Six Marks of an Excellent Ministry
Living for the Pleasure of God (3/3)
‘Love, Christian Style’
9 “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
1 Thessalonians 4.9-12
Love. We all know the clichés, the platitudes and the lyrics: ‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love.’ ‘Love makes the world go ‘round.’ ‘Make love, not war.’ ‘All you need is love.’
How many times have you told someone you love him/her? I wonder: Is it possible that we use the word so much that it means virtually nothing at all? There was a man who often told his sweetheart that he loved her. He soon learned that it’s more than possible to so overuse a word as to render it meaningless.
But everybody wants to be loved! People crave it so much they do stupid things for it, like rack up obscene phone bills, and maybe make the attempt to drive 13 hours overnight to visit a girlfriend. Love drives Hollywood and the movie industry. Love stimulates the economy. Gift shops, flower shops, hallmark cards, diamond rings, wedding planners, honeymoons at tropical resorts, you name it: love does make the world spin.
And then there’s the whole thing with feelings. Feelings can be wicked things. I know because I have them. When things go my way, or someone does or says something I interpret as pro-Todd, I feel loved. Doesn’t mean I am loved; it might be the very opposite. Maybe I’m being indulged. Maybe I’m being allowed to get my own way, even in my sinfulness and self-worship. Who can deny that merely feeling loved often passes for truly being loved? We’re so easily duped by our own emotions and love of … self. It isn’t that feelings and affections are bad in and of themselves. That’s not at issue. But remember: our wills weren’t the only things corrupted by the fall. Our emotions were also.
So, is this love? Do these things truly speak of love? Or do they reveal our own depravity? Love is a tricky thing, I think. Who doesn’t want to be the object of another’s affections? Who truly doesn’t wish to be made much of? Be honest. Be honest. And also know that Scripture does not tell us to be made much of. ‘Seek to be loved’ is not in the Bible anywhere. And yet that is the way of living of countless many in the church, evidently. Far too many come, stay, leave, grumble, do, don’t do, and so on, based on whether or not they feel loved. What if that was Christ’s purpose? What if Christ sought to be loved before he loved? What if Christ sought your love before he loved you, then what? Where would you be? What if His love for you hinged on yours for Him, then what? If your purpose in life and ministry is to be loved, you aren’t fit to serve the church. Indeed, you won’t serve. It’s impossible to serve. Why I say that is simple: you don’t understand the gospel. You might be able to articulate it. But you don’t live it or know it, not as you should. Here’s a prayer request for us, for this church: Pray there be no disconnects between the gospel we profess and the gospel we live WITH EACH OTHER.
That ‘God so loved the world …’ doesn’t mean God so loved because the world was loveable. Nor does it mean God so loved the world to make much of the world. God loved the world, not so the world would make much of itself, not because the world is worthy of being made much of, but God so loved the world, you and I, that it, you and I, would make much of Him. And making much of him includes walking so as to please him. Increasingly.
What Makes Love Christian
So, I ask the question (because all loves aren’t equal):
What makes love, Christian love?
“Now, concerning brotherly love…”
Christian love is a special affection.
The object of its affection is the church, fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, i.e. the saints, not the ‘aints.’ Romans 12.10- “Love one another with brotherly affection.” This is what’s in view here in 4.9. Like Christ’s own, special love for the church, those who love Him love others who love Him above all others. This is a special, peculiar, and even discriminating love. It’s a covenant love, one that binds two parties to each other at the exclusion of all others, namely those who do not love Christ.
And so we must ask the question, whether or not we love the saints, even the ones with whom we share this room week after week. We must not look outside our own walls with this. That would be far too easy; that kind of thing only leads to self-deception. We flatter ourselves when we look at our spiritual heroes and say, ‘Yes, I love them. I do in fact love the saints, even with great affection.” We must not do that sort of thing. We are who we are with whom we are and nothing more. There is good reason for the church. I think humility is part of the reason, to keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves. When alone, we tend to think we’re hot stuff. But put me in a group, not so much. Loving the brethren is easy from a distance, but being in the same room with them tells the true story.
Christian love is also an action.
Paul makes it clear to us. The saints to whom he writes loved each other with a love that ‘did.’ Verse 10 makes it explicit. Love is more than affection; it’s affection unto action. Love is a doing (verse 10). Love is a labor (chapter 1 verse 3).
When placed within the larger context of Scripture, why this must be a matter for self-examination becomes clear. It surely is reason for sober evaluation of our own church when we consider how the New Testament church was marked by love. Just look at this church in Macedonia. It oozed love. Their souls were knit together. Their souls touched. And theirs was a love that did in fact reach past their own to the brethren in all Macedonia. Theirs was a love that no doubt saw wallets opened, money given, and various wants met. I wonder if their church looked anything at all like the Acts 2 church, selling their belongings, giving the proceeds to all in need. Don’t confuse this with socialism. Socialism is forced distribution of wealth by law, not Spirit-led fulfillment of and obedience to the law of Christ. There’s a galaxy-wide chasm between the two.
