It is said that every time Alfred Lord Tennyson went to publish a book of his poems the publisher had to purchase an extra supply of l’s and v’s. It was because this poet had an unusual infatuation with one particular word: love. You could say that the print shop was not used to that much love.
As Christians we are to be like Tennyson’s poems. Our lives are to be filled with love. And, as a result of our being Christians, the world around us is to experience an unusual dosage of love.
Indeed, wherever Christianity has existed, love has existed too. Love goes hand in hand with Christianity. As a matter of fact, the love of the church is often what makes the church appealing to the unbelieving.
The primary reason it grew was because the Roman citizens were attracted by the Christian’s love.
Since this virtue is to be the chief characteristic of our lives, it is necessary that we often study it. Those of you who attend here regularly might be tempted to roll your eyes and say, “Oh, another sermon on love?” But we dwell on this subject, only because the Bible so frequently returns to it.
And when we come to this passage, we find ourselves once again enrolled in the school of love. And I say that we are enrolled in the school of love for particular reason. We are here getting an education in love. The first two verses show us that the Thessalonians had already graduated from this school of love. In those verses we see love learned and practiced. And the second half of our passage we see that they are given a further education in love. It is if they are studying for their masters’ degree. For these verse deal with love increased and perfected.
But we need to start with the Thessalonians undergraduate studies. When we read our passage we find that the Thessalonians had already been enrolled in the school of love. For in verse 9-10 we read of love learned and practiced.
I. Love learned and practiced
You could say that the Thessalonians had learned love so well that they had become experts in it. Paul says in verse 9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you.” And then skipping down to verse 10 Paul continues, “for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.”
The Thessalonians seem to have developed quite a reputation for being loving people. It’s a reputation that extends throughout Macedonia. Macedonia is the region that surrounds the city of Thessalonica. It would be like saying that people all over Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and PA have experienced in radical ways the love of the Christians here in Ashland. Now that is some amazing love! Their love was so great that that it is literally influencing the world!
Their love wasn’t confined to people of their own religion. It wasn’t even limited to people of the same town or mindset. Their love was extensive. It was so extensive that it was reaching across the barriers of race, religion & region. I have to say that that’s not bad for people who have been Christians for only 3-4 months! These newborn Christians had become experts in the practice of love.
But the Thessalonians were experts in the practice of love precisely because they had become Christians. They practiced love because they had learned love.
Look at what it says in verse 9 again. You need no one to write to you about love because, “you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” In a sense, it is no use in me talking about this. For it is something that I cannot teach. It is something you can only learn from God. God is the only one who can instruct you in being a loving person. Just like it says here. “you have been taught by God to love one another.”
You know, I can talk all I want about being a loving person. I can encourage you to be loving people, I can give you tips on how to be loving people. But ultimately, I can’t do anything. Ultimately, it’s up to God. God is the one who must instruct you.
You see, I am just a pipe. I am just a channel or a funnel. You know when you turn on your faucet, water comes pouring out of that thing. Now what did the faucet do? Not all that much, if you think about it. The faucet just sat there. What really caused the water to come out? If you could shrink down and crawl through the pipes you would find that what really made the water come out of the pipe was some guy way back there at the water plant. What was forcing the water through the pipes and into your cup? It wasn’t the faucet. It was some guy thousands of miles away.
Now that is how it is with love. I speak, but God is the one who puts it in your hearts. He is the one who stirs up your dead hearts. He is the one who makes you think, “you know what? So-&-so has been having a hard time lately, I should go and visit them. I should take them out to lunch & just try to cheer them up.”
I couldn’t do anything like that. I couldn’t make you give up your time to serve someone else. That is something that can only happen because your heart has changed. That’s something only God can do.
Now again, I can talk about the love of God. I can talk to you about how it is manifested in the cross of Jesus Christ. I can talk to you about how “God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son.” I can try to explain things like Romans 5 where it says, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I can do that, and I try to do that every week. But only God can spark love in your hearts. Only God can make you come to say, “You know what? God’s love for me was demonstrated in such an incredible way. And if he demonstrated his love for me in such a marvelous way, I should try and do the same for my brothers and sisters in Christ around me.” I can’t teach that. There is only one person who can, and that’s God.
That’s why you can walk into some churches and not see any love being practiced. It’s because love hasn’t ever really been learned. It’s not because the pastor doesn’t talk about love. It’s not because the people have never heard what it means to be a loving person. It’s because people have never really learned love—they haven’t learned it from God—the Holy Spirit has never worked in their hearts.
The only way you can become an expert in the practice of love, is if you’ve been converted and have sat in that heavenly school. It is only if God has come into your heart and begun to teach the lessons of love.
Let me ask you: have you learned that lesson? Has the Lord taught you? He wants to teach you now.
I do know that many of you have been learning from the Lord. And I am glad to know that there is an education going on here that far supersedes my own teaching. You are only with me for an hour a week, and I only preach for half of that time. But I can truly say that I know that you have been in that school because your love is already great. I can tell that your education exceeds this classroom.
How can I tell? Just look at your impact: The Thornton’s have received financial gifts from many of you. In giving to them you are exceeding our region. I know that you are trying to show love to people who are of a different mindset too. You’re concerned for Pentecostals, Methodists, & Baptists, even those who are not believers! I know that love here has been learned, because I see it practiced.
But just like a student, I don’t want you to rest on your laurels. And Paul says the same thing to the Thessalonians. He not only talks about love learned and practiced, he goes on to talk about love increased and perfected.
