Loving Our Sisters and Brothers
by Jack Wald | February 2nd, 2020

1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, 9-12

In the US, prior to 1975, if you wanted to send a letter overseas by air, it was less expensive to send what was called an airmail letter. This was a blue, lightweight, single sheet of paper. You wrote inside the margins. When you were finished, you folded the paper up as instructed and it was an envelope size piece of mail that weighed about three grams. You could not put anything else inside. When you wrote on one of these sheets, you started out writing and then as there was less and less space left, you wrote smaller and smaller, and finally began expressing what needed to be said with less and less words.

When Paul wrote his letters he wrote on a scroll of papyrus that was not inexpensive. Paul dictated and a scribe wrote down what Paul said. Scrolls were limited in length and so Paul had to think carefully about what was most important of all the things he could say, in order that what was most important would fit on the scroll. When he came to the end of what he wanted to say, if he had more room left on the scroll, he added his remaining thoughts.

Paul had a lot to share with people. When he passed through Troas, in modern day Turkey, Luke writes that (Acts 20:7–12)
Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.

At this point a young man sitting on a window sill fell into a deep sleep, fell three stories to the ground, and was picked up dead. Paul raised him from the dead and then continued speaking until daylight when it was time for him to leave.

Paul had so much to say that he taught all night long. So imagine Paul dictating one of his letters. He might have said to the scribe, “Hey, don’t write in such large letters. I have a lot to say.” Paul had to choose what to say among all the things he thought were important.

In the first of his two New Testament letters to the Thessalonians, he finished what he most wanted to say: addressing his sudden departure, his desire to return, his delight in hearing that they were persevering. Now, with space remaining on the scroll, he dealt with other matters.

Timothy had shared news of the Thessalonian church and Paul wanted to address some of Timothy’s observations and answer some of their questions. As we move through chapter 4 into chapter 5, the amount of space to write was getting smaller and smaller and Paul had space just to write very short comments, one or two sentences, about a variety of subjects.

This morning we will deal with his introduction to the last part of the letter, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 and then verses 9-12 which talk about brotherly love. Over the following three weeks we will come back next week to verses 3-8 which speak about sexual immorality, then go on to Paul’s comments about the return of Jesus and how we are to wait for him, and finally the shotgun of short comments on a variety of issues.

First, the introduction:
4 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

What follows may be “other matters,” but Paul does not want them to think these “other matters” do not come with authority. That is the purpose of this introduction.

we instructed you how to live

“How to live” sounds a lot like a list of rules to follow. Didn’t Jesus deliver us from obedience to the law?

The Pharisees worked hard, they were zealous for the Law. From the ten commandments and other verses in the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament, they came up with a list of 613 laws to be obeyed. As if this was not enough, these laws were expanded into many more laws to be followed. For example, the fourth of the ten commandments says, (Exodus 20:8–10)
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work

The question arose, “What is work?” and so there became, over time, thirty-nine categories of work with many specific laws under each of these sub-categories of work.

Turning a light on or off is work so modern day Orthodox Jews unscrew the light of their refrigerator before the Sabbath so when they open the refrigerator, they do not violate the law to turn on something. This kind of observance demands constant attention to make sure the 613 laws and their derivatives are not being violated.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, (Matthew 5:17)
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their obsession with obeying the law. He did not criticize the law itself; he criticized the external obedience to the Law which neglected the heart. They focused on obedience to the Law but missed the heart intent of the Law. Jesus told the Pharisees, (Matthew 23:24)
You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

The Pharisees made sure they did not walk farther than they were permitted on the Sabbath, but they neglected the needs of the people they passed as they walked.

So Jesus, with his death and resurrection, freed us from the tyranny of the Law, but that did not set us free to live anyway we want. There are still rules, guidelines, about how God wants us to live. The difference that Jesus made is that our imperfect obedience to the lives God wants us to live do not disqualify us from being in relationship with God. Our imperfect obedience to God does not cause us to be kicked out of God’s family. We are saved by grace.

