The Lord's Day Morning
July 8, 2012
“Living Life in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Call to Brotherly Love and Neighborly Witness”
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 verse 9. You remember last Lord's Day the apostle Paul gave us a sober but timely word about sexual fidelity in an immoral world and he continues exhortations to us and to the Thessalonians in this passage this morning. In fact, as we read this passage I want you to be on the lookout for four things. First, in verse 9, Paul gives us an encouragement for the exhortations that he's about to give us. He gives us an encouragement to brotherly love. And you might miss this encouragement if you’re not looking closely. It's going to be in the last part of that sentence in verse 9 but it's a great encouragement and it's grounded in an Old Testament truth that we meet in Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Secondly, in verse 10, he will give the first of two exhortations. This exhortation in verse 10 will be to brotherly love. Then the second of the two exhortations will be given in verse 11. It's an exhortation to godly living. And Paul actually spells out three specific things that he's looking for in the life of the congregation. And then finally in verse 12 you’ll see the fourth thing that I want you to be on the lookout for and that is the reason why he's exhorting the Thessalonians to brotherly love and to godliness. He tells them why it is that he wants them to pursue these things. Be on the lookout for those things as we read God's Word. Let's pray together now.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. The Lord Jesus prayed on the night that He was betrayed, ‘Sanctify them in Your truth. Your Word is truth.’ Heavenly Father, we believe that. We believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration, that's it's breathed out of the mouth of God, and that it's profitable for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness that the man or woman of God might be equipped for every good work. And so we pray with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that You would sanctify us by Your truth, by the Word of God, as it is read and proclaimed. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“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, for indeed that is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Throughout this letter we have said that Paul has been teaching the Thessalonians how to live life in light of Jesus’ return and in this passage he has two important exhortations that he wants to give to them about living life in light of Jesus’ return. But before he gives them those exhortations he grounds them in encouragement that they received from God's work in them. And that's the first thing that I want you to see in this passage today. If you look at verse 9, Paul says, “You yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” He is giving them an encouragement in that phrase. “You yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” He acknowledges that they really don't need anyone to teach them about brotherly love for they’re already manifesting that brotherly love. Did you see the first sentence or the first part of the sentence there in verse 10? “For indeed, this is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” In other words, he compliments them on the good job that they’re doing of showing Christian love to visiting believers from other cities and showing brotherly love within the congregation.
AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO BROTHERLY LOVE
But the main encouragement I want you to see is right there in the last part of verse 9. “You yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” Paul is telling the Thessalonians and he's telling you and me that when you love like Jesus, when you love fellow believers like Jesus, when you love your brothers and sisters in Christ like Jesus, you show that you have been taught by God. Now that's a wonderful phrase — you have been “taught by God.” Actually, that's one word. “Taught by God” is one word and apparently Paul invented it. He took the word “God” and the word “taught” and he stuck them together and he essentially says, “You Thessalonians are God-taught.” We think he invented the word because we can't find any example of it in Greek prior to Paul and only a few people us it after Paul. Some scholars think that Paul may have in the background of his mind a passage in Isaiah 54:13 where God says through the prophet Isaiah that there's going to be a day that comes in which God teaches His own children. And the words “taught” and “God” are side by side in the Greek translation of that verse and many scholars think Paul may have Isaiah 54:13 in mind and he just went ahead and put the words together and said, “Thessalonians, you are God-taught.”
Now how's that an encouragement? Well it's an encouragement in two ways. One is, Paul is saying, “I see the evidence of God at work in you. I can see by the way you’re treating one another that God is at work in your hearts.” Do you have that kind of an eye for your brothers and sisters? Are you always looking out for evidences of grace in their life and then thanking them and encouraging them and even exhorting them because of the evidences of grace that you see in their life? If not, you’re missing out on a great blessing for you and you’re missing out on a great blessing to your brothers and sisters. We ought always to be looking out for evidences of grace in one another and encouraging one another with those evidences of grace. And that's exactly what Paul is doing. He's saying, “I can look at the way you treat one another and I can tell that God is at work in your heart because there's no way you would be showing this kind of brotherly love if God the Holy Spirit were not at work in you to equip you for every good work, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight.” This is almost the language of Philippians 2:12-13 isn't it? “God is at work in you,” and Paul is saying this by way of encouragement to the Thessalonians.
