In 1 Thess 5:14-18, I think Paul lays out some helpful tips when striving to love others properly. 1 Thess 5:14-18 [READ].
How do we love others properly? Three quick things we can learn.
When loving others, first of all, the content matters.
We saw last week in 1 Thess 4 where Paul seems to pose a contradiction. On the one hand, he says, let your love increase all the more, and on the other hand, he says, seek a quiet life and mind your own business. How on earth can you love while being quiet and minding your own business? I thought love was rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. If Timothy is getting into trouble at school with a gang, am I going to be quiet and mind my own business and go to my prayer closet and pray? Well, I’d pray and then I’d go to 24 hour fitness and bench press a couple hundred lbs and then go to Timothy’s school and hunt down the gang leader. Nobody messes with my son! Of course, when there is obvious danger or blatant sin involved, we do need to love and get involved, esp. when it comes to our own family and church members.
But this letter underscores the point that many words that are spoken in a church context to one another SHOULD NOT be said. In the name of “love” or in the name of concern or I really care for you, we think we can say whatever is on our mind. And we take debatable, optional gray areas which are personal preferences and we make them into moral absolutes. I go to Bible study and I pray an hour a day, how come you are not doing it? Or I am going to missions, why are you using the summer to go on vacation? These are very judgmental statements.
No one can argue that Bible study and prayer are good things. We should do them. We should go on missions when God calls. But we can’t make these things into a program that all must follow. We like to make programs and we like elevating ourselves and putting others down based on some arbitrary program or code of behavior. This is legalism and the source of this type of legalism is a judgmental spirit. A judgmental spirit is what destroy relationships, it destroys peace, it destroys the unity of the church.
When it comes to optional, preferential issues in the gray area, Paul would say, be quiet, get a job, mind your own business. When it comes to black and white sin, speak up, do something, get involved. The content matters. When there is clear sin, speak up. When the issue is not sin, then mind your own business. We have freedom in Christ. Simply put, watch your words. Speak carefully and love properly. It depends on the content.
When loving others, the content matters and the audience matters, too. In this church, as in any church, there were multiple groups of people. There were those who were irresponsible. There were those who were discouraged. And there were those who were weak. Since there are different groups of people, we have to love people in each of these groups differently. The irresponsible are to be warned. The discouraged are to be comforted. And the weak are to be helped. There is no one-size fits all approach to loving people.
If you warn or admonish a discouraged person or a weak person, they might stumble and you might end up killing them spiritually. Jesus says, if you stumble a little one, you should just tie a millstone around your neck and kill yourself. That’s how serious it is when we carelessly speak and stumble others.
Our love has to be case by case, meaning, you have to invest the time to listen and get to know a person before speaking.
Consider how Jesus loves you and me. Sure, there’s a universal way that He loves us all. He died on the cross to save those who repent of their sins and turn and place their faith in Jesus and promise to follow Him all the days of their lives. This is how He loves all believers universally. But isn’t there a very unique, special way that He loves each of us? A way that Jesus loves you that is perfectly tailor-made for you? Every one of your experiences, your victories and even your defeats, God has used each of these to make you who you are today.
Personally, I feel highly favored by God. I feel like He loves me so, so much. Many days, I feel like the luckiest man alive. I lack nothing. I have everything. The only thing I look forward to in life is seeing Jesus face to face. Honestly, that’s how I feel. I don’t feel like I have to be a “successful” pastor, whatever success means. I just have to be faithful each day and then one day, it’ll end and I’ll be with the King, the Bridegroom, the Lover of my soul.
I don’t wish that I could trade places with others I admire, like Tim Keller or John Piper or David Platt. If that were possible and I were in David Platt’s shoes for a day, I would probably think, what is this, this is not what I want. And David Platt, if he were in my shoes, he would probably have the same reaction, what is this? God loves you and He has you right where He wants you. And the way He has led your life and the way that He will continue to lead your life in the future is so unique to you.
Each of you is so loved by God. So loved. There’s never been another you. He created you and knit you together in your mother’s womb exactly the way He wanted. And He has been guiding your life and He says to you today, I love you, follow me, don’t worry, I’ll take care of you, trust me.
Our love toward others should reflect the very specific, tailor-made, highly personal way that Jesus loves you and me.
When loving others, content matters, the audience matters, and lastly, our heart matters. How can you and I love properly those who are irresponsible or discouraged or weak while, v14, being patient with everyone? Even harder, v15, how can we love properly and be patient toward those who are saying or doing evil things to us and we are the victims of their verbal attacks? Only one way. Our heart needs to be changed.
How do we change our hearts? It’s true that God has to do it. But we have our part to do. 1 Thess 5:16-18 [READ].
What if you practiced this every day? You rejoiced always, not just when things are going well, but always. What if you prayed constantly? Not just when you felt like it, but constantly. What if you gave thanks in everything? Not just when your prayers are answered, but even when they are not answered. Always rejoicing, always praying, always giving thanks – if you lived this way, your heart would change. This is God’s will. God’s will is not for you and me to do something but TO BE someone. To be a joyful, prayerful, thankful person.
Be this person, live this way and I guarantee that your heart will change. So that you will have patience to love the irresponsible and love the discouraged and love the weak. So that you can even love an enemy who wants to tear you down. Pursuing the good of your enemy–this is humanly impossible unless our heart is changed.
Remember, we were once enemies of God. We crucified Jesus on a cross, yet He is so, so very patient with us. While we were killing Him, he said, Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. He absorbed our venom and he breathed out grace and forgiveness. Let’s be like Jesus toward one another. Use your words carefully and let’s love like Jesus loved us.