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1 Thessalonians Series: Growing in Christian Love (1 Thess 4:9-12)

Growing in Christian Love


Now on the topic of brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. And indeed you are practicing it toward all the brothers and sisters in all of Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, to aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend to your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you. In this way you will live a decent life before outsiders and not be in need. 

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (NET)



How can we grow in Christian love for one another?


After praising the Thessalonians for their continued faith in God and love for others in Chapter 1, in Chapters 2 and 3, Paul reminded them of his ministry to them before his abrupt departure. Others were accusing him and attacking his ministry there, so Paul reminded them of it and defended himself. Then, he told them how he wanted to return for a visit again and again, but Satan hindered him (2:18). He wanted to return so he could find out about their faith and make sure they weren’t shaken by the afflictions they were enduring (3:2-3). Since he couldn’t return, he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing in the midst of their ongoing persecution and to strengthen their faith (3:1-5). In Chapters 4 and 5, Paul responded to Timothy’s update by giving ethical instructions for the Thessalonians. In 4:1-8, Paul challenged them to follow the commands that they previously taught them “more and more” (v.1). Specifically, Paul challenged them to grow in holiness by avoiding sexual immorality. In 4:9-12, Paul continued his ethical instructions, as he calls for them to continue practicing brotherly love for one another “more and more” (v. 10) and allow it to affect their work life and relationships.


As Christians, we should be known not only for our holiness, including our sexual purity in a promiscuous world, but also, we should be known for our sincere love for one another. The progression from the command to holiness and sexual purity to love is clear. Sexual impurity is selfish and self-centered but genuine love is others-centered and God-centered. The Greek word Paul used for love is actually not the usual one, agape, which refers to God’s love. Paul used the word philadelphia, which referred to familial love. In secular Greek literature, it was used for the love between biological brothers and sisters.[1] However, in the New Testament, it is always used for love between Christian believers. When we became followers of Christ, we were adopted into the family of God. We became spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. We saw this view of believers with Christ when his biological mother and brothers were looking for him in Matthew 12. In response, he declared, “Who is my mother and who is brother but those who do the will of God?” (Matt 12:48-50 paraphrase). He was not minimizing the importance of biological family, but he was elevating the importance of spiritual family—those who follow Christ and obey him. Sometimes our faith in the Lord will even separate us from our biological family, especially when they don’t know the Lord; however, it should draw us closer to others who believe the same, live the same, and suffer the same persecutions for their faith.


When talking about the need for the Thessalonians to love one another as family, in verse 9, Paul said he didn’t need to teach them because they had already been “taught by God to love one another.” What did Paul mean by that?


Interpretation Question: In what ways have believers been taught by God to love one another?”


He seems to be referring to what happens in a believer’s life when they are born again. When describing the New Covenant which was originally given to Israel but also applies to the church, God said this in Ezekiel 36:26-27:


I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative, and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations.


As followers of God, God has given us a new heart—meaning that we have new affections that we didn’t have before. If we have been born again, we now have affections for God. We want to know him, please him, and obey him. We also have affections for other believers. They have become our spiritual family. Romans 5:5 says: “…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” When we received the Holy Spirit, he gave us a new heart and new affections, including love for God and other believers. In 1 John 3:14, John said it this way: “We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death.” A proof of our salvation is our new love for believers. Certainly, we saw this with the first church in Acts. After 3000 Jews repented of their sins and became followers of Christ, they started to sell all they had and give to the poor believers in the church (Acts 2). They treated one another like family. God’s love was flowing within their hearts through the Holy Spirit, as proved by their actions. Likewise, Christ said this about believers in John 13:35, “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” Not only will we know we are born again by our affection and loving actions towards other believers but so will the rest of the world. We will be identified by our love for one another. God taught the Thessalonians this through his Spirit, even as he has taught every truly born-again believer. He has written his law of love on our hearts!