But there's another reason I want you to see that this is encouragement. Paul, in saying that the Thessalonians are “God-taught,” is acknowledging that the promises of God upon His children at the ends of the ages have come to pass in the Thessalonians and in you and me when we show real Christian love to one another. Remember that passage in Isaiah 54:13 that speaks of God teaching His own children? That's a passage that's about what is going to happen when the new covenant comes in. You remember under the old covenant, under the covenant that God gave through Moses to the children of Israel, God wrote the Law on tablets of stone. But did the people of God obey it? No, they didn't. Though they were given God's Law, written by His own finger on tablets of stone, they didn't obey. But what do the prophets say – Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel — is going to happen in the day of the new covenant? God is going to write that Law not on tablets of stone but on our hearts. He's going to do that by the Holy Spirit so that He Himself teaches us the way of life and inscribes it on our hearts. So in Jeremiah 31:34 do you remember what Jeremiah said? Jeremiah says, “No one will need to tell you, ‘Know the Lord,’ because you’re going to know Him from the greatest to the least.” What is that but a picture of God, by His Holy Spirit, teaching all His people?
And here's Paul saying to the Thessalonians, “You have been taught of God and the reason that I know that you've been taught of God is by the way that you love one another. And the way that you love one another is proof to me that the promise of God in the Old Testament that there would be a new covenant has come to pass in your heart and in your life and in your fellowship.”
What an encouragement that is from Paul. He gives that encouragement. “I see God at work in your midst. I see how you love one another. This is clearly the work of God and the fruit of the work of God in your heart and in your life.”
Then, having given them that encouragement, he immediately moves to two exhortations. The first of those exhortations you’ll see in verse 10. Look at the second part of verse 10. “But we urge you brothers to do this more and more.” This is an exhortation to what? To brotherly love. Look back at the beginning of verse 9. “Now concerning brotherly love, you yourself have been taught by God to love one another. We urge you brothers to do this more and more.” Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians and you and me to brotherly love, to keep on loving, to grow in that love more and more. When philosophers in Paul's day used this word – and this word “brotherly love” is the word from which we get the name for the city Philadelphia – this word “brotherly love” was always used for family love in Greek. So if a philosopher came to your little town and was giving you an exhortation in ethics and he started talking about Philadelphia, “brotherly love,” what he meant was, “families ought to love one another.”
Paul takes that language which was used for family love in his culture and he extends it and applies it to the way that Christians love one another and he tells us that we need to love one another like family. This is one of the unique things that Paul does. He applies the ethics of family love to the entire Christian community. That's why I have said to you consistently over the last sixteen years that it's one of my desires that though we're a relatively large congregation we would actually more and more become like and feel like a family. That we would have that kind of love, that kind of concern, that kind of care, that kind of commitment for one another. Now Paul, in this passage, bases his exhortation for us to grow in family love, to grow in our maturity, to be sanctified in our expression of love because God is at work in us to create brotherly love. Isn't it interesting that Paul's argument is not, “Well, God's at work in you to cause you to love one another so there's no need for me to exhort you to love one another.” Paul's logic is always, “God is at work in you so that you love one another and that's why I'm exhorting you to love one another more.”
Paul's exhortation is based on the fact that God is at work in the Thessalonians and you and me in order that we might love one another. And that's why Paul says, “Brothers, sisters, do it more and more.” That's so important. We live in a culture that is very tight-knit but very often the relations and the connections are not Gospel relations and connections. And Paul wants to make a priority on the thing that binds us together, the Gospel, and the way that expresses itself in our life as a community, as a family. And he wants us to make a priority of brotherly love, caring for one another, loving one another. So he exhorts us in that area.
AN EXHORTATION TO GODLY LIVING
Then, secondly, he exhorts us to godly living. Look at this in verse 11. “We urge you,” that's still the verb coming from the end of verse 10, “We urge you to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands as we instructed you.” Now this is a very interesting instruction about godly living. Paul is apparently having to deal with some people in the congregation who have decided that because they believe Paul's teaching that Jesus is coming again and that He is going to judge the earth and that He is going to take His people to be with Him forever, therefore they don't have to work anymore and they can focus on prognostication about when Jesus is coming back and how He's coming back and the specifics of the eschatology and they can actually get involved in other people's lives and intermeddle in their affairs and depend upon other people to provide for their sustenance. Paul may be indicating and they are depending on well-to-do people in the congregation to take care of them or he may be indicating that they may even be going out in the streets and begging. The cynic philosophers in his days often sort of begged for food and money to provide for their housing and their clothing. And there may be some people in the congregation doing that. And Paul says, “No, no, no. As Christians we want to live a godly life and in your case that means three things.”