Christian love is crucial.
“… brotherly love…” Jesus commands it. The true church is marked by it. And the Apostle belabors the necessity of it. You recall last Sunday: “If I speak in the tongues men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong….And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” You understand what Paul’s saying here don’t you. Even if someone is a ‘spiritual hotshot,’ if he doesn’t have love, he’s zilch, a big fat, annoying zero. It doesn’t matter what he’s got to say or offer. It doesn’t matter if he can out-preach John Piper. It doesn’t matter if he can pray like an angel. It doesn’t matter if he’s got the evangelistic touch; people will just cover their ears and tune him out. He’s useless in the church. In fact, he may not even be part of the church. He may not be united to Christ by faith. Those in Christ are those in whom Christ dwells. And those in whom Christ dwells love; that is, if they aren’t quenching the Spirit.
Christian love is foundational.
Love for the brethren is elementary. It’s the ABCs of the faith. It’s spiritual kindergarten. If we don’t love our brethren, it doesn’t matter if we understand the more difficult stuff, things like the ‘ins and outs’ of the covenants, or the wonders of God’s sovereignty, or how OT types foreshadow the Apex of redemptive history, and even the doctrines of grace! ‘If we understand everything in the Bible…but have not love … we’ll be a symphonic headache to all.’ That’s not a concert anyone wants to … attend. But here’s why love is foundational and why I say its spiritual kindergarten: 1 John 3.11 – “This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” From the very beginning, on the first day of class, love of the brethren was the subject, why? It was something Jesus said, right? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13.35).
Concerning brotherly love: It’s affection and action. It’s crucial and it’s foundational. Next (and this is really a freeing, encouraging thing):
Human teachers can’t effectually teach it.
I can preach it until I’m blue in the face. But ‘nothing’ just might be the result. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. No preacher or teacher can make anyone love anybody. No preacher or teacher can force the issue. In fact, if it’s so forced it isn’t love. It’s self-evident: external realities (like a preacher, a word captured in ink, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a pastor, or even a law or commandment) cannot make us love. Those things do not create the loving affections that lead to loving actions, even sacrificial and self-denying actions. The only reality that can effectually teach love for the brethren is one that dwells within. The only law which effects what it commands is a law written not on paper, but inscribed on the human heart.
Paul writes: “Now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you have been taught by God to love the brethren, [how does he know they’ve been taught by God?] for that indeed is what you are doing…” The proof is in the fruit!!! The proof is in the doing, not the imagination. God is the teacher, not any man/woman. If he’s in us, if he dwells in us, we will love. Let’s be clear on this. This is why the law is obsolete. This is why believers are not under law. It isn’t because less is expected. It isn’t because righteousness and pleasing God are things tossed out the window. Believers aren’t under law because what the law cannot do, God does!!! God creates a loving which even far surpasses the dim shadow etched on tablets of stone.
Let me anchor this deep in the rich soil of the New Covenant. Then we’ll ask the ‘so what’ question and apply this to us.
The Apostle and the Prophets
We need to back up just a bit to the last phrase in verse 8 where Paul writes that God ‘gives his Holy Spirit to you.’ What the prophets speak of as future, the apostle deems present, fulfilled. Just listen to Ezekiel. Listen for the Spirit talk and the holiness talk and the causing obedience talk:
“It is not for your sake…that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name…And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned amongst the nations … And the nations will know that I am the Lord…when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes… I will put my Spirit within you, and cause (not enable, or empower) you to walk [sounds like 1st Thessalonians, doesn’t it) in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36.22-27).
Ezekiel promises the Spirit. Paul applies the fulfillment of that promise to the church. The apostle writes that God “gives the Holy Spirit to you.” So, see the connection here.
Next up is this phrase: “…for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…” To be taught by God means God Himself, through absolutely no human agency (like a teacher), so taught so as to cause results. God taught them to love each other. So, they loved each other! They had no need for a lesser teacher, like the apostle.
This is also a New Covenant blessing foretold by the prophets. Jesus says this himself in John 6.45. ‘It is written in the Prophets,’ he says, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Jesus simply cites Isaiah 54.13 which says “All your children [i.e. Sarah’s children, the free woman, remember Galatians 4!] shall be taught by the Lord.” Everyone in the New Covenant has been taught by God to love each other. Therefore they love each other! It’s not “If only he did this, I’ll love in return,” or “When she does that, then I’ll respond in love and do something loving, like forgive her.” This is not that. This is not natural. It’s supernatural. It’s spiritual. It’s of God! This is a direct result of the life of God in the soul of man!