Clearly, the Thessalonians were displaying this Spirit-empowered love. As mentioned, Paul had already bragged about it in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. He said, “…we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” However, Paul wanted them to grow in this love more and more. As with holiness, which Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to pursue in the previous verses, we can never reach a place in this life where we have perfectly achieved it. Only God is perfectly holy, and we will only be like him at death or his coming. Likewise, we will never become perfectly loving in this life, though we should strive for it. Scripture says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He demonstrated this love first of all by creating us. God is independent and doesn’t need a thing, but he created us out of love for us, which Scripture says he had for us before time (cf. Eph 1:4). He also demonstrated his perfect love for us by sending his only Son to die for us on the cross. First John 4:9 (ESV) says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” God demonstrated his perfect love through the cross, and since we have experienced this love, we are called to aim to love others in the same way. First John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Consequently, like Paul challenged the Thessalonians to grow in brotherly love for other believers, we must also do the same. We must seek to grow in this perfect love that God demonstrated on the cross and the Holy Spirit poured out into our hearts for other believers. Again, according to Scripture, if we don’t love other believers, we have never been born again (cf. 1 John 3:14)


How can we grow in this brotherly love, as we seek to demonstrate it to other believers and the world around us? In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, we learn principles about growing in Christian love for others both through the Thessalonians’ example and Paul’s instructions to them.


Big Question: As demonstrated in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, how can we grow in Christian love for other believers?


To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Zealously Practice It towards Believers Within and Outside Our Local Churches


And indeed you are practicing it toward all the brothers and sisters in all of Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12


Though calling for the Thessalonians to grow in Christian love, Paul honored them for how they were already practicing this love. They were not only loving the believers in their local congregation who were suffering persecution, but they were also loving believers throughout Macedonia. According to Acts, we know that Macedonia had churches not only in Thessalonica but Philippi and Berea. Since Thessalonica was a major trade center, no doubt, many of the believers would come through and fellowship with the Thessalonian believers. But also, as needs arose, the Thessalonians probably supported those local congregations in various ways as well. It seems very clear that the early church was really connected through the apostolic network. In fact, when the church in Jerusalem suffered, the Macedonian churches, including Thessalonica, supported them. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, Paul bragged about them before the Corinthian believers. He said:


Now we make known to you, brothers and sisters, the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia, that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity. For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints.


Though these were poor churches, they still overflowed with generosity for the Jerusalem church which was suffering through a famine. No doubt, they did this with other Macedonian believers as well, and Paul called them to continue to seek to excel in this Christian love.


Application Question: How can we seek to excel in love for other believers, even as the Thessalonians did?


First, it must be known that the Thessalonians, though a model church, as Paul described in Chapter 1, were not a perfect church. It was not necessarily easy to love everybody in the church. As implied in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 and fleshed out in 2 Thessalonians, the Thessalonian believers had problems. When Paul called for the believers to “attend to” their “own business” and to “work with” their own “hands” so they would “not be in need” (v. 11-12), he seemed to be addressing specific believers in Thessalonica who had stopped working, started to become busybodies in everybody else’s business, and had started to leach off others. Apparently, this had just begun when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians but by the writing of 2 Thessalonians, it was in full bloom. In 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, he said this:


For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat.


Many Bible students believe that the Thessalonians had become so zealous for the second coming that many had sold all they had, quit their jobs, and started preaching eschatological judgment; however, while they were waiting for the second coming since they were not working, they had become idle, busybodies, getting into everybody’s business, and were depending on other believers to meet their needs. This is why Paul commanded them to work so they would not be in need, depending upon everybody else.


Again, I share this to say, that the Thessalonians believers had problems, and it was not always easy to love others at times in this church, as in any church or family. Nevertheless, Paul called for them to love each other more and more in practical ways. Love should not just be emotional; oftentimes, it must be something we practice as a discipline. John 3:16 says, for God so loved the world, he “gave” his only begotten Son. First John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.” Our love should be practical.


How would Thessalonians need to practice loving one another more and how should we do it with other believers?


1.     Loving one another more and more means forgiving those who have failed or harmed us.


As mentioned, families, including Christian families, hurt one another. Part of the reason families hurt one another is because we really care about our family members and have high expectations of them. However, when we really love someone, it’s easier for them to hurt us. When somebody we don’t really know hurts us, it’s easier to move on because we don’t care much about them anyways. Likewise, no doubt, Paul’s challenge for them to love one another more and more meant for them to continue to forgive one another, to bear long with one another, and to hope for the best, especially in dealing with those who were lazy, idle, and gossiping in the church. First Corinthians 13:5 (NIV) says, love “keeps no record of wrongs.” The Thessalonians would need to forgive one another as an act of love, and we’ll commonly have to do that as well with our spiritual family when they fail or let us down. This may be how God is calling us to practice brotherly love more and more with our local church or Christian friends. Ephesians 4:32 says, “…be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”


2.     Loving one another more and more means thinking often of others, praying for them, and figuring out how we can serve them best to help them grow.


Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works.” This no doubt meant the Thessalonians needed to think about the various demographics and individuals in the church and how they could strategically love them. Maybe it meant thinking about the youth, how they could help them bond together, build their faith, and help them better witness for Christ. It meant thinking about the new mothers in the church who were tired and trying to find ways to support them. It meant thinking about those who were sick, praying for them, and supporting them in practical ways. It meant thinking about those who were grieving the loss of a relative and possibly supporting them financially to show the love of Christ. It meant thinking about those in sin, praying for them, and reaching out to draw them back to God and the church. To love, one must spend a lot of time thinking, praying, and strategically reaching out to others to help them grow in Christ.


3.     Loving one another more and more means faithfully gathering for worship, fellowship, prayer, and encouragement.


Hebrews 10:25 says, “not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.” One of the greatest ways we love others is simply by our presence. If a man buys lots of gifts for his wife and kids but is never present because of work or recreation, the wife and kids will struggle with whether he truly loves them. Our presence is one of the greatest ways we love others, and our lack of presence demonstrates apathy or at worst hate. Likewise, we should constantly gather together with believers to worship corporately at church, small groups, and in various ministries. In fact, becoming faithful attendees of corporate gatherings (large and small) at church often is the first step in getting to know people in our local churches and loving them more deeply. We should also at times reach out to specific individuals and families in our local church for coffee or a meal to build deeper relationships with them for mutual encouragement and prayer.


4.     Loving one another more and more means thinking about the regional and global church, praying for them, partnering with them, and even supporting them at times.


Again, the Thessalonians were practicing brotherly love not only with their local congregation but also other congregations in Macedonia (Philippi and Berea; cf. v. 10). As mentioned, they eventually also supported the Jerusalem church through generous giving (2 Cor 8:1-4). We should do the same. In Ephesians 6:18, Paul said this to the Ephesian congregations, “With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and petitions for all the saints.” We should pray for the saints in our city, region, country, and around the world. As Christ prayed for the church in John 17 before going to the cross, we should pray for God to sanctify the church through God’s Word, make them one, and protect them from the evil one. We should at times partner with local congregations to pray for the city, care for the poor, and/or do evangelistic outreaches. But we should also remember believers who are suffering throughout the world, including persecuted Christians, and at times support them if possible. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment.” For some, God may call them to start, volunteer, or be employed by with ministries that strengthen local churches in a city, region, or throughout the world, such as denominational ministries, mission agencies, and other parachurch ministries.


If we are going to grow in Christian love, we must zealously practice it both to believers inside and outside our local congregations. How is Christ calling us to love our local church and the individuals in it more?


Application Question: What makes loving other believers difficult? In what ways have you been especially blessed through experiencing Christian love from other believers, especially ones in your local congregation? How can believers support their local church and congregations abroad? How is God calling you to grow in practically loving believers in your local church and abroad?


To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Aim to Lead Quiet Lives Before God and Others


to aspire to lead a quiet life…

1 Thessalonians 4:11


Because of the context of Paul’s call to grow in demonstrating brotherly love (4:9-10), the need to love clearly applies to the rest of Paul’s commands in this section, including “to aspire to lead a quiet life” (v. 11). “Aspire” can also be translated to “make it your ambition” (NIV). It refers to a wholehearted and energetic pursuit of something.[2] The word “quiet” has the sense of being at peace, calm, rest, or satisfied. [3] This is a paradoxical statement because those who are ambitious tend to not have a quiet life, as they are too busy; however, having a quiet life seems to primarily refer to quietness and peace in relationships and in mind.


Interpretation Question: What does it mean to aspire to live a quiet life practically?


It means at least three things:


1.     To lead a quiet life probably refers to avoiding unnecessary conflict by not being obnoxious, insulting, and unforgiving, as we interact with other believers and society, and at times experience persecution.


