1 Thessalonians 4: 9 - 12
Mark Twain: "It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand." All God’s people said, “He’s right about that.” We know what he meant. You can spend years studying difficult Bible passages and come away more confused than when you started. Even the great apostle Peter confessed that some things Paul wrote were hard to understand. If Peter had trouble with Paul, we shouldn’t be surprised when we struggle to understand some parts of the Bible.
Some parts of the Bible are hard to understand…
Or you can ponder these simple words of Jesus: “Do for others what you want them to do for you.” That’s the sort of thing Mark Twain was thinking about. There is nothing tricky about the words. There are no translation problems. The Golden Rule states a principle for conduct that is timeless in its simplicity.
How do we put the Golden Rule into practice?
We face the same challenge with our text. The words are clear enough, but will we do what they say? These verses teach us how to love others and how to live intentionally so our lives win the respect of outsiders. We need this message because the church has lost its witness to the world. Somewhere along the way, we have lost sight of what we might call “everyday Christianity.” Even though we live in a high-tech world, the needs of the heart have not changed. People still want to know, “Where is the message that can change my life, forgive my sins, and give me a fresh start?”
We need to hear what God is saying to us today. As you read these words, listen with your heart for God’s message to you. These verses describe what the church owes the world.
1. An Example of Brotherly Love v. 9a
That’s an interesting way to put it, isn’t it? “I don’t need to remind you about this, but I will anyway.” Philadelphia - refers to the love of family members for one another. It comes from 2 Greek words - philos - “tender affection, fondness, devotion.” Adelphos - usually translated “brother” literally - “one born of the same womb.”
So the word literally means “tender affection owed to those born from the same womb.” It’s easy to understand why Paul chose this word. All Christians have been “born of the same womb” through the new birth. Everyone who is saved is saved the same way. God doesn’t have 3 different plans of salvation—Plan A for Protestants, Plan B for Catholics and Plan C for everyone else. Jesus said, “You must be born again” - means to receive new life through personal faith in Jesus Christ. It means to be “born from God’s womb.”
Everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me. I owe all of them tender affection and true devotion. 3 facts about this brotherly love:
A. It is taught to us by God Himself v. 9b
It speaks not of a lesson learned in a classroom but of truth learned through relationship. What’s the best way to learn French? Move to France, live with a French-speaking family. Immerse yourself in French culture. Soon the atmosphere of France itself will enter your bloodstream. The same is true regarding love. You learn to love by associating with loving people. Love isn’t taught; it’s caught. Because we come from the womb of God, we share his basic nature, which is love. Therefore, love ought to be the most natural thing for the believer to express. If you are a Christian, you are "from the womb of God."
We love because God is love. It’s a family trait. To be a Christian is to enter a fellowship of brotherly love.
B. It reaches out to love all God’s children v. 10a
That’s not easy to do. Most of us love some of the brothers, maybe even most of the brothers. But all of them? That’s a tough assignment. Let us be clear - We are to love all true believers everywhere all the time. That’s hard because most of us have some inner reservations. We don’t like this group or that denomination. We distrust those who have a different worship style.
There will always be points of difference among God’s people. Redemption in Christ does not homogenize the church. Believers have disagreed on issues for the last 2000 years. I don’t believe we must abandon our doctrinal or cultural distinctives. But if we take Paul seriously, then we must seek to love other Christians who may see the world differently than we do.
The love of God is not limited—not by nation or ocean or tribe or tongue or custom or clothing or race or politics or any other human condition. When the love of God captures us, our hearts will be as big as his—reaching to the ends of the earth.
C. It should always be increasing in our lives v. 10b
Our love should increase - we should increase in our - Sympathy for those in need - Patience for those who are struggling - Tolerance toward those with whom we disagree.
The most powerful recommendation for any church is this - that the members love one another! When the unchurched are asked what they want in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church - a relevant church - a church with plenty of programs. Not just a church where the Bible is clearly taught. As good as those things are, they don’t touch the heart cry for a place where they can be deeply loved.
How does God help us grow in this area? By putting us in situations that force us to practice Christian love. In times like these, when feelings run deep and tempers are short, we must extend grace to each other. We must find a way to love each other. We are taught by God to love each other. May God help us to do it.
In many cases, we will simply have to agree to disagree. In some cases, we’ll find it easier to love each other from a distance, at least for a while. We can’t love everyone the same way or to the same degree. But if we are Christians at all, we must find a way to love even when loving is hard to do.
It is not magic but rather the power of the Holy Spirit who causes us to love. The church is to be a community of love. We owe it to the Lord, to each other, and to the watching world.
