Friday, January 6, 2017

Brotherly Love – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12



We are taught by God to love one another. Does that only include those who follow Jesus or does that include all people? Paul provides some insight after imploring us to love one another even more.

But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. (NKJV)

God Teaches Brotherly Love

It is quite clear in these verses that Paul is talking about loving other Christians. He addressed his letter to Christians and he refers to brethren in Macedonia. Therefore, when he says that God has taught us to love one another, he is first of all talking about other Christians. This is one of the messages Jesus taught:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34-35 NLT).

Jesus is clearly talking about those who follow Him. There is an external purpose to Christians loving one another and that is to show those who are not His followers that we are Jesus’ disciples. One of the biggest complaints or excuses people have when refusing to follow Jesus is the hypocrites in the churches. They are hypocrites not just because they act just like those who do not know Jesus but because they don’t love each other or other Christians in other denominations. 

If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21 RSV)

John talked a lot about loving each other and he makes the point that loving one’s fellow Christians is exactly what God taught us. In fact, a refusal to do that demonstrates that anyone who does not love other believers cannot truly love God. If we love God, then we must show it by obedience to His commands (John 14:21). 

Love Increases

Paul said that we should be pleasing God more and more (1 Thess 4:1) and now he tells us to love each other more (1 Thess 4:10). Just how do we do that? One thing is for sure, it isn’t supposed to be some sappy new-age philosophy where love tolerates all things from all people. Paul instructed the Philippians:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Phil 1:9-10 NASB). 

Love increases where there is knowledge and discernment. This kind of love does not accept everything from everyone. It looks as what people are saying and doing to discern the good things. This type of love must filter the world through the Word of God. If we filter it by the world’s values, we will end up with some very serious problems. Looking back at the previous verses about having sexual purity is one area in which the world deviates from God’s perspective of love. The world’s view of love is often simply sexual passion. It has little to do with true love for each other. That is one reason why there are so many divorces. When the sexual sparks fail, there is nothing to keep the marriage alive. 

Love’s Connection to Non Christians

The connection between loving other Christians and loving people who do not follow Jesus isn’t obvious in 1 Thess 4:9-12. The thought-for-thought translations (NIV 1984, NLT) make a clean break and start a new thought as if there is no connection between verses 10 and 11. However, word-for-word translations (ESV, NAS, NKJ) do not separate urging love for bothers more (1 Thess 4:10) and our daily behavior (1 Tess 4:11) with the result of proper behavior to outsiders (1 Thess 4:12). This is a good reason not to rely on one translation.

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:5-6 ESV)

This connection isn’t something that has to be squeezed out of 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 since it is supported in other places of the Bible. Paul said essentially the same thing to the Colossians. Their conduct to outsiders, that includes anyone who doesn’t follow Jesus, should be gracious but with enough flavor to make sure they know they need to follow Jesus as well. That salt may come in the way we talk with them, showing respect and being gentle (1 Peter 3:15-16) or it may be in actions such as doing good deeds for them (Matt 5:16, Gal 6:10). God will be glorified in the way we behave.

Paul gave three areas of living that demonstrate our love and concern for outsiders: live a quiet life, mind our own business, and work with our hands in order have good relationships with outsiders (1 Thess 4:11-12). 

Quiet Life

This direction from Paul is probably dismissed by people with type A personalities. People with type A personalities don’t live quiet lives. They are described, “As rude, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving ‘workaholics.’ They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.”[1] Think about that for a while. Why would an outsider be put off by a Christian with a Type A personality? Compare this definition with a Spirit-led life, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 NIV).

Can a Type A personality exhibit the qualities of a quiet life or a Spirit filled life? Not all the qualities of a Type A are in conflict with the Spirit. There isn’t anything wrong with being ambitious if the motivation is right. There is nothing wrong with being organized either. Proactive is a great quality and time management is often necessary if it doesn’t interfere with spontaneous ministry (Luke 10:33-34). Sensitive can go either way, good or bad, depending on what one does because of their sensitivity. However, rude, rigid, status-conscious, and anxious are all qualities that need to be addressed if a Type A wants to live a quiet life that will demonstrate love to outsiders and still get things done. They need to rid themselves of fleshly motivated characteristics.

For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Rom 8:13-14 NASU)

The message is clear. A quiet life is one that is led by the Holy Spirit and not the flesh. Type A personalities don’t have to exhibit the negative characteristics in order to effective leaders, entrepreneurs, preachers, or other careers that often are associate with type As. When they put off the bad characteristics and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit, they will demonstrate God’s love toward outsiders.

Mind Our Own Business

He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. (Prov 26:17 NKJV)

In today’s world of tolerance, it is easy to misunderstand what it means to mind your own business. I think the Proverb says it well. When we meddle in other people’s business, we will be bit. There is a big difference between coming to the aid of someone who is in trouble, standing up for justice, defending the cause of widows and orphans (James 1:27), calling for repentance, and meddling in other people’s business. Paul wrote a whole chapter in Romans about this. In Romans 14, he addresses such things as judging another’s dietary habits, what day they set aside to worship the Lord, and setting legalistic standards. Applying this to outsiders means that we recognize they will not conform to Christian holiness and purity and God will judge them (1 Cor 5:12-13). This isn’t easy because we recognize what happens in society when there is no restraint. We also have to remember that our business is God’s calling on us to be his ambassadors. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20 RSV). We become meddlers when we insist that people change their behavior without changing their hearts toward God. And that is how most outsiders perceive most Christians. 

Work With Our Hands

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35 NASB)

At times, Paul had to work for a living just like everyone else. At other times, he was supported by churches. The point he made to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:35 is that working hard and giving to others in need should be a way of life for Christians. When outsiders see this, they will have respect for us. They will not see us as a freeloader or a sap on society. 

May our love for other Christians be a testimony to those who do not know Jesus. May the way we live our lives among unbelievers also be a testimony that draws people to Christ instead of repelling them.


[1] “Type S and Type N Personality Theory,” Wikipedia, November 30, 2016, accessed January 3, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_A_and_Type_B_personality_theory, cited from Saul McLeod, “Type a Personality,” Simply Psychology, accessed December 29, 2013, http://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html.

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