LOVE AND LABOR
1 THESSALONIANS 4:9-12
Now as to the love of the
brethren, 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 do practice it toward all the brethren
who are in all
This is an epistle of encouragement. Paul has been encouraging the believers at Thessalonica. How do you do such a thing? How do you encourage someone? You tell them that they are doing a good job when they are doing a good job. Paul has been doing that.
But that is not all he tells them. He says, “You have been walking the way in which you are supposed to walk. Now continue and do even better.”
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
Paul has been writing to the Thessalonians to excel still more. He gives that injunction in 4:1 and he will give it again in verse 10. In the first part of this chapter, there is an exhortation to excel still more as they abstain from fleshly lusts and from the wrong kind of love. Now in verses 9 and following there is an exhortation to excel still more as they demonstrate the right kind of love — a love of the brethren.
LOVE IS TAUGHT BY GOD
Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
Paul says, “I’m writing you and telling you to love one another, but I don’t really need to write you about the necessity of loving one another because you have already taught by God to love one another and He is a much better teacher than I am.” Where does God teach us to love one another? Where does God teach us to love the brethren?
1. He teaches us to love the Brethren in the Old Testament.
The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was an Old Testament command. It is found in Leviticus 19:18.
2. He teaches us to love the Brethren by giving us His Spirit of Love.
God teaches us to love from the inside out. He not only tells us to love our neighbor as ourself, He also gives us His Holy Spirit to empower that love. He teaches us to love by putting within us that Spirit who loves us and who works in us so that we can begin to love others.
3. He teaches us to love the Brethren by His Example on the Cross.
The cross is God’s greatest manifestation of love. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave...” A teenager bought his girlfriend an orchid. It was the first orchid he had ever bought and the first one she had ever received. There was a card with the orchid that said, “With all my love and most of my allowance.” When God acted out His love for us, it was with all of His love and all of His allowance.
There is a lesson here. It is that when love is real, it gives. This is seen in our next point.
LOVE IS PRACTICED
For indeed you do
practice it toward all the brethren who are in all
Notice that Paul doesn’t merely say that the Thessalonians FELT love toward everyone. He says that they practice love. This isn’t merely the idea of practicing something and not doing it for real. The comedian said that he didn’t want to go to a doctor that only practiced medicine -- he wanted to go to one who did it for real.
The Thessalonians were doing it for real. They were DOING love. How do you “DO” love? You do it by doing loving things on behalf of other people.
This is the point I was speaking of earlier. If love is real, then it works. Love is only seen to be real when it goes into action.
The deacons in our church have recently begun some extensive forays into the realm of mercy ministries. They have been taking the love that is described in the Scriptures and they have been putting it into action in all sorts of practical ways.
· Reconnecting someone’s broken paddle fan.
· Giving clothes to one who had none.
· Helping a needy family.
To you deacons who are doing this good work, let me encourage you. There is a divine “YES” that comes from the throne of God. This is a good work, not only for those who hold the office of deacon, but for all of us.
LOVE CAN BE EXCELLED
For indeed you
do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all
We are called to be people of excellence when it comes to our love. That is the mark of the Christian. Jesus never said that they will know you are His disciples by your...
· Doctrinal Statement
· Mode of baptism
· 5 points of Calvinism
He said that love will be the defining mark of what it is to be a Christian. It is because of this that Paul tells us to excel – literally, to “overflow” – at love.
If love is an action (as we saw earlier) and if we are to overflow at love, then how does that work out in a practical sense? It is all very good to say that we are going to excel at love, but how do I dress that up and take it to work with me on Monday morning? Paul answers that in the next two verses.
But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. (1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12).
At first glance, this passage seems to be speaking of two separate and distinct topics that are placed together, but which have no relationship between them. Verses 9 and 10 speak of how we are to love one another and then verses 11 and 12 speak of how we are to work and mind our own business.
What have love and labor to do with one another? I’m going to suggest that they have everything to do with one another. We’ll see in a few minutes how your very attitude and actions that you take in work will be reflective of the love that you have for God and the love that you have for your fellow man.
But first I want you to know and understand that Paul is speaking here because of a real life situation that is going on. When we come to 2 Thessalonians, he has this to say...
For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
We must clarify that this is not speaking of people who want to work but are unable to find a job. Rather this describes those who have both the ability and the opportunity to work but who were merely lazy. Paul says of these, “God has designed a wonderful educational tool on their behalf that will stimulate their motivation to work. It is called hunger.”
When he comes to 2 Thessalonians, he will address the problem in the negative, but he has not yet gotten to that point. Right now he is addressing it in the positive.
You parents understand this. You tell your child to clean his room. Then you wait a bit and you go and check and there is no cleaning activity going on. So at that point you take further action -- instead of merely a repetition of the same command, there is now with it some information regarding what will take place if the room is not clean.
Paul is still in that first stage here in 1 Thessalonians, so don’t read these words as if there is a rebuke implied. I don’t believe there is. Yet.
What Paul is doing here is linking the principle of work with the idea of love. That is going to take some examination. We all know about Christianity and love. Paul already said that regarding love, you have no need for anyone to write to you. But work is another story. What’s the deal on work? There are several things that we ought to say about work.
