As you’re being seated, please turn in your Bibles to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians; 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, and we’ll be studying verses 9 through 12 this evening. You’ll find that on page 987 if you’re using a pew Bible. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. Before I read that passage, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Father, truer words were never sung than what we have just sung. Because He paid it all, the Holy Spirit has been outpoured and so we know this evening we have the assurance that He will come and meet with us through Your Word. May Christ be exalted and may we all have our hearts strangely warmed and our affections enflamed for the One who paid it all for us. For we ask in His mighty name, amen.
1 Thessalonians chapter 4, beginning at verse 9. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word:
“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. 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 live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
Thus ends the reading of God’s holy Word. May He add His blessing to it!
Lucian was a Greek satirist and around AD 125 to AD 200, right about 90 years after the resurrection, he was born. And during his lifetime he wrote with abiding wit, but he came across a Christian community where he lived and he wrote these words about what he observed. He said, “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion,” meaning Christians, “help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator, Jesus, has put it into their heads that they are brethren.” It seems as if Lucian may have been looking over the shoulder of the Apostle Paul as he penned these words to the church at Thessalonica, for this was a church that had learned to love each other and others outside their four walls, well. And that’s what we’re going to look at tonight is their love, and it leads to an interesting conclusion from Paul.
And just by way of context, to remind us what we’re looking at here in this series, is how to live in the last days. And as we’ve noted each time, the last days are that period that stretches from the first coming of Jesus until His second coming. So the last days have been going on for a little over 2000 years now, and Paul is now in the application section, as it were, of his letter. They had need to be instructed on the matters. Last week he talked to us about chastity as one commentator noted, and this week we’ll be moving to charity. What does it look like to love? And Paul teaches us what love looks like inside the Christian community as well as how to love those outside the Christian community by our work. Why our work matters! Paul is going to show us that this evening. We’ll look at this text under two headings. In the first place, love for insiders in verses 9 through 10. Love for insiders. And then in the second place, love for outsiders, in verses 11 and 12. Love for insiders, 9 and 10. Love for outsiders, in 11 and 12.
- Love for Insiders
Look with me there in verse 9. Paul writes, “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.” Now Paul begins here talking about their Philadelphia. That’s where we get the word from! The Greek word here is “Philadelphia” that we translate “brotherly love.” And Paul begins by telling us that these Christians he’s writing to seem to have been experts in this. He’s using a rhetorical technique that orators of the time would use to say, “You don’t need anybody else to tell you about this, but I’m going to tell you some more anyway by way of further instruction.” And he says, “You’re doing this, and you’re doing this for a specific reason.” He uses a word there that we have translated by three English words, “taught by God.” It’s one Greek word and it’s the only time it’s used in the New Testament, and as far as scholars can tell, it’s the only time it’s used anywhere in ancient Greek literature. It literally means, “God taught.” He says, “You’re loving each other well. You have this brotherly love because you were taught to do this by God.”
Love is a Fruit of the Spirit
Now this just really takes us to the threshold of mystery very quickly as we launch into the text this evening because all kinds of questions arise. What does it mean to be taught by God? We know that Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you,” in John 13:34, “that you love one another.” Elsewhere we’re told that the Holy Spirit indwells us and one of the major fruits of the Spirit is that we love one another. Paul has all kinds of “one another” commands throughout the New Testament, all centered in our love. And that love that Paul is writing about here is a love that comes to us from God. We’re taught by Jesus to love and we’re taught by the Spirit as He indwells us how to love one another. And therefore, love, according to Paul, is Trinitarian to its core.
And let me say this. If we ever want to understand what true love is, we don’t need to watch movies - those are fine - or listen to music - that’s fine. Love fascinates us as a culture and as a race, but if we really want to understand love, we need to look at God. That’s where Paul’s controlling conception of God and love come from rather. His controlling conception of love comes from the very nature of who God is. And in our day and age where once again it is a fresh question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” If you’ve followed the brouhaha up at Wheaton University about this professor who made the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, we don’t need to go into that controversy tonight, but one thing we know for sure, the god of the Koran is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The god of the Koran is not ultimately love.