II. Love increased and perfected [10b-12]
Look at the next part of the passage. After commending them in their practice of love, Paul says, “But we urge you brothers to do this more and more.”
It is as if Paul was saying, “You’ve gotten straight A’s in the Advanced Placement courses—you’ve done an outstanding job at loving people—but don’t stop there! Keep increasing. Keep trying to perfect the love you are already showing.”
Think about it in terms of the student again. If a student gets straight A’s on his mid-term report card, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t mean he can take the rest of the year off. No, there’s still more to learn. There’s still room for improvement. He may have a lot of knowledge built up, but he still needs to learn more.
That’s how the Christian life should be. Paul tells these Thessalonians, “You’ve been doing good, but don’t drop out of school. Keep doing what you are already doing and try to do more too.”
And in verses 11-12, Paul gives them some specific areas where we can concentrate our efforts. He’s saying, “Here’s your homework. These are areas you can try to perfect.” And Paul basically gives them 3 specific assignments. And I want you to see that these are personal lessons that have public ramifications. Paul instructs you on your personal conduct, but your personal conduct has ramifications for the rest of the community.
The first assignment Paul gives—the first way you increase or perfect you love—is by “aspiring to live quietly.” Now, we often here people say, “So-&-so is aspiring for public office.” And what do we see that person doing? We see them making a lot of themselves, don’t we? We see their picture everywhere on signs. We see them flaunting the things they’ve done in life (he served this way and that way, and accomplished this and that for the city). So there is a lot of clamor surrounding their life. You could say their life is loud.
But that is not the way the Christian is to live. The Christian is to aspire to live a quiet life. I like how the Reformation Study Bible puts it: We are to “Be zealous for the honor that comes through humble, industrious, and unimpeachable behavior; not through self-assertion or an ostentatious show of personal greatness.”
In other words, we are not to be working for our own glory. We are to be like the person who works backstage in the theater. The people who work backstage have some of the most important roles. The show cannot go on without them. And much is demanded of them, so they must work hard. But they must be quiet. They are honored for their work, yes. But if they seek to gain the spotlight, it will ruin the whole show. So, a loving life is most often an unobtrusive life.
The second lesson Paul assigns is that we are “to mind [our] own business.” I wonder if that is where we get that phrase. We use that in common lingo, don’t we? When someone is being a little too nosey we say, “Just mind your own business.” And that is good advice for the Christian: “Mind your own business.”
Now, this does not mean that we are not to have any involvement in someone else’s life. Paul does says elsewhere, “bear one another’s burdens.” We are to be involved in other people’s lives to some degree.
What this means is that we are not to be idle. We are to fulfill the tasks that God has called us to fulfill. If it is taking care of the house, that’s our business. That is what we are to be about.
Now think about the ramifications of this. You might not think that this is a big deal. But it is. When we stray from our calling, order becomes chaos. You can think of it like a watch. Each part of a watch has a role to fulfill. If one part does not fulfill that role, the watch stops. Or think of it in terms of the theater again. If the guy who is in charge of the curtain is not minding his business, then the whole play is disturbed. The man at the lights has to try to take care of the curtain too, and, as a result, the lighting is off. Everyone has to compensate, and the order is disturbed. The play then becomes a disaster.
Each of us has our calling, and we are to work at our callings to the best of our abilities so that we preserve the order of the church and the society at large. Should we disturb the harmony of life, we sin in a terrible way—a way that brings a terrible name upon us as Christians. Paul says in verse 12 that we are to “live properly before those outside the church.” What is the audience doing while the people in the play are trying to get things together? They are rolling their eyes, aren’t they? They are thinking, “What a bunch of idiots! They are screwing up the whole show!”
We live our lives before a watching world. If we are the cause of disorder in the world, we are going to have people saying, “Ah, those Christians!” We will become a stench to them.
The third lesson of love, the 3rd way we are to increase or perfect our love, is that we are to “work with our hands.” And I think this should be seen with the last part of verse 12 where it says, “that you be not dependent upon anyone.”
In the Roman world there were jobs that some people thought were below them. There were jobs that only slaves did, or there were jobs that only peasants did. So you were dependent upon other people doing those jobs because you yourself wouldn’t want to demean yourself with that “lowly work.”
We are not too different in our day. There are jobs that we think are below us. Take flipping burgers, for instance. A lot of people in our day would never do that because they think that is below them. Someone might be laid off and need work. But he would never go into a fast food restaurant and serve hamburgers. He’d rather not work. He’d rather be dependent upon taxpayer money or church alms.
But God has called us to work—and no work is below us. Jesus, after all, was a carpenter. Some people might think that is demeaning work. But Jesus showed God’s blessing on what we might call “menial tasks” by taking up that kind of work himself.
And when we work, no matter what kind of work it is, we gain respect in the community. People can’t say of us, “Oh, their just leeching off the government (or the church).” People respect us because we will not let ourselves be dependent on anyone when we don’t have to be.
You might think, what do these things have really to do with love? Isn’t that our theme? I thought God was supposed to be teaching us how to love? Well, He is. When you aspire to live a quiet life, when you work with your hands and mind your own business, you are loving people. You are making the church attractive. You are, in a sense, opening the doors to the church for an unbeliever. When they see your good works, they may wish to inquire about your God. And when they inquire, perhaps even being led to come to the church, they can hear the gospel. Then they have a chance to be converted and enroll in the school of love. They have the chance to learn the greatest lesson of love of all: How Jesus Christ died that we may have eternal life. What greater act of love is there? That’s the love you show when you learn and practice these simple lessons.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
to the preaching and teaching ministry of
Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.