1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
But as touching brotherly love you need not that I write to you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another.…
I. ON ITS POSITIVE SIDE.
1. It is taught by God. God is love, and love is of God. The Church of God is the school of love. God himself is the great Teacher. He teaches us by his own example. "So God loved the world, he gave his only Son;" "The Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me." The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ reveals to us the blessed love of God. God the Holy Ghost teaches his people to comprehend with all saints what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. He shows us something of his own blessed love, and bids us learn of him. "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." We are his disciples, his pupils; we learn of him. What should we learn, if we learn not to love? It is the great task of life. Our lives are wasted if we have not learned that holiest lesson before we die; for heaven is the home of love. There is no place there for the soul that hath not learned to love. God is the Teacher. He had taught the Thessalonians. They did love the brethren. They needed not, the apostle says in his tenderness, a human teacher.
2. Yet St. Paul exhorts them. For love is a debt which is never fully paid. The great lesson of love is never fully learned. We are dull scholars. Our natural selfishness keeps us back. We need every incentive, every help. There must be a continual growth. To stand still is to lose ground. We must urge ourselves, we must urge others, to abound more and more. The Lord Jesus is our Example. "As I have loved you," he says. The depth, the purity of that holiest love is altogether above us, out of our reach; we cannot attain unto it. We see its effects in the lives of his saints. We know how the love of Christ constrained the holy apostle St. Paul to live no longer to himself, but to him who died for him and rose again. We despair of ever reaching that high degree of holy love; but it must be the strongest yearning of our hearts to advance continually, to abound more and more.
II. ON ITS NEGATIVE SIDE.
1. Christian ambition. Ambition (φιλοτιμία) is a common word in Greek ethics and history, a prominent characteristic of Greek political life. There is a Christian ambition; its object is not to be first in the arena of political strife, but to preach the gospel, to please God, to live a quiet, holy life (compare in the Greek, Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 5:9). Political φιλοτιμία, Bengel says, blushes to be quiet. The Greeks were eager, bustling, restless, each longing to be first. The apostle seeks to turn the ambition of the Thessalonians into another channel. Their ambition should be to be quiet - to keep themselves free, as far as might be, from political excitement and social rivalry, that they might cultivate the inner life of love and peace and com-reunion with God. Love would lead them to abstain from meddling with other men's matters - to do their own duty in the station where God had called them. Love would keep them free from envy and party spirit, and help them to maintain a current of quiet, peaceful thought within their souls.
2. Christian dignity. Love would keep them from everything that might bring the gospel into discredit. The Christian has duties towards those who are without. His light must shine before men, that they may be led to glorify him from whom the light cometh. The life of the Thessalonian Christians must be honest, becoming. The apostle insists on the dignity of honest labor. It was little regarded. Educated Greeks and Romans spoke of it as coarse and vulgar. The Lord Jesus worked with his hands, so did St. Paul. Christianity has invested the life of industry with a grace of its own. St. Paul here uses the same word in connection with honest labor which in the Acts of the Apostles is employed to designate the ladies of rank at Beraea, the "honorable women" who believed. The Christian must be careful to use words in their true sense. It is not wealth or rank that is truly respectable, but virtue and holiness. Thus living, thus laboring, they would have need of nothing; rather, perhaps, of no man. They would attain that honorable independence which enables one to "look the whole world in the face, for he owes not any man."
1. Covet earnestly the best gifts; pray for growth in charity.
2. Let your ambition be a Christian ambition; try to be first in humility, first in self-sacrifice, first in the quiet discharge of daily duties.
3. Never despise labor; it was the lot of the Lord Jesus; it has its own moral beauty and dignity. - B.C.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.