Monday, November 16, 2009

Pleasing God with Our Love

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 Paul is, in very practical terms, continuing to develop the concept of pleasing God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 proved that we are to please the Lord with our sexuality. God has designed sex as a gift to be enjoyed by a man and his wife; anything outside of that is fornication, and we are commanded to “abstain from fornication”. There is a transition in today’s passage from a condemnation of lust to a commendation of love; the apostle transitions from chastity to charity.

In his commentary on this letter, John MacArthur describes Christianity as “a shoe-leather faith.” Why doe he describe it that way? The reason is because our faith is to be practiced and demonstrated before a watching world in practical, everyday activities; from the ordinary, boring, routines of your life to the big, public, and not-so-routine moments. And the hallmark characteristic of Christianity is L – O – V – E! That only stands to reason because the OT teaches, the Lord affirmed, and the NT shows that love is to be the primary mark of identification for God’s people and the Lord’s churches.

In answering the question of what was the greatest commandment; the Lord answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all the soul, and with all thy mind”… but He didn’t stop there, he continued by saying, “And the second is like unto it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’” (Matthew 22:37-38; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). Love is the evidence of genuine faith. The NT is full of passages that hammer - albeit with a velvet hammer - that truth home: John 13:34-35; John 15:11-12; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:7-21.

Love is the feature that should distinguish the believer from the nonbeliever, and the church from any other assembly. With that in mind we will consider three things from today's text: the foundation of love; the expression of love, and the impact of love.

The Foundation of Love – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

This was a loving church. Paul had already commended the congregation for their “Labor of love”. He was thankful to hear Timothy bring “good tidings of {their} faith and love.” Paul prayed for this church to increase and abound in love for one another and for the lost world. This church did indeed love.

Why did this church love? How did they love? The foundation of their love was, and the foundation of our love is, the Lord God. As the text read, “For ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (v. 9b). The preceding verse reminds us that as believers we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; that reference taken together with “taught of God” reveals that the foundation of Christian love is the Lord; an activity of God within the heart. This love was not innate to the Thessalonians, and is definitely not innate to us.

It is a characteristic of the new nature one possess as a child of God. When you are converted to Christ you are “born again”. You are a new creation. As a new creation in Christ you receive His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). The indwelling Spirit of God is the believer's guide in understanding and applying the truths of God’s Word; as these Scripture's attest: John 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; Romans 5:3-5.

The foundation of love is God, because God is love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10; cf. John 3:14-21). This love is not superficial, emotional, or sentimental. And it’s not simply a duty or a commandment. Instead, love is the very foundation of our experience as Christians. Salvation is possible because God loves you. We are able to love God because He first loved us, and as the redeemed (redeemed meaning purchased – purchased by the shed blood of Jesus) we are to love one another.

In the context of a local church we are to love one another; that would seem obvious, but it is very often not exemplified. The love is not to be restricted only to your local church, however; Paul praised the Thessalonians for their love of their sister Macedonian churches (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Our love shouldn’t stop there. We should love our fellow believers, even those who have different convictions about various points of doctrine. You may not feel comfortable joining their church and vice versa, but we still serve the same great God. We should have and display love for one another. But our love for others must not be limited to our fellow church members, sister-churches, and fellow believers. We must love the lost; taking the name of Jesus with us so that we may win them to Christ.

The Holy Spirit is the foundation of our love and v. 11 describes the expression of our love.

The Expression of Love – 1 Thessalonians 4:11

The Thessalonians weren’t perfect, an even though there was much about this church to commend, there were also some areas that needed to be addressed. This verse addresses three types of negative church member behavior: fanatics, busybodies, and loafers.

Lead a Quiet Life“study to be quiet”

The first expression of love addresses the first negative behavior: “study to be quiet” is the antidote for fanaticism. Evidently there were some Thessalonians who had become obsessed with the Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:2). They were so zealously preoccupied with Christ’s return that they neglected their daily responsibilities.

“Why bother?” They must have thought.

“Christ’s coming again at any moment so let’s just stop everything, and wait for the show!”

All Christians should eagerly await the return of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7; Revelation 22:20), but not to the point of fanaticism. We have not been left here to stand around, looking up in the sky, and speaking only about eschatology.

As Christians we are to be bold and urgent in our witness because we know that Christ’s return is imminent, but we are not to lead loves of frenetic, noisy agitation. In v. 11 Paul used two verb forms that appear contradictory. Study means “to be zealous; ambitious” and "to be quiet" means “to be silent; at rest and tranquil”. You could paraphrase it this way: “Make it your ambition to have no ambition”. It is an oxymoron, instructing us, not to lack initiative, but not to overemphasize certain points of doctrine.

