1 Thessalonians 4 v 9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yours
Let's read 1 Thessalonians 4 v 3 – 8
3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; 5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: 6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. 8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul had felt a great need to write to the Christians at Thessalonica about their moral behaviour. In verse 3 – 8 of 1 Thessalonians 4 he had carefully spoken to them about issues of sexuality and relationships. It was vital that these issues were dealt with specifically because of the society in which the Thessalonians lived and the context of that society from which they had been saved. As Christians they had been called out of the immoral and promiscuous community of their day to be formed into a separated group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ seeking to be holy like Him. They faced virtually the same pressures and temptations that we do today. We do not have temple harlots linking promiscuity with religion in exactly the same way that they did. But there are the new religions of TV soaps and beyond the watershed 9pm programmes to entice the unwary to sin; the religious adherence of some to the internet and some of the things that it has to offer, if men particularly know where to look; then there are the magazines and other literature peddling their lurid images designed to appeal to the lower natures of both men and women. With the reduction in the level of shame in this society today then it is possible for Christians to easily be sucked in to such things. Paul’s words then, to those who knew what was sin; who knew what it was to be forgiven; who knew that Christ had died for them – those believers in Thessalonica – are words for us today. They are a warning! They are an admonishment! They are to challenge us both in public and in private to be chaste – to be pure and to be holy like our perfect saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
We need to develop strategies that will guard our minds, hearts and bodies from these sins. We are not immune – we are vulnerable. We need God’s word to set a watch on our lives. The godly man in the Old Testament, Job said this –
Job 31 v 1 I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?
King David in Psalm 119 v 37
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.
And Solomon his son said this
Proverbs 4 v 25 Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
This is God’s word for us all in these dangerous days. May we be warned by all of God’s word – that we cannot play with sin – we cannot flirt with the world – there are consequences for our behaviour – whether in public or in the secrecy of our own homes – The Lord God says
Galatians 6 v 7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man (or woman, old or young) soweth, that shall he also reap.
May God’s grace be ours as we wrestle with the world, the flesh and the devil – and may we know victory as we strive to be like our saviour – to be sanctified.
In the next section of this letter, in the next two verses of the chapter Paul turns from CHASTITY to CHARITY. He turns from the lure of sin to the love of saints. He had used 6 verses to address immorality because of the great need of the day. Perhaps Timothy had reported back that the pressure that the believers were under in the immoral and unchaste atmosphere of Thessalonica prompted the warnings. The discussion of sexual purity had an urgency about it which does seem to suggest problems facing the church in this area.
But now in the case of brotherly love within the fellowship of believers Paul’s comments are different – they are almost congratulatory! He immediately makes this statement –
9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
3. A Call to Brotherly Love.
He only uses 2 verses in this section – verses 9 – 10. His reason was this – that the Christians in Thessalonica were already good examples of the kind of mutual love that should characterise ALL Christian believers. They were not lacking in love. What is more their love spilled over towards other believers in the other churches of Macedonia – the two that we know of were Philippi and Berea – but there may have been others. Verse 10 tells us this –
And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;
This morning we will examine this love that the Thessalonian Christians had with a view to examining ourselves – to see if we come up to the standard set by these believers. If we find ourselves to be coming short then it will also be a spur to us to increase in love and to reach the same goal that Paul desired for those in Thessalonica – that we may increase in love more and more.
1. The Thessalonians had a love of the Brethren.
9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you:
There is a city in the USA called Philadelphia. It was founded in the 17th Century as one of the colonies from Europe. William Penn whose name also is given to the name of the neighbouring State Pennsylvania, was instrumental in the city’s early development. It appears that in the early days several settlements joined together in harmony and true brotherly love – hence the wonderful Greek word PHILADELPHIA being chosen as the settlement’s name. Philadelphia is now a large city of 1½ million people.
Philadelphia was also the name of a much earlier city that is mentioned in the last book of the Bible. It was one of the seven churches of Asia named after its Greek founder Philadephus.
The Greek word is a compound of 2 other words PHILOS which means friend and in some circumstances a special friend – such as the best man of the bridegroom at a wedding. The other word is ADELPHOS meaning brother in the sense of a blood brother – a true brother who shares the same mother and father.
In secular Greek the word almost always refers to blood brothers and sisters only who ordinarily ought to have a degree of love for each other!
But in the New Testament its use changes. It becomes a term that indicates the love that Christians have for each other – a family love that celebrates each member having the same Father – the Lord God Himself. Indeed it should be natural for those who by faith and grace have come to know and love God as their father should love each other as brothers and sisters in his family. Philadelphia then means BROTHERLY LOVE a fraternity of faith.
It is helpful to look at some of the other New Testament texts that use the word –
Romans 12 v 10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
Hebrews 13 v 1 Let brotherly love continue.
1 Peter 1 v 22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:
2 Peter 1 v 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament then people who had been converted, become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, discovered a new love in their lives – a new love for their new brothers and sisters in the Lord – in His family. They had been adopted by the Lord Jesus Christ into the family – and they had a new set of relatives. This is similar to a child who is adopted who suddenly finds that he has a host of new aunts and uncles, and if there are already other children in the family, brothers and sisters too.