Isn’t that what Jesus was concerned to tell His disciples in that Upper Room from the section I just quoted, John 13? The last thing He teaches them; this about this. Right before He goes to the crucifixion, the thing He wants them to know before He goes to His death is what God as Trinity is like. Not what we would think of normally what needs to be taught before Jesus dies. He says, “I want to let you into what it’s like in this inter-Trinitarian communion,” and He begins with love. God is love in this sense. The three persons of the Godhead have always been there loving one another. God did not need to make us to express that love! He chose to, freely to create us, freely to create everything we see and don’t see. But He didn’t need to do that! There was no force of necessity upon Him. He didn’t need us because He was lonely. God has always been love! The Father, the Son, and the Spirit have always loved one another and in His inscrutable wisdom, beloved, His inscrutable wisdom, He says, “I’m going to bring those who hate Me into fellowship with Me to enjoy something, as a creature can, something of that love.”
And Paul says if you know that kind of Trinitarian love which is the birthright of every Christian, it’s ours by virtue of being united to Christ by faith and by faith alone we enter into that communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as creatures, as rebels brought back to Him, and Paul says if you know that kind of love it is inevitable that you will show that kind of love. Again, in a fallen and a finite way, tainted by sin to be sure, but that beginning, that enjoyment of God’s love spills out among believers. And that’s what he tells us! Remember, he referenced Macedonia back in chapter 1 in verse 7. He says, “Your faith has been talked about throughout the known world” as it were. Now he says, “Your love is talked about in the same way. Your love has spread all around.” That’s what love experienced as Christians experience love. That’s what it does! You can’t contain it! It has to find an outlet. It’s enjoyed among each other. What did Jesus say in John 13:35? “By this all men will know you are My disciples, for your love for one another.” And that’s what these Thessalonian Christians were doing.
And the question we ought to ask all of ourselves tonight is, “Is that what Paul would write about us?” Would he say, “First Presbyterian Church Jackson, their love for one another, I don’t need to write anything more about it, but just as a little bit more encouragement, let me say, urge you onwards to keep loving one another well.” Do we love one another well? That’s what the world craves today, by the way. We have all kinds of attempts at community and what we really build are pseudo communities outside of the church. We rally around different things - sports teams, not a bad thing to be a fan of those. Anything else we can choose - whatever our interests are; hobbies! Those are good things to enjoy, but the world needs real community, and the only place we find that is the place where the love of the triune God indwells everybody individually and spills out corporately to change everyone involved in it. We’re going to talk about in a moment what that does to those outside. But for people who are heartbroken, alienated, darkened by depression, wondering if anybody cares about them, the one place they should get an answer in the form of “Yes, we care! Yes, we love you! That is our charter,” it ought to be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, because knowing that love, it shows itself among us, among each other.
- Love for Outsiders
And then Paul says in this movement of the text, this love that we enjoy together as insiders as it were, those who have been brought into the family of God by God’s grace alone, it shows itself in love for outsiders. Look at verse 11. “And to aspire to live,” and he says, “We urge you 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 live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” One of the chief results of this Philadelphia Paul has mentioned that the Thessalonians enjoy is it changes those who are not Christians. It changes out they view Christians. It affected somebody like Lucian, the cynical satirist who saw these Christians living in a way unlike anything he’d ever seen. And Paul says, “There’s going to be a way that you show love to outsiders and it’s an unexpected way.” He says, “I want to talk to you about how you’re working.” Now scholars compare this to a parallel passage in 2 Thessalonians where apparently people had gotten it into their minds that Christ was coming back soon, so they didn’t need to work, so laziness may have been a problem here for this Thessalonian community. We’re not told that here. But Paul gives more broad instructions than he will later on in that second letter here about our work. He gives an overarching command there in verse 11. “We urge you to aspire to live quietly” and then he gives two more instructions about that to kind of unpack what it means to aspire to live quietly.
The Glory of the Ordinary
But maybe we could put it this way? When Paul says we ought “to aspire to live quietly,” what does he mean? I think what he’s doing here is calling us to the glory of the ordinary, the glory of the ordinary. Why would he do that? Because of the glory of the extraordinary work of Jesus on our behalf. Remember, he’s applying what he’s been teaching them. You have this amazing hope in Christ. He’s done all of this! He’s wrought your salvation! You are secure, you are loved by Him, and it’s going to work itself out in your work. And how should you aspire to live? How was the culture around them aspiring to live? How is the culture around us aspiring to live? Well work was a means to an end, and that end was a lifestyle that usually was self-glorifying. Same thing today! Most of us think about earning a great living. If you’re a college student, you want to find out what major is going to get you a great job to make money. It’s not a bad thing! That’s not the whole point of it. You see, then and now, we use work as a means of self-glorification and Paul wants to turn that on its head. He says you ought to aspire to have a pretty ordinary life serving Jesus in whatever capacity He’s called you, bringing glory to Him in your everyday life. Isn’t that what we want? Doesn’t the everyday sink us faster than the extraordinary events of our lives? Don’t we want to know that our everyday matters more than the big signposts of our lives? Paul says it happens as we aspire to live quietly, not to live a lifestyle that glorifies us but that glorifies God.
