Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 3 : 16. Brotherly Love
1 Thess 4:9,10 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.
There was a part of a verse in the previous group about sexual purity that we did not comment upon because it seems it provides Paul’s link to this encouragement to love each other even more. It is, “in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.” (4:6a) What he seems to be suggesting is that where there is immorality – crossing that boundary of one man with one woman in a committed relationship – it can so often affect a third party, a husband perhaps or another member even of the Christian family. If you enter into an illicit relationship with someone and they are already in a relationship with another, that other person is being wronged and being taken advantage of through what you are wrongly doing.
When you put this alongside God’s teaching about love, you realise this just cannot be, it must not be. So now he picks up on the general teaching about loving one another. That was clearly something that the apostles had taught in their initial founding of this church and so Paul doesn’t really need to go over it again. But actually, in their case, even beyond the fact that they have had this teaching, they have clearly put it into practice and they have become known for their love to all believers in that whole area. It seems almost unnecessary to bring teaching on this matter having picked it up because of his warning against temptations in the sexual area, bit it is something so vital that he wants to urge them to do it more and more and (implied) be even more widely known for their love.
Perhaps it seems so obvious, this teaching on love but practically it becomes one of the most important features of the life of the church. In the Garden of Gethsemane, after Jesus had prayed for protection of the believers, he prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20,21). Now how can you have oneness without love? This is vital. How will the world see and believe if we are not one and how can we be one without love?
Now the teaching on love is simple and straightforward. First we find: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40) That is basic but then Jesus taught, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35). Jesus’ love was sacrificial love, love that lays down its life for others. One of the early Church Fathers wrote of the reputation of the early church, “See, they say, how they love one another.”
Now we have to be honestly practical. Do we see this sacrificial love in the life of our local churches. I am going to suggest that so often it is absent. If that is so here, I suggest, are some reasons why it is so.
First, because this is not taught as of first importance. If regular preaching and teaching does not remind the congregation that we are called to be a congregation of love, we will allow things in that this hinder love.
Second, because we allow behaviours and attitudes that are unloving. If we fail to love, care and accept every person who comes to us we will be unloving. If we tolerate gossip, criticisms, jealousy, envy, or prejudices we are unloving. Be honest, are any of these in our local church?
Third we do not cultivate and develop structures that develop first fellowship, then trust, then love. Big meetings can convey the message; little gatherings provide opportunity for love to grow. Although you can have the general attitude of love towards all, the practical in-depth feeling and expression of love develops when you relate to people closely, i.e. you fellowship with them. In that environment, love grows practically, a trust grows, security develops, needs are shared – and then met.
These are just some of the reasons that love does not grow within the local fellowship. A church that focuses on ritual is more concerned with ceremony than with love. A church that focuses on singing can fail in love. A church that is known for its teaching can still fail in the area of love. A Pentecostal or charismatic fellowship can have all the gifts and still miss love. The apostle Paul said it to the church at Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)
Sometimes we get clever and knowledgeable about love in the New Testament and talk about Greek agape love that is God’s love that is seen in utter commitment and is the sacrificial love that Jesus spoke about that we referred to earlier, and philadelphia which is brotherly love, a love between friends. What we find in this verse is, “Now about brotherly love (Philadelphia) we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love (agape) each other.” What we have therefore, is Paul saying, “We don’t really need to teach you about brotherly love that you find between friends because God has taught you this deeper love of commitment and sacrifice, and so if that is the love you express, it will cover all eventualities, especially that which we would hope to see between brothers and sisters in the local congregation. Isn’t that great! Is that the love you find in your local congregation? If not, are you working on it?