Abounding More and More, Part 2
(The Christian Life)
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Church in Thessalonica during the early days of the Christian Church. The New Testament was not available. He wrote just 26 years after Jesus returned to the Father. All the Apostles, except James, were still alive. Herod killed James in 44 A.D. The doctrines of the Church were not in writing yet. The Jerusalem council of Acts 15 settled the issue of whether Gentile believers needed to be circumcised. However, very little of the New Testament was recorded by this point. Matthew might have written his Gospel by this time. There is also a chance that the Gospel of Mark was written before Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians.
The Old Testament, the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit were all the early Church had for doctrine and teaching. Therefore, 1 Thessalonians began laying the doctrinal foundation of the Church. It started the written record that is so important to us today.
In the first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians, Paul lays out the basics of salvation, such as faith in Jesus alone for salvation, God’s love and choice of His Church, and the believers’ need for each other. Then, he starts chapter four with “Finally.” He is marking a transition at this point. Until now, Paul has been reviewing fundamental doctrine. Now, he switches to practical matters. The Apostle has been telling them what it is to be saved. Now, he is telling them how they should live as a result of being saved.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, he urges them to live to please God.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, he urges them to abstain from sexual immorality.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, he urges them to increase in brotherly love.
He urges them to grow in these three areas:
- Pleasing God. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2
- Sexual Purity. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
- Brotherly Love. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
These three represent aspects of sanctification. Sanctification means being set apart to God. Sanctification is, in part, instantaneous as a person is made a child of God at salvation. It is also a process of growth as a person becomes more like Christ after salvation. The three aspects of sanctification listed above are not requirements for salvation. All that is required for salvation is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. However, all believers should show their faith by their actions. Paul points to these aspects of sanctification as being essential parts of our growth.
Last week I covered the first two, the plan this week is to cover the third one, “Brotherly Love.”
1 Thessalonians 4:9 says,
1 Thessalonians 4:9 (NKJV) 9But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;
The words “but concerning” signal a transition in thought. Since Paul is making an abrupt change in thought, he marks the path so we can follow. He has been speaking on sexual immorality. Now, he is speaking about brotherly love. Although brotherly love requires sexual purity, Paul does not bring this up as part of his teaching on sexual purity. He marks the introduction of a new subject with the words “but concerning.”
Brotherly love is different from other types of love. We love our neighbor as ourselves, but we express an entirely different level of love for our spouse or children. Through the Scriptures, God commands a whole different level of commitment to one’s spouse as compared to others. Scripture requires us to care for and provide for our families with familial affection. A father’s love for a daughter or a son is a special bond that exists only in that relationship and in no other. Similarly, the brotherly love that exists between Christian brothers and sisters is unique to that relationship.
We love the lost and carry a burden of concern for their salvation, but this is not the same love that we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Notice the message of verse nine is that because they were taught by God to love each other, there was no need to write to them about the subject.
A believer is taught by God to love his fellow believers. When a person accepts Christ as Savior, he or she receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit within that person teaches him or her to love other believers. Such love is spontaneous. It comes without our knowing it at first. The Holy Spirit teaches us several things. He testifies with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). He leads us into all truth (John 16:13). He teaches us to discern the truth (1 John 2:20).
Brotherly love is an essential part of who we are. Look at 1 John 4:20-21.
1 John 4:20–21 (NKJV) 20If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
“He is a liar” are strong words, but they are the words of Scripture. This Scripture firmly connects love of our fellow Christian with love of God. Jesus also made the same connection. He said that our love for each other is our distinguishing characteristic.
John 13:35 (NKJV) 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love and affection are a consistent theme throughout Thessalonians and the New Testament. Love is part of the nature of our God and Savior. If we do not love, we do not know God. The Thessalonians knew God, and it was evident because of their love. Paul says he did not need to write to them about it. However, in verse ten, he urges them to increase more and more.
1 Thessalonians 4:10 (NKJV) 10and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more;
The phrase increase more and more could be said to be over-emphatic. As a matter of fact, one of the commentaries I read said that it is over-emphatic. The idea behind the Greek word translated “increase” could also be translated “abound.” More precisely, it means to exceed or go beyond the expected measure. In English, we say someone has gone above and beyond what is expected. Paul is urging them and us to grow in this area. Paul could not use stronger language to express the importance of growing in this area because the stronger language does not exist.
Brotherly love affects our entire life, but Paul names three specific areas where our brotherly love will show itself. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says,
1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NKJV) 11that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you,
The three areas are:
- Strive to lead a quiet life
- Accomplish your own
- Work with your own hands
The Greek for “Strive to lead a quiet life” is an oxymoron. Strive to be at peace or rest. How can one strive and be at peace at the same time? This is only possible for the Christian. We work to please God and rest in the sufficiency of Christ at the same time. The quiet life we are called upon to lead encompasses the ideas of harmony. Many times the New Testament urges us to live at peace with each other. For example, Philippians 2 urges harmony and unity in the most persuasive language possible when it says:
Philippians 2:1–2 (NKJV) 1Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Such harmony is what we are to strive for, but what do we strive for instead? Look at James 4 with me.
James 4:1–2 (NKJV) 1Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.
We must understand that this was not written to humanity in general. James was writing to the Church — to you and me! Furthermore, we all carry scars and deep wounds from these battles. Paul urges us to strive to live a quiet life. Taking up our cross and following Jesus, as Jesus calls us to do, will lead to this quiet life. We must surrender our desires to Him. Our battles and scars are evidence of how far we have yet to go.
In addition to striving to lead a quiet life, Paul calls on us to “accomplish our own.”
We may understand “accomplish your own” better if we look at Galatians 6.
Galatians 6:3–5 (NKJV) 3For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5For each one shall bear his own load.
The truth taught in these verses points out how we ALL meddle. We all take our turn at telling another person how they should live. We speak to each other with words like “you should” or “you ought to.”
The problem is that not one of us manages our own life perfectly, yet we try to tell others how they should live. We are to pray for each other. We are to try to understand each other. We are to listen to each other and encourage each other. We are to be interested and involved, but we are not to step over the line and tell another person how to live the life God has given them to live.
The obvious exceptions to this are moral issues. We are to confront each other about moral issues. We must warn each other not to steal, kill, or defraud others and stop each other from doing these things. However, we tend to overlook moral issues and pick at personal preferences or opinions. We must learn to distinguish between moral issues and opinions.
The second issue Paul brings up is working with one’s own hands.
“Work with your own hands” is a caution against laziness. Ephesians 4:28 says,
Ephesians 4:28 (NKJV): 28Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
Love requires that we meet our own needs and others’ needs as far as we are able. Not working with our own hands means we live off someone else’s labor, and this is stealing.
The obvious exception to this is those who are unable to provide for themselves for one reason or another. In this case, it is our privilege and a gift from God to meet the needs of others.
If you are one whose physical limitations keep you from working, do not be ashamed. If your contribution is nothing more than prayer, we need you more than we need money or labor. If you are one who could work but won’t, you should be ashamed and get a job.
Sanctification is practical. There are things we must do to become more like Christ. Three aspects of sanctification covered in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 are:
- Pleasing God
- Sexual purity
- Brotherly love
A disciplined person can keep a set of rules — a list of do’s and don’ts. However, these three things require a work of God in our hearts that goes deeper than do’s or don’ts. These three things require that we not grieve the Holy Spirit but rather yield our lives and desires to Him.