I know people like that; where every conversation will be peppered with some reference to their preoccupation: the translation issue, the timing of the Rapture, reformed theology, the spiritual gifts, the degrees of separation, etc. Many churches have this preoccupation and it is evident just by reading their letterhead or viewing their church sign. Here again is another quote from MacArthur's commentary:
"In anticipation of the Lord’s return, believers are to lead peaceful lives, free of conflict and hostility towards others, which is a witness to the transforming power of the Gospel.”
Mind Your Own Business“to do our own business”

This is a word to the church busybodies; those who want always to poke their nose into everyone else’s business. This is an apostolic injunction to the church in Thessalonica, and to every church, for believers to concentrate on their own lives, take care of their own business, and not meddle in the affairs of others. We must understand that there exists a colossal difference between putting others first – Philippians 2:4, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” – and the nosy person’s compulsive itch to know everyone else’s affairs.

This could be classified as the “What about him” syndrome which so affected the apostle Peter in John 21:19b-22,
“And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me…Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”
The word busybody literally means “wasting their labor”, and instead of behaving in this unwise and undisciplined manner, a believer is to express his love for God and others by staying out of other people’s business and leading a quiet, unobtrusive life; serving others and glorifying God before unbelievers.

Work with Your Hands“work with your own hands”

How are the loafers in the congregation supposed to express the love of God and for God? They were to work with their own hands instead of being lazy. You should note that manual labor was viewed as degrading by much of Greek culture, but Paul said that those who wouldn’t work shouldn’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Of course, this is referring to those who could work but just would not work. Paul was not ashamed to work. In fact, his working as a tent-maker in order to financially support himself and his colleagues was probably attacked by his opponents in Corinth; arguing that a real teacher would not be supported instead of doing manual labor to support himself. But Paul operated in that manner so as not to drain the resources of the young churches he had planted (1 Thessalonians 2:9; cf. Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12). Work is a noble task to which all Christians should be engaged for their own support and the glory of God.

The Impact of Love – 1 Thessalonians 4:12

Christians are to lead quiet lives, mind their own business, and be hard workers, but do not view these things as ends in themselves. Don’t read these verses like, “Great, I like the sound of a quiet life and minding my own business!” The underlying emphasis behind this entire section – sexual purity and brotherly love (expressed as quiet living, non-obtrusive, and hard working) – is so that you may win the respect of outsiders, and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. Part of a Christian’s basic mission is to live a life that commends the Gospel to others. My good behavior is not for my glory but for God’s glory and for the sake of the Gospel.

The purpose for this exhortation is evangelism, as well as financial independence (and independence does not mean “everything that I’ve ever wanted”; it means food, clothes, and shelter). The integrity of their lives was critical to their evangelism. Their display of brotherly love via their sexual purity, their quiet lives, their respect for the privacy of others, and their diligent work ethic was a powerful testimony to unbelievers and it made the Gospel credible. What was true in 1st century Greece is true today in 21st century America.

There is a little ditty that says, “You’re writing a Gospel; a chapter a day; by the deeds that you do and the words that you say. Men will read what you write; distorted or true. So what is the Gospel according to you?”

The world was watching the church in Thessalonica. The world is watching your life and your church. They do not appreciate our grasp of Biblical doctrine. They have no clue, and they care not about our “doctrinal distinctiveness”, but they are able to recognize transformed lives. They are able to evaluate us as we love one another, and they are able to experience love as we show it to them. Believer, let us not only proclaim the Gospel with our lips, but may we adorn our lives with the Gospel.

Ask yourself:
  • Will my actions please God? Christian morality is not primarily rules and regulations but relationships. The more we know and love God, the more we will want to please Him.
  • How will my actions allow me to serve others? Pray for the desire to please God over the desire to please self. Pray that your love for others will displace your love for self.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

John MacArthur & Pretrib Rapture

Who knows, maybe John (Reformedispy) MacArthur is right and the greatest Greek scholars (Google "Famous Rapture Watchers"), who uniformly said that Rev. 3:10 means PRESERVATION THROUGH, were wrong. But John has a conflict. On the one hand, since he knows that all Christian theology and organized churches before 1830 believed the church would be on earth during the tribulation, he would like to be seen as one who stands with the great Reformers. On the other hand, if John has a warehouse of unsold pretrib rapture material, and if he wants to have "security" for his retirement years and hopes that the big California quake won't louse up his plans, he has a decided conflict of interest. Maybe the Lord will have to help strip off the layers of his seared conscience which have grown for years in order to please his parents and his supporters - who knows? One thing is for sure: pretrib is truly a house of cards and is so fragile that if a person removes just one card from the TOP of the pile, the whole thing can collapse. Which is why pretrib teachers don't dare to even suggest they could be wrong on even one little subpoint! Don't you feel sorry for the straitjacket they are in? While you're mulling all this over, Google "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the same 180-year-old fantasy.

Travis said...

Mr. Anonymous,

You have provided evidence of the very mindset I warned against in this post. To attack MacArthur because you differ with him concerning the Rapture's timing is simply silly.