We know that only Jesus can save us, but we still seek to be obedient to God. Why? Not because we need to or we will lose our salvation, but because we want to please God. We obey because we are loved, not because we fear we will be lost if we do not.

we instructed you how to live in order to please God, 

It is out of love for God and out of gratitude for what God has done for us through Jesus that we make every effort to live a life obedient to God. We want to please him. We want him to be proud of us. We want him to approve of us.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians that they are to live in a way that pleases God and commends them that on the basis of what Timothy has shared with him, they are in fact doing this.
we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.

Paul encourages them for what they have done and further encourages them to continue.
Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

Paul urges them “in the Lord Jesus.” “By the authority of the Lord Jesus.” This is not Paul’s own opinion. He is not asking them to listen to what follows in the letter as his own opinion.

In Paul’s first New Testament Corinthian letter, he writes about marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:10–12)
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.

Paul makes it clear in this passage that he is speaking from his own wisdom. This is his own opinion. But he does not say it is his own opinion in this letter to the Thessalonians. The authority of the Lord Jesus stands behind what he writes.

For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

The Greek word used for “instructions” signifies an order passed from one to another, as when a command is passed along a line of soldiers. It is an authoritative command.

In this two verse introduction to the rest of the letter, Paul is telling the Thessalonians that what he is writing to them has the highest possible authority. It is not a matter of personal choice. It is not what seems right to each person. It is not what feels right to each person. It is not a matter of whether what Paul writes is easy or difficult to do. It is not a matter of whether someone agrees or disagrees with what Paul says. It is an imperative. “This is what you must do.” Not because Paul thinks so, but because this comes through Paul with the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

John Stott writes: “Two things in particular marked off the Christians of New Testament days from contemporary society: the purity of their lives and the love that they practiced so fully.” We will come back next week to verses 3-8 and Paul’s comments on sexual immorality and how it attacks the purity of our lives. This morning we look at how the love of a community of brothers and sisters in Christ is distinctive in society.

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. 

“Love is mentioned three times in these two verses, but there are two different Greek words translated as “love.” I am sure you have heard about eros, philos, and agape love. Briefly, eros is sensual love, philos is brotherly love, and agape is the unconditional love God has for us.

In verse 9 Paul talks about “your love for one another” which is philos, brotherly love. Then he talks about being “taught by God to love each other” which is agape love. And then he affirms that they do indeed “love all of God’s family” which is again agape love.

Paul writes about brotherly love, telling them they have been taught by God’s agape love to love each other.

Agape love is to be exercised by followers of Jesus towards all people, whether they deserve it or not. But followers of Jesus have an obligation to practice a special brotherly love to those who are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 was directed to his disciples. We should feed the poor, care for the sick, and visit those in prison – but we will be judged by how we did these things for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Greek documents other than the Bible, “brotherly love” almost invariably denotes the love that binds together the children of one father. Who is our father?

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4–6
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Every person on earth who has been brought into a relationship with God through Jesus, has the same father. We are brought into a family with brothers and sisters living all over the earth.

Parents have been known to sit their children down and tell them, “Whether you like it or not, you are a member of this family and you have to learn to get along with each other.”

We have been saved into a family who will be our family for eternity. So whether you like it our not, you are a member of God’s family and we need to begin to learn how to get along with each other.

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 

The New Testament books had not yet been written, but there were teachings of Jesus that circulated among the churches.

John wrote in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”

In Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches, he said, (John 15:9–13)
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you… My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

How are we supposed to love each other? What does love look like? Look to Jesus. Read about his encounters with people in the gospels. Listen to his words. Watch him show what he meant about love by suffering on the cross for our sake. Watch him tuck up his robe and wash the feet of his disciples. Watch him stop to heal the woman who was unclean because of her bleeding. Watch him feel the pain of the widow in a funeral procession and raise her son to life to give her hope. Watch him put aside his own need to grieve for the death of his cousin, John, and teach, heal, and feed the crowds that flocked to him. Watch him rebuke the Pharisees and heal the man with a withered arm. Watch him honor Zacchaeus by telling him to come down from the tree because he wanted to eat with him. Watch him lift the woman who was caught in adultery to her feet and give her hope of a new life. Watch him as he forgave Peter for his denial of him and restored him to his position as leader of the disciples. Watch him as he looked at people, saw their circumstances, had compassion, and then put his compassion into action.

