray for you?” That’s an expression of love.
You can pray for specific groups in the church, like elders or ministry leaders or young moms or college students. Or you can just pray for everyone a little at a time. You can also think about ways to pray alongside others in the church.
Sometimes, people will step aside and pray during the fellowship time. Sometimes, they’ll meet at some other time. It’s all an extension of love for one another and love for others.
Outside of the church, you can pray for the lost. Pray for your neighbors. Pray for our government leaders. Again, it’s all an expression of love.
Category number 6 is mutual care. This is probably one of the most obvious expressions. This is helping someone else in need. This is extending Christian sympathy and courtesy.
These are the kinds of things I know many of you are doing already. You are visiting the people who can’t leave their home. You are inviting people over for dinner. You’re helping with work around the house. You’re helping meet the needs of others.
Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” When we serve one another, we’re serving Christ.
There’s also spiritual care happening as we help one another confront problems in our lives. It’s all an expression of love, and I’ll let you think about how to abound in it more and more.
Last of all, our membership covenant includes a commitment to unity. Corporate worship, holiness, stewardship, evangelism, prayer, mutual care, and unity.
One of the ways we express love in this area is by being a peacemaker. When brothers or sisters are in a conflict, we can work to try and bring reconciliation. We can help them understand each other person better and work toward a solution.
We also show love by extending forgiveness to others or asking for it when it’s necessary. We show love by putting an end to gossip and uplifting one another, which is not always easy.
A church is made up of people. And where you have people you have differences and you have sin. And when you put those together you have the potential for conflict. Showing love doesn’t mean ignoring the problems; it means working to help being restoration and peace where we can.
I hope putting this membership covenant before you again is a good start for you individually and for us corporately as we think about what it means to abound in love more and more.
Think about it for yourself. Talk about it with someone else. And let’s allow the Lord to lead us as shine His light before men so that they would glorify our heavenly Father.
More in First Thessalonians
June 4, 2023Love for Your Leaders
May 28, 2023Spiritual Leadership
May 21, 2023The Night and the Day