If we allow the living presence of Jesus Christ and his life to be manifest, growth will be the normal consequence. Christ will manifest himself in increasing glory if we stay spiritually healthy. But there are some microbes that can invade life and impede the process of growth -- such things as doubt, and fear, and discouragement -- attitudes that arrest our development, stunt our growth and keep us from maturing. It seems to me that the three forces that we have been looking at in I Thessalonians are, basically, the antidote for these problems of doubt and fear and discouragement: they are faith, and love, and hope.
Last week we saw that faith works. Faith is the great principle that makes available to us the mighty resources of God. It is the attitude that frees us for productive activity. All of life is a wasteland unless it is based upon a confidence in God and his ability to express himself through our personalities. Essentially, faith recognizes that God is available to us 24 hours a day to accomplish what he has promised to do. Unless we possess this attitude all activity is futile and worthless. We are like an accountant who arrives on Monday morning at his office, removes his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and begins to work at his adding machine. He spends the day in feverish activity, and at the end of the day he pulls the lever, tears off the tape, and reads across the bottom, "00000.00", because all day he has been punching the "0" button. Feverish activity without productivity . . . a dead loss! But activity accomplished while resting on the great, majestic life of Jesus Christ is a means or tapping the power of God himself, and it introduces into all our activity a note of reality. It works, things happen, people change, we change, our circumstances change.
This morning we want to turn to the second index of a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and that is a love that labors-a love that gives itself in service to other people. I picked up a poem at a high school conference several years ago that goes like this:
Steve's girl is rich and haughty;
My girl is poor, but gay.
Steve's girl is young and clever;
My girl looks like a bale of hay.
Steve's girl is smart and clever;
My girl is dumb, but good.
But would I trade my girl for Steve's?
You bet your life I would!
This is the contemporary concept of love. You shift your love to the object that is the most lovable. It is the principle of expediency: you find the easiest thing to love, and devote your time and energy to that object.
But this is hardly God's concept of love. His love is always seen in terms of an attitude of concern for its object, even though there is nothing in the object that would naturally elicit a loving response. In chapter 4, verses 9 and 10, Paul says,
But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia.
Paul says you do not need any apostolic instruction on this matter because you have a divine pedagogue. God himself has taught you the quality of true love. By looking at his example, the way he loves, you can see how love should behave. His love is not conditioned by our response to him. It does not seek its own ends; it does not love because its love is returned. It seeks the good of the object without thought of personal cost or consequence. John said, "This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins." That is God's love at work.
This kind of love is an exotic; it is not an inherent trait in man. It is not indigenous. It comes from God. It is God's love transmitted to us. And that is the only way we can have it! We do see touches of this quality of love in the world even in unbelievers. It is the result of what theologians call "common grace" (God sharing enough of himself in the world so that the world is a relatively decent place in which to live). But it is like a stream: the quality of love improves as you get closer to the source. Those of us who are related to God through Jesus Christ have access to the real thing. We have an infinite spring to draw upon. We know that this kind of love is not the normal response, but we discover in Jesus Christ there is a resource there to love unlovable, obnoxious, irritating people like me and like you. The resources are there if we want to tap them.
We want to take a look at an illustration of this kind of love, because an exhortation to love sets up a sympathetic vibration in all of us. We want to be able to love people. Somehow we sense that this is what God expects of us, and we see a world around us that is desperately in need of love. I would like to look at an illustration of love incarnate, love as it is seen in the life of Paul. To get this picture. I would like to have you study with me the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians and observe an authentic love is as it is seen in the life of the apostle.
This chapter breaks down into five paragraphs around a device that Paul uses frequently, the repetition of the word, "for" (verses 1, 3, 5, 9 and 11). The word "for," as found in Paul's writings, usually introduces a note of explanation, an illustration of something that he has said before.
Here he seems to be referring back to chapter 1, where he speaks of his first visit to Thessalonica. The readers had seen in his life an illustration of God's love for them. You will note the repetition of the word "know." He is appealing to their own observation of his life as he ministered to them. Paul's authority was always based on his obedience to the spiritual principles he taught, as ours is. It is folly to say, "Don't do what I do; do what I say," because essentially people will look at what we do and they will follow our example. Paul can say look at me. If you want to see an illustration of how one can labor in love and concern for the lives of people around him, look at my life.
In chapter two he gives us a step-by-step enumeration of the characteristics of his life that these people emulated. And, by extension, it is our pattern, as well. The first characteristic (verses I and 2) is Paul's courage. Paul says,
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our visit to you was not in vain; but though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition.
Paul is not exaggerating when he says. "we were shamefully treated at Philippi." Paul, with his companions, Silas and Timothy, had gone into Philippi with the purpose of preaching the gospel there, realizing that this was a key city in their strategy of evangelizing Greece. Philippi was the capital of the region of Macedonia, and a strategic point from the standpoint of the extension of the Gospel. When they arrived they discovered a group of women (evidently wives of Roman soldiers who were quartered in Philippi) who were meeting near the city by a river. For some weeks they met with these women and instructed them from the Scriptures, preaching that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, and many responded.