2. A Challenge to Balanced Living v. 11
When he was with them, Paul had taught them about the return of Christ. Jesus could return today or tomorrow or next week or next year. Whenever people get excited about the Lord’s return, there are always those who take it to extremes. Remember the worldwide commotion when Harold Camping predicted the end of the world on 21 May 2011. In answer to that kind of extremism, Paul issues a strong call for balanced living. He gives 3 commands –
A. Live a Quiet Life
This is the answer to the problem of restlessness. It speaks of the end of conflict, of peace after warfare. Be ambitious, Paul says, to live quietly. We need this because our ambition tends to be noisy, to make a splash, to make a name for ourselves, to get ahead, to rise above the crowd.
“Stay calm”- be less frantic and more settled in your life. “You will never be happy until you learn to enjoy what you already have.” Those are good words for us to hear. We spend thousands of rand seeking happiness when the answer is learning to enjoy what God has already given us.
These words fit our workaholic age. We live in hurried times, with little sense of stillness and rest. We work harder to achieve less. We are a generation of hyperactive, overgrown kids who stay perpetually hyped up on caffeine, sugar, TV and raucous music.
This is the Age of the Half-read Page
And the Quick Bash, and the Mad Dash
The Bright Night, with the Nerves Tight
The Plane Hop, with a Brief Stop
The Lamp Tan in a Short Span
The Big Shot in a Good Spot
And the Brain Strain and the Heart Pain
And the Cat-Naps, till the Spring Snaps
And the Fun’s Done!
We measure our success by how much we accomplish each day. No wonder we are restless, edgy, tense, nervous and easily distracted. We talk but have nothing to say; we listen without hearing a word.
“Help us to do our very best this day and be content with today’s troubles, so that we shall not borrow the troubles of tomorrow. Save us from the sin of worrying, lest stomach ulcers be the badge of our lack of faith. Amen.”
B. Mind Your Own Business
This is the answer to the problem of meddlesomeness. We all know people like this. They are busybodies who feel called to mind their own business--and yours too. They believe they have a right to invade your privacy. This is a perverted view of brotherly love. One writer speaks of “the busybody’s compulsive itch to set other people right.”
I don’t need to have an opinion about everything. I can feel free to have no opinion about something. If I take proper care of my own affairs, I won’t have the time or energy to worry too much about what others do or say.
C. Work with your own hands
This is the answer to the problem of idleness. Paul isn’t being metaphorical. He literally worked with his hands as a tentmaker so he could support himself while he preached the gospel. Even though he was highly educated, he didn’t mind hard work and he didn’t find manual labour embarrassing.
The upper classes of Greece despised manual labour. That’s why they owned so many slaves. But Christianity brought in a new ethic based on personal responsibility and hard work. Remember, Jesus was a carpenter’s son!
Religious People Can Be a Nuisance
“It is a terrible thing for religious people to have nothing to do but be religious.” “Those who get up in the morning with nothing to do but be religious are generally a great nuisance.” Who makes a real impact for Christ in the world? The man who gets up in the morning, goes to his job and works all day, and the woman who pursues her daily tasks at home and on the job with cheerfulness.
How we work is as crucial as how we pray. There is no greater testimony than the Christian mechanic at his bench, the Christian teacher in the classroom, the Christian secretary at the desk, the Christian nurse at the hospital, or the Christian accountant keeping the books.
This is true Christianity. Going to church means little if you are lazy on the job. Most of us don’t see our daily work as a way to worship God. But it is. What you do on Monday is just as sacred in the eyes of the Lord as what you do in church on Sunday.
3. The Difference We Will Make v. 12
Paul wraps up with a word about the impact this kind of life makes.
A. You will Win the Respect of Outsiders
Let me state it negatively and positively. Negative - “Don’t be lazy and give the church a black eye.” Positive - “You can make the church beautiful by the way you do your job.”
Remember, you are the only Bible someone will ever read. You are the only Christian someone will ever meet. What do people read, hear and see when they look at your life?
The lowliest occupation becomes a powerful sermon when it is done with dignity, honesty, diligence and faithfulness. The common man who does his common job with uncommon grace will never lose his self-respect and will win respect for the church of Jesus Christ.
When we show that our faith makes us better workers, truer friends, better neighbours, kinder men and women, then we are really preaching. Our lives are sermons that daily draw others to Jesus . . . or push them away from him.
B. You will not be Dependent on Others
There is a good kind of independence we should all strive for. It’s the kind that comes from paying your bills on time so you don’t have to steal, borrow money or run up a huge credit card debt. There is nothing wrong with accepting generosity of others in the time of need. But to come to depend on it and to think it is owed to you is a terrible sin.
What does the church owe the world? If we stand back and look at the first 12 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, we get an answer like this: Each Christian is under obligation for 3 things:
A holy life —free from immorality (v. 1 - 8)
A harmonious life —always increasing in brotherly love (v. 9, 10)
An honest life —living quietly, minding our own business, working with our own hands (v. 11, 12).
If we want to make an impact on the world, this is where we need to begin.
Lord Jesus, help us to be “everyday Christians” whose faith shows in the way we love and the way we live. Amen.