1 THESSALONIANS 4:9-10
Brief Recap: The Thessalonian believers lived in a heartless pagan society that was engrossed in sexual immorality. They lived within a culture that made no provision for the poor, the sick, or the aged. A Christian would stand out from others because they “abstained” from all the forms of sexual immorality that were being practiced and encouraged. They had a shared unity among their members where brotherly kindness was openly practiced, so unlike the culture around them.
Now, as Christians, their conduct would be radically different than the culture in which they lived. They were to be light amid darkness; live lives of purity in contrast to impurity; to practice selflessness rather than selfishness. When the gospel first arrived in Thessalonica, people’s hearts had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. As a result, two characteristics attracted the most attention from their neighbors: personal purity and love for one another!
So, it makes sense that Paul’s first exhortations to them would be along the lines of avoiding sexual immorality by practicing self-control, and to “excel still more” in their expression of love toward one another. The latter is what we will focus on in this study.
9 “Now as to the love of the brothers and sisters, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you practice it toward all the brothers and sisters who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more . . .”
FOCUS ONE: In this study and including our next one, we see two themes and two groups emerge in Paul’s thinking:
The themes of love for the brethren and their testimony among unbelievers become Paul’s focus. The groups involved are the church (insiders) and unbelievers (outsiders). You can see this in verse 12.
This study will only be concerned with the first group, the “insiders,” those redeemed and a part of the church in Thessalonica. Verse nine is interesting in that Paul, using the word “now,” directs those who will be reading this letter to his next topic, that of love for one another. But directly after that, he says, “you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. . .” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Why mention it then? How did God teach them to love one another?
Jeremiah 31:31-33 is where we need to begin to answer those questions.
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Because this covenant will be new, it stands in contrast to the old covenant, which was the Mosaic covenant under which our Bible records Israel’s failure to keep it. This new covenant will have a (1)”spiritual, divine dynamic by which those who know Him would participate in the blessings of salvation.” This new covenant, which Jesus Christ announced in Luke 22:20, is represented by the “cup which is poured out for you,” signifying the manner of His death; death on a cross where His blood would be shed for the remission of sins!
When writing his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke of this very thing (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul, there is stating that their changed lives are proof that Christ had transformed them from within. In contrast to the false teachers that accused Paul of not having the proper documentation to prove himself a legitimate teacher, Paul’s commendation was “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v.3). Sound familiar? It should! Jeremiah was speaking about an “internal” change within people that would be accomplished in their hearts as contrasted to the law written on tablets of stone that could only ever be “our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24).
Add the above to the very words of Christ as he answered one of the scribes in regards to what commandment is the first or foremost of all in Mark 12:28-31, and you should be able to understand how God taught these believers to love: to love Him supremely and others sacrificially.
10 “for indeed you practice it toward all the brothers and sisters who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more. . .”
FOCUS TWO: This is the second of three times (4:1; 5:11) where Paul acknowledges that they are practicing the very things that he is referring to. He is not urging them to “begin” a particular behavior but to continue it or “excel still more” in the conduct they are already practicing. Paul has learned how well they are doing in exhibiting love for one another in their local region. Still, he seeks to encourage them to go further, to “think outside the box” and practice Christian love, gospel love, with others outside their small group, outside their community.
They were already encouraging one another, giving preference to one another, serving one another, rejoicing and weeping with one another, practicing forgiveness and tolerating one another for the sake of biblical unity, praying, and showing compassion for one another.
Paul does not want these believers to be narrow-minded in their expression of love for each other or other believers elsewhere. And, as we will notice in our following study, their expression of gospel love has purposes that extend to those outside the community of faith as well (v.12).
Paul wrote elsewhere that “love does no wrong to a neighbor. . .” (Romans 13:10); that a part of the fruit of the Spirit, the first on the list, is love (Galatians 5:22). Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:35). Jesus tied our obedience to His word as an expression of our love for Him (John 14:23)!
The church of Christ has no boundaries, so neither should its love for others. Since God has shown His love for us, while we were yet still sinners as Romans 5:8 teaches, we are to love one another manifesting this same love to others: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Gospel love, then, is not mere sentiment or particular feelings that we think we should experience but is an act of obedience to the will and word of God-at times without and sentiment or emotion (Matthew 5:44-48; Luke 6:27-36; 1 and 2 John).
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
- When people are regenerated (born again) by the Holy Spirit, they become new creations in Christ Jesus, “old things have passed away, behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). How has your life been changed since you have received Jesus Christ and His forgiveness?
- Our culture, much like the Thessalonians culture, is overcome with sexual immorality of all types. Paul taught in the previous verses that a Christ follower must practice self control and remain sexually pure. What struggles are you facing in this area of your life? What are you doing to “resist” or “abstain” from sexual sin? Consider Philippians 2:12-13 and James 1:13-16.
- What does Jesus tell His disciple to do in Matthew 26:41? How can this help you overcome temptation in your life?
- In what ways can you “excel still more” in your obedience to Christ?
- In what areas of your life or with what people are you struggling to show “gospel love?” Re-read the verses on love in this study and prayerfully meditate on God’s will for you.
MacArthur study bible note on page 1541