One day as they were walking down to this place of prayer, they were accosted by a demon-possessed girl who had some occult power that was a source of revenue to her owners. Paul released her from the spirit and the owners lost their income. They were understandably upset and dragged the evangelists before the magistrates of the city of Philippi where they leveled a charge of inciting a riot against them. So, without a trial, Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten, something that would be a grave insult to a Roman citizen. (I think this is why Paul said "we were shamefully treated" )and thrown in prison. In Acts 16 you find this account of the concert at midnight that brought the house down, the earthquake that shook the jail and enabled them to walk out free men, and the jailer who came to know Jesus Christ as a result of his encounter with Paul and Silas. The magistrates later came to the house in order to apologize, then asked them to leave, and escorted them out of town.
Paul says this was the way they were treated in Philippi, and they could expect even worse treatment in Thessalonica. As a matter of fact, they were mistreated but he said, "We wanted to come and preach the gospel because of our love for you. " Their love drove them to set aside their concern for their physical welfare and minister to the needs of these people. They could have kept the gospel under wraps. but they did not. Paul said, "We came to preach the gospel to you in the face of real opposition." Here was courage when the normal reaction would be fear. Why? Well, Paul is very specific. Numerous times he reminds them that "We loved you." In verse 8 he says
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Later, in chapter 3, verse 12, he prays,
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you.
Paul was willing to set aside his own personal plans. safety, and welfare to seek the best for these people, following the illustration of Christ who said, "I am come not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give my life a ransom for many." It impresses me that love and fear are absolutely incompatible; they cannot exist together. If love is a setting aside of our own goals and ambitions, and thinking in terms of the needs of others, then it sets aside any fear. As Paul says, "God has not given us a spirit of fear. but of power and of love and of a disciplined mind." And John tells us, "Perfect love casts out fear."
I am convinced that each one of us will have opportunities this week to experience this "love that casts out fear," because "this is our lot." We may be called upon to face someone's anger or disapproval. We may have an opportunity to share our faith with someone. which is always potentially frightening. I do not know why it is we can talk about the weather, the Warriors, our latest operation, but when it comes to speaking of Christ there is always a moment of panic, our heart begins to pound, and we come apart at the seams. We may have an opportunity to counsel someone. There may be the emotional and physical symptoms of fear, but we discover that when the appointed moment comes, and we draw deeply from his infinite love for this individual,.there is his courage to face that situation.
Dr. Dick Hillis recently spoke to our college group. and told us some of his harrowing experiences in Communist China. He spent eighteen months in inland China while the communists were in control. One morning he answered a knock on the door to find a communist officer and twenty soldiers outside. They invited him to accompany them. He did not know what to expect. Several other missionaries of their acquaintance had been taken from their homes, and had never returned. He knew there was a possibility that he might never see his family again. But he had no choice but to follow the officer. For a period of time he was forced to stand in the cold, waiting for them to interrogate him. Finally he was taken into a little room and for several hours different Chinese officers would come and go, asking him questions. He said that while waiting outside, he began to shake, not so much from the cold as from fear of the consequences, because he did not know what would happen to his family or to him. And there he asked God to give him a concern for these men, to forget himself, and to be able to speak strongly and boldly about Jesus Christ. And, to his amazement, because he said he was not by nature a courageous man, when he walked into the office a great spirit of peace and a poise descended on him. Not once did he feel a flicker of fear. At the end of the interrogations, a big Manchurian officer told him that he was going to be released, but that they had been quite surprised that he had not been afraid. Dr. Hillis said, "Frankly, I'm not afraid." Then the officer reached into his desk and pulled out a revolver. Pointing it at Dr. Hillis' head, he said, "Don't you know that I have the power to blow you into eternity?" And Dr. Hillis said, "Sir, that's all you can do" There was a great spirit of peace, and an opportunity to tell these men of his own faith in Jesus Christ, of courage when you expect the normal reaction to be fear.
I am convinced that the same thing is available to us. We may not have to look down the barrels of Communists' revolvers. but we are going to experience this week opportunities that would normally extract a response of fear from us, but we find that there is courage there to meet that demand, as we draw upon God's strength.
I see a second characteristic in Paul's life, a sort of honesty and openness and candor that is very appealing. In verses 3 and 4, he says,
For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
No axes to grind, Paul says, no facade. The aim of our ministry is to make an honest proclamation of the good news about Jesus Christ. The city of Thessalonica was filled with religious hucksters, priests of the mystery religions; religions built upon deceit and distortions of truth and various licentious practices. But Paul says, "I'm not like them I just have one desire, I want to please God. I wasn't commissioned by any church, I'm not responsible to any man: I have only God to please, I want what he wants."
Our motives can be so complicated and conflicting. It is so hard to discern why we act as we do. We experience the truth of the prophet, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?" We tie ourselves in knots trying to discover why we do what we are doing. We find ourselves responding to various stimuli and groups. We try to discover which way the wind is blowing and then move with the crowd in that direction, Paul says, "Not I. I have just one reference point, one desire. I want a transparent life before you; no hypocrisy, no poses, I just 'want to please God. I want to find a note of approval in his voice, to know that I please him."