1. Work Comes from God.
Way back in the book of Genesis when Adam was still eating pears and pinapples, God have him an injunction to work.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15).
That was before the fall. Adam had a job to do. He was to cultivate and keep the garden.
Now it is true that after the fall, work took on a tiresome drudgery so that the land that he would cultivate and keep would now fight him with thorns and thistles. But you remember that work preceded the fall.
2. Because of the fall, there is a secular view of work that stands in opposition to the Biblical view of work.
Secular View of Work
Biblical View of Work
I work in order to get status or to get money to do the things that I really want to do
I work because God has designed me for a labor of service to Himself and to my fellow man.
You see, the first mention of work in the Bible actually comes before the Garden of Eden. It comes in the first six days of creation. It comes in the creative work of God as He creates and makes everything that is.
At the pinnacle of His creative work, God makes man in His image. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? It means several things, but I’ve come to believe that one of them is that man was made to work.
3. This creation pattern provides for me a fitting definition of work.
· God created.
· Man’s work involves a measure of creativity (some forms of work more than others).
· God’s creation was a gracious service to man
· Our work is also designed to be a work of service to others.
In what way is your work a service to others? The immediate thing that comes to mind is that you work in order to support both yourself and your family. But that is not all. Your work is not only a means to an end. Your work itself generally provides some kind of service to others. It might be that you are in sales and that people need to purchase what you make available to them. Or it might be that your work is a service to others and, as such, can be viewed as a ministry.
Why is this important to know? Because unless you understand the true nature of work, you well never really be able to rest. You see, there are some of you here who are workaholics by nature. We came to this passage and you started to drool because you saw here a justification for your placing work to an inappropriate level.
But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands...
Those words to you are like trigger words. But notice the dichotomy. You are to...
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life
Labor to rest
This isn’t the life of a workaholic who lives only for the prestige that his career will bring to him. The purpose of this labor is quite different. It is so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. (1 Thessalonians 4:12).
Do you see it? Instead of being a drain on outsiders (society), you are to behave properly toward society. You are called to serve others through your work.
That is why Paul has put this concept into a passage that started out dealing with love. He had been speaking of the necessity of love when he said...
But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more (in love), 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. (1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12).
The service of our work is one of the ways in which we love. It is one of the ways we show our love for outsiders and it is also one of the ways we show our love for the Lord.
With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men (Ephesians 6:7).
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Colossians 3:23).
4. When I realize that my earthly work is a service, not only to men, but also to God, then it takes on eternal consequences.
That is good for me to know. I worked a lot of years as a fire fighter. There are a lot of buildings and structures and ships that we have saved. There are a lot of lives that we have saved. But apart from the eternal perspective of the Scriptures, there is a measure of futility in all that I have done in that career because every building and structure and ship that I saved will eventually be torn down and sold for scrap and every life that I saved will eventually grow old and die.
Apart from this principle, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that only work that is done in some sort of full-time Christian ministry is of any real consequence. We get to thinking that folks in ministry are paid to be good and the rest of us are good for nothing.
That isn’t so. Paul calls you to work with your hands, just as we commanded you (4:11). But this can lead us to an opposite error. We can find ourselves looking at pastors or teachers or seminary professors or even business executives and note, “They aren’t working with their hands. They must be out of the will of God.” Not so.
Paul includes this in his injunction for a reason. It is because the Greek society to whom he is writing this letter looked with disfavor on manual work. They thought that was only fit for slaves.
Paul points out that there is a creative nobility to manual labor. Work, if it is in the good service of others, is ordained of God and is good and acceptable. There in a nobility in work, even if it a work involving manual labor.
5. A Biblical View of Work brings a sense of Rest.
We have a tendency to strive for that which will give our lives meaning.
We look in all sorts of places:
If we use any of these things to gain our sense of esteem and identity, we will ultimately be doomed to a sense of restlessness.
That is why retirees often have a difficult time. You’ve utilized your career as your sense of identity and then one day you retire and you get the sense that you have no identity. But if your identity is in Christ and your labor has been in His service, then you retain your identity throughout all eternity.
Jesus said the same thing. He said, “Whoever works to keep his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall find it, not only in this life, but also in the life to come.” You find your identity in Him, and you will find yourself both today, tomorrow and forever.
We’ve been speaking of love and labor. We saw how we mirror the image of God when we work and labor creatively in the service of others. God worked and then He rested.
Jesus also worked. His work was accomplished upon the cross. This was the work for which He came to the earth to perform. It was a labor of love. His work involved dying upon the cross in my place. My sins were nailed to His cross. The anger of God that I justly deserved was directed against Him. His body was broken. His blood was shed. For me.
He is our great high priest who offered, not a sacrifice lamb, but his own body and blood as the ultimate sacrifice. Then, once he had risen from the dead, He ascended into heaven and did that which no high priest was ever able to do. He sat down. That is where He is today -- seated at the right hand of the Father. A place of rest.
There is an invitation for you to enter into that rest. It is an invitation to partake of Christ. He calls you to trust in Him as your Lord and as your Savior. He calls you to enter that perfect place of rest.