First, notice what he says. “Aspire to live quietly.” In other words, they’re to avoid public controversy. They’re not looking for the camera. They’re not doing whatever they can do to make sure the camera ends up at their front door. Just live quietly. Be faithful. You’re not looking to gather a crowd around you watching you; just live faithfully. Secondly, “mind your own affairs.” This is Paul's version of — we would say this, “Mind your own business.” That's how we’d say it and that's what Paul is saying to them. “You don't need to be a busybody, you know, finding out what everyone else is doing and getting involved in their lives. Mind your own affairs. Take care of your own issues and your own self and your own family.” And then third, “work with your hands as we instructed you.” Work hard and support yourself. Notice what else he says at the end of verse 12. Do not be a burden on your fellow believers. “Be dependent on no one.” And so he exhorts them to avoid public controversy, to mind their own business, and to work hard and support themselves.
A REASON FOR BROTHERLY LOVE AND GODLY CONDUCT
Why? Why is Paul so concerned about these things? Why is he concerned to exhort them in brotherly love and to exhort them in this kind of conduct? He tells you in verse 12. What does he say? The very first part of verse 12 – “so that you may walk properly before outsiders.” In other words, the reason for our brotherly love and our godly conduct is neighborly witness. Paul is concerned about our witness to the world around us. The testimony of our lives to unbelievers ought to be one of attractive witness to Jesus Christ. And so Paul wants us to live in such a way that we actually have that kind of life testimony. Have you put all these parts together as you've looked at 1 Thessalonians 4:1 all the way down to verse 12? Essentially Paul boils everything down to this, verse 1 — “Live so as to please God more and more” — verse 10 — “Live so as to love your brothers and sisters more and more.”
Now who does that sound like? “Love God, love your neighbor, for on this hangs all the Law and the Prophets.” I think I remember somebody saying that sometime. Paul's essentially reciting Jesus. “Live in such a way that you love God more and more, live in such a way that you love your brothers and sisters more and more,” and then he says, “live in such a way that you are a witness to outsiders.” So if you put all those things together, what's Paul saying over and over? He's saying, “Don't live self-focused lives. Live for God, live for your brothers and sisters, live to be a good witness to the watching world.” But here's the interesting thing. Self-focused people usually live self-focused lives because they think they’ll be happier. Are they? No, they’re miserable. But those who live for God and for their brothers and sisters and to be a good witness to the watching world, they end up knowing true joy and happiness because they are living self-forgetful lives in which God pours out His blessing.
And Paul's exhorting us with this word today and it's a good word to remember as we come to the Lord's Table. One of the things that we put a real emphasis on because Paul put an emphasis on it in 1 Corinthians is that we discern the Lord's body when we come to the Lord's Table. What does that mean? In the context of 1 Corinthians it probably means that we understand that when we come to this Table we come to this Table as part of the Lord's body, the Church, and that means we can't just think about ourselves; we have to think about our brothers and sisters. So what a great exhortation for us today. Are we really living as a family? Do you really value as brothers and sisters, as blood kin, the people who have joined with you in professing Jesus Christ in this local congregation? And with your brothers and sisters outside this local congregation, do you value them and love them and care for them like blood kin or better? Are they the place, the people, where you find yourself most at home? Do you sing with Timothy Dwight, “I love Your kingdom, Lord”? Paul's asking that to us in 1 Thessalonians 4 and he's asking that when he asks us, “Have you discerned the Lord's body?” when you come to the Table. When we come to the Table today, let's come with Paul's encouragement and exhortations ringing in our ears and hearts. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. We ask that You would work it deep into our hearts. We pray, O God, that we would be very aware of the work of Your Spirit in our lives and that we would desire to live out that work of the Spirit in our lives more and more. In Jesus' name, amen.
Now let's prepare our hearts for coming to the Lord's Table by singing number 378, “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face.”
Now before we go, let's sing the Gospel singing, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”
Til all the ransomed Church of God be saved to sin no more, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.