So, now the question: “So what?” What do we do with this? Answer: Probably a million things. But here’s one thing: What does it look like, what would it look like for us to love each other ‘more and more?’ Answer: Probably a million things. But let’s start with perhaps two or three things [in no particular order].
Washing Each Others Feet
First, we can wash each other’s feet. You know the scene-
13 Now nbefore othe Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that phis hour had come qto depart out of this world to the Father, rhaving loved shis own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when tthe devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing uthat the Father had given all things into his hands, and that vhe had come from God and wwas going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, xtied it around his waist. 5 Then he ypoured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had washed their feet and hput on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, i“Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 jYou call me kTeacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, lyou also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, mthat you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, na servant3 is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, oblessed are you if you do them.” -John 13:1-16
A few observations-
(1) This was ‘Before the Feast of the Passover,’ the meal during which the Lord instituted what we call the Lord’s Supper. I think that is significant.
(2) We can literally wash each other’s feet, but not do what Jesus did. What Jesus did was stoop to a crappy, smelly place and did something reserved for the household peon! That’s what he did! That’s what the King of kings did! Humble service? Those words only begin to describe what happened. And you know what the kicker is! It gets far worse before it’s all over; which is more than good for us. But before that, consider observation…
(3) Jesus washed Judas’ feet, the one who betrayed him with a kiss.
So, loving more and more actually means getting lower and lower.
Verse 31, same chapter:
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, n“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and oGod is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, pGod will also glorify him in himself, and qglorify him at once. 33 Little children, ryet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just sas I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 tA new commandment uI give to you, vthat you love one another: wjust as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Humble service: it can take a million forms. It may not always look like much. Sometimes it even looks like denying our wants and needs and giving others space and time for any number of reasons. But remember this: we are not called to love others as we love ourselves. No! We are called to love the brethren as Christ loved us which is a love gloriously unspeakable and far more costly!
Second, loving more and more means forgiving more and more. The opposite of love is not hate necessarily. Listen to Leviticus 19.18-
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but [the word indicating contrast/opposite] you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Translation: We can’t be grudging and be loving at the same time. It don’t work that way. It’s one or the other. Two Scriptures to press the seriousness of this –
Matthew 6: 14-15. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 sbut if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Sounds like holding a grudge is risky stuff, to say the very least!
Ephesians 4.32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, iforgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” How did God in Christ forgive us? Well, for starters, he did so fully, completely, and at tremendous and unspeakable personal cost. He gave what? His one and only Son. There’s only one Jesus in the entire universe which makes him priceless to God. But He gave of Himself! That’s what forgiveness requires. You don’t keep yourself. You give yourself. You let go of you. You let go of the countless trillions of wrongs done against you. If God in Christ forgave your brother or sister, what’s your problem? Don’t you think it’s a wee bit arrogant to hold from your sister what God doesn’t? Who has been offended more? Who is holier? You, or God?
Being Honest with Each Other
Third, and this is simple (But maybe it isn’t simple at all): Be honest. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. Speak truth in love. Are we hiding from each other? Let’s be honest. Can I be honest? I think, I know there are issues amongst us. And I think fear pervades this room, not love. I think fear is a root cause of many issues. I think we’re afraid which breeds all kinds of other things, like lack of trust and suspicions and quarrels and all other matter of fleshly nonsense. Solution? Should I come down hard and preach so as to plaster us all against the back wall? Should I pull out the church constitution and make us recite it every Sunday, hoping it’ll fix things? Should I threaten dis-membership? What should I do? Leave? Is it time for another pastor to come? Listen to me. All that will do is nothing. You’ll be here again soon enough.
No. The solution is not stern preaching or anything of the sort. The Biblical solution is this: Since “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4.18), the answer lies not with us, but with God. The fruit of the Spirit is love. And so I commend us all to Him. He is the solution. The Law of Christ is the answer.
Two quotes, a Scripture, and I’m done.
The first quote is a challenge to me. I simply pass it on to you for your help. It comes from one Samuel Bolton.
“Things impossible to others are easy to them that love…Love is an affection that refuses to be put off by duties or difficulties which come between it and the person loved.”
So, the question is ‘Do we love each other enough to work out our difficulties?’ That is the question.
The second quote comes from Tullian Tchividjian:
“Because Jesus has done everything for me, I can do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me.” Is this not how God in Christ forgave us? He did everything for us without needing us to do anything in return. You know what that is? That’s GRACE!! So, let’s be gracious with each other more and more.
What the church needs now, not the world, is love. “Now concerning brotherly love wyou have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been xtaught by God yto love one another, 10 for that indeed is what zyou are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to ado this more and more…”
Pastor Braye studied at Canadian Theological Seminary and the University of Alberta. Presently he labors for “Pastoral Leadership Development at Action International Ministries” In the past he served as pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and Beckwith Baptist Church. He is From Edmonton, Alberta