On June 28, 1919 Harry married Bess. Harry and Bess attended school together from elementary to high school, but Harry claimed he fell in love with her when he was 6 years old in a Sunday School class in Independence, MO. Sadly, Bess spurned his advances throughout school. It wasn’t until a “chance” encounter when Harry returned a dish for his aunt to her neighbor and Bess opened the door that their romance began. Their relationship of love grew for one another and after Harry’s service in the war, they married and would spend 53 years together as husband and wife. During their courtship and marriage, Harry wrote 1,300 letters to his beloved Bess almost every night he spent away from her. Harry loved Bess. And Harry was a very busy man, as he was the 33rd President of the United States of America. Harry Truman wrote to his beloved Bess during times of campaigning, diplomacy and war.
On June 28, 1948 on their 29th Anniversary, Harry was in Washington and wrote to Bess in Independence, “You still are on the pedestal where I placed you that day in Sunday school 1890. What an old fool I am.” Harry Truman did not need to be told how to love his wife, for it was clear to everyone around him that he loved his Bess. There are 1,300 letters documenting various ways he expressed his love to his wife. His love was undeniable. Could the same be said about our love? Is our love undeniable?
Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. If a person does not love, then they do not know God. The Apostle John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8). Love is the undeniable mark of the Christian faith. Therefore love should be the undeniable mark of the Church. Are we known for our love? Is the love in our congregation undeniable to those inside and outside our congregation?
The Thessalonians were known for their love. If we want to become an exemplary church then we must have a love that is undeniable to others. In our text, we will see one theological aspect of an undeniable love. Then, we will focus on three specific applications on what that love will look like to those around us.
Powerful Love of Others
Paul is closing the letter with specific exhortations to the church. He begins the final section of the letter with highlighting the importance of sexual purity. The church must have a different sexual ethic than the world. Remember the church would have been full of young believers since it was only a few months old and those young believers would need to be taught and re-taught on how to live for Christ. After addressing sexual purity, Paul makes a sharp transition to address brotherly love. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” The Thessalonians had been taught by God to love one another.
The first theological truth is that true love is supernatural. It is a gift from God. We cannot love without God powerfully changing our hearts. In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We were born sinners, born in the flesh with a heart against God. Our natural desires were to serve ourselves. Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:3 says that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The fact that the Thessalonians love each other like a family was a demonstration of the power of God, because of the total depravity of the human heart.
If we understand how sinful our human hearts can be, we will be amazed at the power of God’s regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. R.C. Sproul helps us understand the difference between total depravity and utter depravity. He writes,
The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and "utter" depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. Total depravity means that I and everyone else are
depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.
Perhaps "radical corruption" is a better term to describe our fallen condition than "total depravity." I am using the word "radical" not so much to mean "extreme," but to lean more heavily on its original meaning. "Radical" comes from the Latin word for "root" or "core." Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being. It permeates our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that the Bible says: "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12
We are sinful to the core which is why we need conversion. We need God to teach us how to love for this is exactly what he did with the Thessalonians.
If you are not a loving person, it may be because you have never experienced the new birth. Churches may not be full of love, because they may be full of people who have not experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Conversion is not a mere modification of behavior, but a radical transformation of the heart. Our passions change. Our desire change. Our very core changes. We no longer are set against God, but are brought into his family. We are changed from enemies to sons and daughters adopted by his grace. We must repent of our sins and trust in Christ. And when we turn from our sins, we are transformed from the inside out.
We even see that in how Paul defines love in saying, “now concerning brotherly love,” he is redefining how we are called to treat one another. We are a family. A family of people who have been born of God whose hearts have been transformed to love another. We are taught by God to love. It is supernatural. One sign of this supernatural love is how we treat all the brothers. The Thessalonians were loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Jesus says,
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)
Do you love all? One of the marks of an exemplary church is when people love those who are not like them. When the rich love the poor and the young love the old, and the singles love the married, and black loves white. An exemplary church is full of undeniable love for all the brothers.
So the first theological aspect of love is that it comes from God. We must be born again. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” If you want to love, you must believe in Jesus Christ who died for sinners. He died and rose again so that for whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. The first step of love is conversion. We love, because God first loved us.
Peaceful Love of Others
There is always room to grow in our love for one another. The Thessalonians had an undeniable love, but are told to continue in that love. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs.” Christians are called to aspire to live quietly. This is a very interesting phrasing by Paul because he puts to opposite ideas together. We are to aspire or work eagerly to live quietly and at peace. They seem at odds, but Paul’s focus is that the church would live in such a way to make the gospel attractive. Although we could make an application from verse 11 to the church, I think the primary focus is how the church interacts with the world.
Christianity had a bad reputation in the first century. The Jews were constantly bringing rumors before the Romans that Christians were stirring up trouble and causing dissension in society. Paul wanted Christians to strive to be at peace and lead a quiet life so they would be able to draw more attention to the gospel. Christians are called to engage in our society and live as good citizens so that we give a good witness to the world. Christians are not primarily called to transform the culture, but to be a different culture. The greatest impact that Christians will have on the world will be through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, therefore, have to be very careful in how we engage with our culture. We are called to promote justice and truth in every area of life, but we do so with wisdom and grace. We must live well before our culture, meaning we must strive to be at peace within our neighbors so that people will listen to our message.