Mind Your Own Affairs
And how do we do that? He says here, he says, “Mind your own affairs.” What does he mean? He says, “Keep watch” - better translated in one sense, “To keep watch over our own lives first.” Make sure our own household is in order! Do what God has called us to do each day, and as you do that, Paul says, you’re free to do something. You see, if you’re not worried about that, if you’re aspiring to live a quiet life and you’re doing that by minding your own affairs day by day, what happens is you’re freed to serve other people. That’s the whole point of this! You love one another well, you want to love those outside the fellowship well - make sure your house is in order, aspire to live quietly. Do that by working well, minding your own affairs.
Work With Your Hands
And the second thing he says is working with your hands. Now you may work in different ways; it may not be with your hands. Paul took a dose of his own medicine here, as it were. Remember what he told us at the beginning of this letter. He worked with his hands. He was a tent maker. He’ll tell the Corinthians those who preach the Gospel ought to make their living by preaching the Gospel, but here he says, because of some reason that had been a stumbling block with these false teachers coming in as hucksters and taking their money and leaving, Paul deigned to work. He said, “I want to work. I don’t have to, but I will.” And he did.
And one of the things, just as an aside here this reminds us of, is the goodness of manual labor. We live in a day and age that despises manual labor. And believe it or not, Paul was familiar with that. In the sect of the Pharisees he came from, you can read the old Jewish rabbis talking about and making fun of those who had to labor with their hands, some of them at least. Paul would have been familiar with that. The Roman culture disdained that! That was slave work! Paul says, “No, it’s a good thing.” And Paul could say that because Paul was well-studied in the Old Testament and he knew that our first forefather, Adam, before the fall worked with his hands. Work is a blessing! Yes, it’s been tainted by the fall, yes, it’s toilsome now; yes, it’s difficult but it’s a blessing. If you’ve ever been unemployed you know what I mean. It’s a blessing to work. And so Paul calls us to lead a life that is not a burden to others by working diligently.
And why is that? Notice how he’s got a big picture here. He’s not just scolding them and saying, “You work harder.” He’s got a bigger picture. He says, “Work, as believers, is tied directly to our mission.” Work and mission are inseparable as he explains there in verse 12. Notice that conclusion, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” You see, as we work well, we walk properly. That’s that trajectory of our lives! As we follow Jesus, as we go further down the road with Him as it were, one of the ways we bear witness to God is how we work. Do we do it honestly? Do we do it for His glory? That we walk properly. Christians ought to be the best employees, in a word. That’s what Paul is saying. And so that we won’t be a burden to others, Paul will give lengthy instructions about charity and how we’re to do charity in the covenant community and following the Old Testament at very point, he says charity is always going to involve work. Work. He says, “If money is to be given, let people work. Let’s give money, let’s be generous, but work has to accompany that.” That’s the focus of the Old Testament gleaning laws. Don’t glean to the edge of your field. Leave some, be generous, so that those who work may glean some as well.
What do we say to these things? Two things. The imperative of love given to us here in this text is so clear, isn’t it? How did the apostle John put it? Don’t you love this verse - “We love because He first loved us.” Never the other way around. That’s the Gospel. We don’t love God in and of ourselves. We don’t want anything to do with Him! We’re not seeking to love Him. We don’t care about the inner-Trinitarian love. We never stop to think about it! We love ourselves by nature. We love other things. We worship other gods. And we love only because He came to us and loved us first. And if we know that kind of love, as we experience it day by day, we will show it, as we say. And oftentimes we’ll say, “You know it’s hard to love people in the church.” The church is a messy place. Whenever I hear, I talk to people about being a Christian or if they ask what I do and I say, “I’m a pastor,” they say, “You know I don’t want to go to church with a bunch of hypocrites.” We’ve all heard that, right? My standard response is, “Well please come. We need one more!” See, we all struggle with that, don’t we? The church is a messy place and it can be difficult to love others well.