The third characteristic I see is a heart of concern for people. That is how love manifests itself. In verses 5 through 8, Paul writes,
For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Paul says. "We count our life as cheap for your sake. We are willing to share, not only the gospel, but our own souls, our own life. Love calls for a concern for others. It demands, as Paul illustrates in this passage, the commitment of a mother for her child. Paul says we were like a nurse with her own child. He is not referring to a hired servant in the home, but a mother who is nursing her own infant, This is the kind of concern Paul had for them.
I think this is a very helpful illustration, for I have discovered several things about mothers in their relationship to infants. One is that it involves a personal commitment of time. Nursing a baby, essentially, is a personal commitment, as any mother here can affirm. You cannot call for a substitute, you have to be on the job 24 hours a day. You have to be available at any time to set aside your own program to meet the demands of that child. Paul says that he was willing to have that same commitment of his person to them. For a time he was barred from the city and he could not see them on a person-to-person basis. The best he could do was encourage through correspondence. But he said it was his heart's desire to be with them. Now this is what real love will do. It will cut into our own person; it will demand more than a transient show of emotion, more than hit-and-run raids on people. It will rake the utmost in time and personal energy and output.
I see another characteristic of a mother: she seeks no personal gain from her activities. She is simply doing what is expected of her. There is no thought of praise, no playing to a gallery in the middle of the night. The demands of love move in and press her to do what she has to do without any thought of personal approval or seeking of glory. This is what Paul says, "As God is witness, we never sought glory from men, although we might have made demands. We set our rights aside: we set aside any desire we might have had for personal approval from you,in order to meet the needs of your life."
I see a fourth characteristic in verses 9 and 10. Paul says,
For you remember our labor and toil, brethren: we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers.
Paul reminds them of the behavior of this team of men who had gone to the city to minister among them. He says. "Our conduct among you was impeccable. Not only was there a public display of good character, but before God our behavior was blameless. We are unaware of anything, even in our private lives, that might be a breach of good.conduct. We had the right to be supported while we were with you, but we set that right aside, rather than put a barrier between you and God." Now this is not difficult to understand. Love will always produce righteous behavior. Christ said, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Love always seeks the best for its object. Therefore, love will never let us do anything that would damage or harm another person. In chapter 3, verses 11-13, Paul prays that they might increase and abound in love, so that God might "establish your hearts unblamable in holiness." Love always eventuates in righteous behavior.
I am convinced today that the reason so many non-Christians are turned away from the gospel is because love has not produced righteousness in Christians. I am concerned about the fact that each one of us (and I put myself right in the middle of this exhortation) must face the fact that the thing that is going to draw people to Jesus Christ is not just our verbal witness, but the quality of our life. Unless we are different no one is going to listen to us. Unless we are different in our home, where it really counts, or at school, unless we have learned to walk before Jesus Christ in obedience, no one is going to respond to Christ. As Paul rebuked the Jews, "the name of God is blasphemed among you because of your behavior. " We must guard our own lives in this regard. Men must not turn away from God because of our behavior. Our walk before men must reveal that God's love has invaded our life to produce righteousness.
There is a fifth principle in chapter 2, verses 11 and 12.
For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
I see that love is constructive. Love looks for a way of being constructive, as a father looks for a way to build constructively into the lives of his children. He does not let them drift, but entourages and instructs and charges in love, because he wants the very best for them. He will not overlook faults, or gloss over weaknesses in his children, but he disciplines and corrects and encourages as a father should. Love always looks for a way of developing and encouraging maturity in others.
I sense that this is a missing ingredient in the church today. This is not just the responsibility of certain spiritual leaders in the church. This is the responsibility of each individual. Proverbs says, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." Each one of us, as we come in contact with our circle of friends, will be driven by love to hone and sharpen their character. Love moves to support and correct. Often we cannot see problems in our own life and we need someone to help us objectify the problems and apply the proper correctives. Galatians 6 develops a corroborating principle,
Brethren, if man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted.
This is not a license to stamp out sin in every life. I must not be a self-appointed corrector of the brethren. But where there is a violation of a basic principle of Scripture in a friend, and through prayer the Holy Spirit indicates that I am the one to go to him, then I must go in a spirit of love, not in a pompous, self-righteous spirit, not lashing out at one who has offended me, but driven by a steadfast refusal to put up with anything less than the very best in the life of another believer. This drives me to put my casual relationship on the line, and build it on a deeper basis. Paul says I came to each one of you and just like a father with his child, I spent time pointing you to the Scriptures, encouraging you, correcting you. I confronted each one, and encouraged you to "live a life worthy of God who calls us into his own kingdom and glory."
These are the five great principles seen in Paul's ministry that are illustrative of a labor of love. And I would join with Paul in his prayer in chapter 3, as he prays for these believers.
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you; and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love [there is the source] to one another and to all men, [that is the extent of our love] as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints [that is the result].
Catalog No. 182
David H. Roper
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