Jesus taught us about love and showed us how to love one another. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Paul continues:
And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia.

Paul commends them for how they have expressed their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ, in Thessalonica, but also in the other cities of Macedonia.

Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 

In the Marriage Course, Nicky and Sila Lee talk about a man who said to his wife on their wedding day, “I love you and if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.” Love does not express itself just one time. Love is not finite. Love does not have an ending point. Love flows like a spring that never goes dry. Love goes on and on and on.

Have you mastered the art of loving brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you have more to learn about how to do that? Do you need to think less of yourself and your needs and more of others and their needs? We all have a long way to go.

Paul has urged the Thessalonians to love God’s family. Now he begins to describe how that is to be done.
[We urge you] to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

When Timothy returned from Thessalonica and met Paul in Corinth, he shared news about what was happening in the church. He shared the good, the bad, and the ugly of what was happening. Paul did not write this letter in a vacuum.

One of the things Timothy reported was that there were segments of the church who thought that since Jesus was coming back soon, they did not need to work. Paul addresses this in some following verses and more forcefully in the second of the Thessalonian letters in the New Testament that was written a short time after this first letter. (2 Thessalonians 3:6–15)
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
14 Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

Paul is incredibly forceful in what he wrote. When he was with them he taught, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” He warns them in this letter not to associate with them. They are still believers, but they need to be avoided. Why? They were idle and disruptive. They were busybodies, creating tensions in the church, stirring up trouble.

This is the background for what Paul writes in his first letter to them, 1 Thessalonians. Before Paul addresses this idleness more directly, he begins by talking more generally about the kind of lives we are to live.
make it your ambition to lead a quiet life:

JB Phillips, in his paraphrase of the New Testament, translated this verse this way:
we urge you … to make it your ambition to have no ambition!

This seems to be a paradox. Ambition and a quiet life don’t seem to fit together. Who do you know who is ambitious? What do you think about ambitious people? Is it a good thing to be an ambitious person? In classical Greek, the word translated “ambitious” means “to strive eagerly” “to seek restlessly”. Ambition carries the sense of being eager to promote oneself. It is a self-centered preoccupation with making me wealthier, more famous, and more powerful.

If you want to be an elected official in the US, you have to be ambitious. So much money is required to be elected that people who are not ambitious never make it past the election. Raising the money to make yourself known and attract voters requires restless seeking, pursuing whatever it takes to be elected and remain in office.

You may have heard that there is an impeachment trial in the US for President Trump. Twenty-two years ago there was an impeachment trial for President Clinton. What is most distressing for me is that the ambition of these politicians has caused them to completely reverse their positions. The arguments of the Republican senators in the Clinton trial are now the arguments of the Democratic senators in the Trump trial. The gross hypocrisy of these ambitious politicians is on display. Because of their ambition, they say anything necessary to protect their power and position.

Ambition is not limited to politicians. There are too many ambitious pastors seeking to be pastor of larger and more powerful churches. This is true in business, in the entertainment industry, in the military, in every arena of human endeavor.

Be wary of the ambition that drives your life.

Paul will address in the following verses how it will be when Jesus returns, and he expected it would be soon. In light of that, he saw the utter futility of dedicating yourself to the ambitious pursuit of something that would soon be meaningless. Ambition sacrifices everything for the sake of something that will soon be lost. So Paul writes:
make it your ambition to lead a quiet life:

What does a quiet life look like?
You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,

It would seem that there was a segment of the church that was preoccupied with the return of Jesus, not working, not doing much of anything, just waiting for the return of Jesus they expected would come any day. They had a lot of time on their hands and what did they do with that time? They were not minding their own business and had a lot to say about the business of everyone else.

This was creating tensions within the church and hurting the witness of the church to other Thessalonians.
You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Thessalonians were aware of the tensions between the synagogue and this new church that had formed. They were curious, and so the neighbors of the members of this new church watched them to see what influence this new religious group had, what kind of people they were.