It’s always going to be difficult because our default setting is to love us more than we love others, and the only thing that changes that is the cross and the Trinity and those two are inseparable. Never think, never think that the Son on the cross was buying the Father’s love for you. It was the Father’s love that put the Son on the cross. Jesus did not overcome a hostile Father to make us loveable. Paul tells us in Romans that He died for us while we were ungodly. It was the Father’s love that put Him there, and that’s the imperative of love that flows into us. The order is never reversed! Once we know that Trinitarian, cross-bearing, Christ-sending, God-exalting love, it cannot be contained. It must find an outlet! Let it be other Christians, and from there, let it be those outside of us in how we work.
Avoid Making Work Your Identity
We need to avoid two extremes when we think about work as we close. First extreme to avoid - to make work our identity. What’s the first thing that we do - guys especially? You meet somebody, you learn their name, what do you do? Work can become our identity! It’s a wonderful thing to take the right kind of pride in doing a job well done to the glory of God, but when your work becomes your identity, one of two things results. You either become self-righteous thinking you’re better because you’ve done a good job; again, all by God’s grace which again is the madness of idolatry. Or you become despondent if you get passed over for a promotion, if you don’t get that job that you want. And that all happens because we’ve located our identity in what we do rather than who He is. That’s the difference!
Avoid Seeing Work as Meaningless
Or we can consider our work on another extreme - monotonous meaninglessness. Isn’t that how the movies paint it? Think about it - it’s funny to say this now - the movie that was released almost twenty years ago now, The Matrix. I got credit in a philosophy class for going to see that movie because it’s an extended meditation on one of Plato’s works. Yes, some of those screen writers read philosophy apparently! But what does that movie show that resonated with so many people? Here’s a guy leading a meaningless life in an office building, he’s nameless, he’s faceless, and then he falls into the matrix. And how many times is that storyline played out in our culture? Work is monotonous, meaningless, you don’t want to be stuck behind a desk - whatever it is. Christ transforms and gets rid of both those extremes. And the only way that happens is if we understand the work of Christ. You see, His work transforms our view of work. He worked tirelessly so that we don’t rest in our work as our identity. He completed the work His Father gave Him to do, on the cross, living that perfect life for us every day, and that makes Jesus’ work alone the only lens we can view our work rightly.
So here’s the choice then - make your work your idol or rest in the finished work of Jesus which makes the ordinary extraordinary because at every moment, your work, my work, is infused with resurrection hope. That’s the glory of the ordinary infused by the extraordinary grace of God through Christ. And therefore our daily work is intimately related to mission. As we heard so wonderfully this morning, as we think about having an accomplishment mindset to finish the mission, think about this tonight. The mission’s going to end one day. Praise God! One day there’s not going to be any more need for preaching. Some of you are really praising God for that - I hope not! One day there’s not going to be a need for that anymore, but the things that will continue after the mission is completed, beloved, are work and love. We’ll work in heaven. Did you know that? Heaven’s not where we’re all disembodied and floating around like those advertisements outside a cell phone shop. That’s not what we’re going to be like in heaven. We’ll have bodies after the resurrection; we will work. It will not be cursed; it will be wonderful. And we’ll do it in full communion with the love of the Triune God as the blazing, white-hot center of the new heavens and the new earth and everything will be put right and you will love going to work. That continues after mission and it fuels and fires it now because of the finished work of Jesus. So does Monday morning matter? You bet it does! It matters eternally and it matters now as we witness to Christ.
Hudson Taylor, as many of you know, was director of the China Inland Mission. If you’ve ever had a chance to read his story, if you haven’t had a chance to read his story I would encourage you to do so. Amazing story of God’s work in this man’s life. On one occasion, he met with a group of eager young missionaries and he asked them, “What is your motivation for service?” One answered, he said, “I want to go because Christ has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Hudson Taylor nodded. Another said, “I want to go because millions are perishing without Christ.” Taylor nodded. Others gave different answers. And at the end of all of them he looked at these eager young missionaries and he said, “All of these motives, however good, will fail you in times of testings, trials, tribulations, and possible death. There is but one motive that will sustain you in trial and testing, namely the love of Christ.” And the same is true for us today. Only the love of Christ will sustain us as we labor on for the glory of God resting in the finished work of the One whose love for us abounds more and more. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for work, and most of all we thank You for the finished work of Jesus, done in love because of Your great love for us before You even made the world. Father, may Monday morning bring sweet blessings and refreshment because we know that we go not to meaninglessness or monotony, but to eternal matters in our work. Bless us with love; bless us with work. We pray it all in Jesus’ name, amen.
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