Who do you think will have a great impact in their workplace for the gospel: the employee who is constantly challenging his boss to change their business practices or the one who faithfully does their job without grumbling? I believe Christians should focus much more on being good and faithful employees than working to transform their work culture because I believe the best way to transform their work environment is by being a faithful employee. Christians do not have a great reputation in our culture. We need to be wise in how we interact with others so that the gospel will be attractive. The main goal of Christians is not social revolution, but to adorn the gospel and draw people to Jesus Christ. It does not mean we should not care about society, but rather societal transformation should not be the main goal.
The second exhortation Paul gives to the church is to mind their own affairs, or mind your own business. We should be focused on what we are called to do rather than focusing on what we think others should or should not be doing. We do not know exactly the context in which Paul gives this exhortation. It could be a general statement or referring to something specific going on in the community that he knows about from Timothy’s report. Either way, Christians are called to love others by keeping their own affairs in order without meddling into other people’s problems. We should avoid gossip and talking poorly of our brothers and sisters. The best way to enter into the affairs of our brothers and sisters is through prayer. Let us first bring our brother and sister’s needs before the Lord.
As our culture continues to evolve and drift away from traditional Christian values, it will become even more important that Christians are careful in how we interact with the world around us. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. How should Paul’s exhortation to aspire to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs govern our cultural involvement? We should think about the various applications of these twin truths for our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our politics. An exemplary church should be known primarily for their love for Jesus, one another and the lost rather than their love for political or social change.
Productive Love of Others
Paul gives one more exhortation for the church to “work with their hands, as we instructed you.” There were some of the Thessalonian believers who had a heightened eschatology. They believed that the Lord was going to return very soon so they stopped working and were depending on the welfare of other Christians in the church. They were idle. We read in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12,
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Everyone was responsible to work to care for themselves and to contribute to the needs of the church. Those who were not willing to work (not those who can’t find work) needed to be admonished to get busy.
Greek culture degraded manual labor thinking it was only fitting for slaves. Christians viewed manual labor as an honorable pursuit. Many Christians probably were slaves and were exhorted to work hard for their master and the sake of the gospel (Titus 2:9-10). Many Christians have adopted the Greek culture’s perspective of manual labor, viewing it as a degrading task, but working with ones hands is a noble undertaking. We should not avoid hard work, but rejoice in the gift of work. Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Love should be expressed in being productive for the sake others. Lazy and idle people are not loving others. Proverbs 18:9, “Whoever is slack in his work, is a brother to him who destroys.” There were some among the Thessalonians who were depending on the labor of others and not contributing to the needs of the community. Love for others is an undeniable mark of a Christian, so one’s willingness to work and serve others is an indication of that love. One’s lack of work is an indication of their lack of love. This is not referring to those who can’t work because of physical disability. It is referring to those who have the ability, but choose to remain idle.
Proper Love of Others
Paul provides the purpose for these expressions of love. The theological principle is that Christians love because God has taught them to love by the Holy Spirit. Those who are born of God love others. He gives three specific expressions of that love to aspire to live a quiet life, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands. Then he gives the purpose for those expressions in 1 Thessalonians 4:12, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
There is a direct link in how the church lives to how it is viewed by society. Paul cared about outsiders. Paul gave his life so that others would come to faith in Christ. He was beaten, stoned, and suffered a lack of food so that non-believers would come to Christ. Christians have a mission. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations. We want the world to come to Christ and one of the best ways for us to make an impact in the world is to be an exemplary church. When the church is full of love, the world will know what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world will know us by our love. It is that simple.
And yet we have to know what love is. Love is aspiring to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs and to work with our hands so that outsiders will see their need for the gospel. A church should have a love that is undeniable so that those on the outside of the community will realize what they are lacking and be attracted to the gospel. Jesus Christ has taught us to love. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)
Let me close with a story that illustrates this principle from someone’s personal experience. Jason Helopolous writes about how the Lord used the “strange love” of the church to draw him to Christ:
As a freshman college student and self-declared atheist, I attended a campus Christian fellowship to fulfill a promise to a Christian friend. I only had the intention to go once. It was merely duty and upholding my word, nothing more. I went begrudgingly, but I went. My life was never the same.
I walked into a room full of Christians and was struck by what I observed. Here was a diverse group. They were from every walk of life. I remember scanning the room and labeling people in my mind, “There is a jock, over there is a geek, and walking in the door is a boy scout.” But what struck me was that they were together. They weren’t just together in the same room, they were together in every sense of the word. They were actually talking with each other and genuinely seemed happy to be together. There didn’t seem to be division. Even in my atheist mind, I knew what I was seeing: they loved one another.
I had no categories for this, so I kept returning to find out why they had love like this for one another. Over the course of a few months I found the answer, or more accurately stated, the answer found me. One of the best evangelism programs you can start at your church is to pursue loving one another well. At some point they will have to hear the gospel proclaimed from your lips or the pulpit, but that “strange love” will set the table before them. People will know that you are His disciples, because it is a shocking love. It has a gravitational attraction, because it is a love that is foreign to this world. A love that the inquirer, if seeking an answer, will find comes from heaven.
Beloved, God has given us a mission to make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. God will use the undeniable love of a local church to draw people to Christ. Beloved, let us be a church that lives out a faithful gospel witness in word and deed.