The idle Thessalonian believers did not present a positive witness which was one of the reasons Paul spoke so forcefully against their behavior.

You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

When Paul traveled into a city, this is what he did. He worked with his hands as a tentmaker. His witness, his example to the people in the city where he wanted to plant a church, was important to him. There were many people who traveled from city to city and lived off the donations they convinced people to give them. Paul wanted to make clear he was not preaching the gospel of Christ for financial motives so he made his own living.

When we work hard, earn a living, we present a good witness to the community around us. We are to use our gifts, our talents, our energy to care for the needs of ourselves and our family. And, this also allows us to be generous to others in the body who have needs. When someone in the church community is not able to work for one reason or another, the generosity of the church community is a witness to the world around the church community.

Let me share my response to this teaching. As I have worked on this text, I have been convicted about my own caring for brothers and sisters in Christ.

I have a lot of judgments. I make judgments about people I meet. I can’t help it. Whether I want to or not, judgments are there. What is helpful is that I am aware of my judgments. I think about how my judgments could negatively impact my relationship with people I meet. This helps me to relate to people in a healthier way because I can push aside my instinctive judgments and treat the person I am talking to without allowing my judgments to affect my relationship to that person. I think about how Jesus would relate to this person and try to do the same.

Because of how we were raised, because of the culture we grew up in, we have prejudices that are deep-seated in us. Racial prejudice, sexual prejudice, national prejudice, prejudice against body types – all these fester in us. What is most dangerous is when we do not admit to these prejudices and allow them to unconsciously affect how we relate to people or make decisions affecting other people.

I’ve gotten better at this over the years. I like and enjoy almost all people that I meet. But there are times when my prejudice gets the better of me.

The first time Annie and I met our future son-in-law, Matt, was at a banquet for some Christian charity. Elizabeth invited us to come and brought Matt with her. What we had understood from her was that she was not receptive to Matt’s attention, was a bit bothered by him, so I went to the banquet and purposely did not pay much attention to him. If this man was pushing himself on my daughter and she did not want his attention, I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. But unbeknownst to me, Elizabeth was falling in love with Matt and she and Matt wanted our approval. My behavior was hurtful to both of them. Now that I know and love Matt, I see how destructive my behavior was to him. I deeply regret the way I treated him.

I thought about this when I was reflecting on this morning’s passage and wished once again that I could go back in time and have that banquet again.

What difference did it make whether Elizabeth was in love with Matt or not? Matt is a brother in Christ and there was no good reason for me not to have treated him with more respect. Whether he ended up marrying Elizabeth or not, he is still my brother in Christ and my responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to love my brother, not treat him dismissively.

The Pastor Search Committee has received a lot of resumes. Only a handful of those were interviewed, but all of the people who sent in a resume are, presumably, our brothers and sisters in Christ. If the committee does not think the resume reflects the kind of person RIC is looking for as pastor, we still have the responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to wish them well as they seek a position where they can serve as pastor. We need to respect them, honor them, even as we inform them they are not a good fit for RIC.

When I was in Thailand for Christmas, I met a man named Steve. I don’t think he is a follower of Jesus. I watched him interact with people and was very impressed with how kindly he interacted with everyone he met. I asked him about this and he told me he had decided to be kind to everyone he meets.

I want to be more like this. I want to be more like this with everyone I meet, but in light of today’s text, I want even more to be like this with my brothers and sisters in Christ here at RIC and wherever I meet them.

We come this morning to the communion table. We will share together the bread and juice in a meal that looks forward to the wedding banquet when we will be one family from all nations and all of time, feasting and celebrating together.

This meal looks past our inevitable death to the journey we will make to our eternal home. But we do not make this journey alone. God has given us the gift of a community to accompany us. God has given us brothers and sisters so we are not only children.

This does not mean we will all be each other’s best friends. We have different personalities, different interests, different personality quirks. We do not have to be best friends with each other, but we need to love, honor, and respect each other.

Treat each other with kindness. Encourage each other. Reach out across national and racial boundaries. We are family and the more we are family, the more we care for each other, the greater our witness to the world around us.