However in a new adoptive family a quality of love amongst the children does not happen automatically. It is a threatening thing for a child to have new brothers and sisters. The child needs help to learn how to love such people. And wise parents will anticipate this and put strategies in place to ensure that the child feels loved and that the child is given room and time to respond with his or her own love.
We need to ask then, how does this happen in the Christian family? Is it automatic? Does it have to be learned? Paul tells us in the second half of verse 9 –
for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
As newly adopted children into the Father’s family we have to learn to love – and He has undertaken to teach us.
2. The Love of the brethren was a God-taught love.
The language in the original here says this – THEODIDAKTOI – people who are taught by God. The Lord Jesus Christ used the same words but turned them round in John 6 v 45
It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God.
All down the ages since creation and the fall God has had to teach people to love. One of the marks of the rebellion in the garden was the spoiling of the ability to love others. Instead man became a self loving person – selfish – self centred – self orientated in everything. We should be honest enough to admit that this is the bent of all of our souls – me first – others second! It is our nature. So that when we are given a new nature we need to be taught.
However this teaching has been going on from the earliest times.
1. God the Father had taught His people to love – in the Old Testament.
Several texts can show us this – beginning with the Law of Moses –
Leviticus 19 v 18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
As soon as God had adopted His people the Jews, by covenant, He set about teaching them to love each other. Already He had commanded them to love HIM – in the exposition of the 10 commandments. Is it not sad that the creatures of such a kind and wise and loving creator should have to command men to love Him! Such was their deficiency in the love department.
Deuteronomy 6 v 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Deuteronomy 11 v 1 Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.
Deuteronomy 19 v 9… thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways;
But then God had to constantly remind His people to love each other. Shortly after the giving of the law in Exodus 20 we find these words in Exodus 23 v 4
If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.
God promises that He would teach his people –
Isaiah 54 v 13 And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.
Jeremiah 31 v 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
By the time the Lord Jesus Christ came the Jewish people had legalised the way that they loved certain people. They had taken the scriptures which spoke of God’s furious anger with the wicked and turned it into legitimate hatred for all non-Jews – Gentiles. Then they had a kind of hierarchy of love in the Jewish community – you should love your fellow Jew – so long as he wasn’t a drunkard or tax collector for the Romans – or a prostitute. Jesus came to correct these bad un-loving attitudes. So God the Father had taught originally His people that they should love Him and each other.
2. God the Son had taught His people to love – during His ministry in the New Testament.
We read in John 13 earlier these words –
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
This love is not Philadelphia but AGAPE. AGAPE is the word that appears at the end of verse 9 –
for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
We discussed this a few weeks ago when we discovered that AGAPE love does not depend on the nature of the relationship between individual human beings. Rather it is a steady selfless love, marked by a self giving attitude born out of a genuine concern for others irrespective of who they are. This kind of love is the same as God’s love for us –
Romans 5 v 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
It is also that kind of love that we are to show to those who are our enemies –
Matthew 5 v 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven:
Some of Jesus’ disciples wanted to know the degree of love that they should show in forgiveness. Peter asked in Matthew 18 v 21
Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
The Lord Jesus Christ showed by His whole life how love was to be demonstrated – and He taught His disciples and others around the quality of brotherly love that should be shown. One is reminded of the way that Jesus wept at Bethany at Lazarus’ grave and the conclusion that the observers of such weeping came to –
John 11 v 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
Jesus taught by word and by deed.
3. God the Holy Spirit teaches us to love one another.
Since He has been in heaven having ascended He has sent His Holy Spirit to do the work of teaching us how to love. Indeed there is an indication of this first of all in verse 8 of this 4th chapter of 1 Thessalonians –
8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
The Lord Jesus Christ has sent is Spirit with precisely this in mind – to teach the Thessalonians and us to love one another. They had not just been taught ABOUT brotherly love – God the Holy Spirit had actually taught them TO LOVE. This was how Jeremiah’s prophecy came true that we read a few moments ago –
Jeremiah 31 v 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Paul puts it like this in Romans 5 v 5
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Brotherly love is a fruit of the Spirit according to Galatians 5 v 22 – when the Lord God by His Holy Spirit takes up residence in the heart then love is bred into us.
Since this is true from the scriptures then what can it say to a fellowship of believers, any fellowship – where there is no love? Could it be that this principle mark of God’s grace being absent reveals that such believers are not believers at all? 1 John 4 v 7 says –
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
My friends it really is a simple equation. Sinful human nature cannot love, be patient, self-controlled, forgiving, or even generous to those who are in need to any extent beyond that which is in the person’s own interest to be those things. Sinners can love somewhat – but there is a limit. Some sinners are very patient – but only because it suits them to be so.
But when a man or woman becomes a Christian the Lord God begins to teach that person to do these things through His Holy Spirit. It becomes a proof that the selfish, self-centred person that he or she was has indeed been transformed by grace. The change can be dramatic in some cases!
John Paton was a missionary to cannibals in the South Seas. He took the love of the Lord Jesus Christ to these warlike people. There were constant wars between the different tribes but John just loved them. Whenever threatened he would stand firm and tell them of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ for them. Many times he was robbed and shot at but God preserved him to continue to show love to them.
One day he was visiting a known murderer called Nasi a very dangerous man. John felt sorry for him as he was ill and friendless. He challenged him about his life and asked if he would like his son to grow up into the same kind of man that he was. “No I certainly would not,” replied Nasi. “Then you must become a Christian – repent and believe. Give up your heathen behaviour or your son will turn out the same.”
A few days later John had to leave to go to Australia. Some of the Aniwan Christians decided to try to help Nasi. They befriended him and were kind to him, something that others would not do. They prayed for him and helped him to recover from his illness. They said “This is how the mission man helped us when he first came here. He showed us how Christians behave like Jesus.” At first Nasi was sullen – but after a few weeks he broke down and cried and said this “If your Jesus can make you and the other Christians treat me so well then I will trust Him too. I want Him to change me too. I want a heart like that of Jesus.”
There is the principle my friends. It was the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who changed this man and placed love for others in his heart. Philadelphia, brotherly love is a God taught love and flows from a genuine experience of being born again from above – becoming a real Christian. Is this your story my friend? Have you been born again? Has your heart been changed from a sinful stony heart to one of flesh that knows how to love others? The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross so that we might be forgiven – but also so that our hearts may be opened to receive His love and be transformed. This experience is the way of repentance my friend – a way of surrender – turn to Him today and begin a new life – a new path – a path of service and love for the Lord Jesus.
3. The Love of the Brethren is an extensive love.
Verse 10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia:
This Philadelphia love of which Paul speaks here was not only for the Christian church fellowship in Thessalonica – it extended to other Christians as well – they loved the brothers throughout all Macedonia. It was likely that they would have welcomed many believers from the other cities when we consider the strategic importance of Thessalonica. Merchants, traders and farmers would come to this capital city of Macedonia and the Christians amongst them would seek out hospitality from their brothers and sisters in Christ. A warm spirit towards other believers in the Lord Jesus Christ was shown by the church.
Are we that willing to show brotherly love to visiting believers? We need to show that we love others. Brotherly love speaks volumes. It was said of the Christians known to a man named Tertullian in about 192 AD that “The heathen often exclaimed in wonder “Behold how these Christians love one another.”
Are people outside of the church able to say that of us my friends – see how the fellowship at Whiddon Valley love one another? And is that extended to outsiders themselves where they can say, See how the believers in Whiddon Valley love us and care about us and our souls’ welfare!” What a challenge brotherly love is! It is a broad hearted love. But sadly in some churches this spirit is not always apparent. Sometimes unresolved individual tensions can provoke an atmosphere. Occasionally the sheer individualism of our culture has taken its toll with the creation of aloofness and suspicion, and a mealy mouthed attitude towards others – where affection and warmth ought to reign. Christian brotherly love must be a priority today. There is so little genuine love in the world – there must be much genuine Philadelphia and agape love within the church – if it is going to grow and be of any use in the community where it exists. May we all work on this dear brothers and sisters. Finally
4. The Love of the Brethren is an increasing love.
but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;
I wonder, are we a little taken aback by Paul here? In one breath he has praised the believers for loving one another – but with the next he urges them to do so more and more! It seems to be a fact that the further we get down the Christian pathway – there will still be more to be done. This is no less true in the matter of brotherly love. Paul had said in Ephesians 3 v 19 that the love of Christ passes knowledge – it is unsearchable. It is inexhaustible. And this is the kind of brotherly love that we are to show. Perhaps we have only begun to scratch the surface in the showing of brotherly love, my friends!
A heathen called Lucian watched some Christian believers around about the same time as Tertullian. He said this
“It is incredible to see the fervour with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator (Meaning the Lord Jesus Christ) has put it into their heads that they are all brethren.”
How can we show much brotherly love in the fellowship?
Our love can deepen as we enter more willingly into the hurts and joys of others.
Our love can grow in length as we forebear patiently with others.
Our love can increase as we forgive more heartily and genuinely.
We can love by going the second mile in practical things.
We can love by joining the hospitality rota and are prepared to be put out for the sake of others.
Brotherly love won’t mind our routines and patterns of life being disturbed so that we can respond to a brother or sister’s need promptly.
Brotherly love will give time for reaching out into the community. Your love is about to be tested within the week – when there are evangelistic leaflets to be delivered around the estate. Will you be taking a pile and putting them through doors?
Brotherly love desires fellowship with others whenever there is an opportunity for believers to come together – for prayer in particular. Where are you brother – sister when we meet as a church for prayer?
True brotherly love speaks well of other Christians at all times and does not bring a reputation down.
Brotherly love checks on something that has been heard about another Christian before spreading it around. Brotherly love assumes the good until something is confirmed to the contrary.
Brotherly love resists gossip and a party spirit when little groups get together to share gripes and moans.
Brotherly love seeks to build others up and refuses to pull them down.
There are so many ways that we can launch out as Christians and wade into the depths of the ocean of God given Philadelphia love. May we be such a people that know increasing love here in the fellowship, and as it spreads wider and wider into the community and beyond – to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ the one who loved us unto death!