Because of persecution, Paul had to quickly leave Thessalonica after starting the church there (Acts 17). However, after he left, the Thessalonian believers, also, began to be persecuted. No doubt, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and the general public were mocking the Thessalonians because of their faith in Christ and commitment to biblical values. But instead of being gentle in response to the persecution, apparently, some were fighting back. Though this might seem like a normal response, it is not how Christ taught believers to respond to persecution, nor what he demonstrated. With Christ, when others were being hurt and mistreated or when God was being dishonored, he was like a lion. In John 2, he went into the temple, flipped the tables of the money changers, and pulled out a whip. However, when he was mistreated, he was like a lamb to slaughter (Is 53:7). When he went before the Sanhedrin and they gathered people to make up false charges about him, he said nothing. He trusted God to defend him. In Matthew 5:38-41, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said this about our response to personal attacks:


You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, let him have your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.


These were common abuses that the Romans did to Jews, which at times caused rebellion amongst the Jews. Even one of Christ’s disciples named Simon (not Peter) was a zealot (Matt 10:4). The zealots were a Jewish sect that hated the Romans because of their occupation of Israel and sought to fight back against them through political intimidation, terror, and even violence.[4] However, Christ taught his followers that if someone slapped their right cheek, they should offer the left side. When someone took their shirt, they should offer their jacket as well. When someone forced them to go one mile, they should willingly walk two. He taught the exact opposite of what most Jews were looking for in the messiah. They were expecting the messiah to be a great military leader like Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and many of the judges—someone who would lead them to defeat their enemies and take back their land. However, Christ taught them that it was the meek who would inherit the earth, not those who sought vengeance or fought for their rights (Matt 5:5).


Certainly, this is difficult for us and takes a lot of wisdom. Christ was not forbidding going to our civil authorities for justice; that’s why God has allowed them to be in office (Rom 13:1-7). He was, however, forbidding our seeking justice apart from the authorities—taking justice into our hands and getting even. He also was at times calling them to give up their rights as an act of humility and worship to God. He was calling believers to be meek because they understood God would defend them and eventually give them the earth eternally (Matt 5:5).


Essentially, Christ taught his disciples, as acts of love towards God and others, to aim to lead quiet lives—ones that are gentle and meek in response to evil done towards us. When personally offended, we should not fight back, raise our voices, or become physical. We should not seek to get vengeance for vengeance is the Lord’s. We should pray for our enemies and bless them. In Romans 12:19-21, Paul said it this way:


Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Instead of returning evil for evil, we should allow God to bring vengeance and seek to bless our enemies and overcome the evil with good. This is difficult because when we’re mistreated, our flesh naturally wants to get even and be vindicated; however, like Christ, many times, God may call us to not defend ourselves at all but to instead trust our defense to God. First Peter 2:20-23 says it this way:


For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.


Unfortunately, in many countries around the world, Christians, instead of living quiet lives rooted in love, have become unnecessarily obnoxious to the government authorities, our neighbors, and other Christians. We are right to disagree with many of the policies happening in our governments, especially as they conflict with Scripture; we should witness about Christ to those who are lost, even if at times upsets people, and we should also challenge other believers who may be deceived or in sin. But the manner in which we take stands on moral issues and share our faith is very important. Second Timothy 2:24-26 (NIV) says it this way:


And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.


God’s servant does not argue or quarrel with others on areas of disagreement but instead is kind, patient, and gentle as he shares with others (or even corrects them) because he realizes God changes hearts, not him. In addition, 1 Peter 3:15-16 says this about our witnessing to others:


But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.


As we share the gospel with others and give apologetics for our faith, we must do so with courtesy and respect, not in pride or anger. In an increasingly immoral world, our message and beliefs will be offensive, but how we present them should not be. There should be a loving quietness about us even when we disagree with people. We should avoid all unnecessary conflict as we represent our Lord and Savior.


Are we making it our ambition to lead a quiet life? Are we avoiding quarrels and heated disputes? When people are rude to us, do we respond with courtesy, gentleness, and respect? In 1 Corinthians 4:13 (NIV), Paul said this: “When we are slandered, we answer kindly.” Are we answering kindly?


Again, apparently, some of the Thessalonians were not leading quiet lives, as they endured persecution and possibly in how they related to one another. Some were fighting back, being loud, returning insult for insult, and being obnoxious to their political leaders and their neighbors. Paul says that they should live lives of love by making it their ambition to lead a quiet life. They should be gentle in their witness, how they confront sin, and when they experience persecution. We must make it our ambition to do the same. We must aim to live loving, quiet lives by avoiding unnecessary conflict and being gentle in response to personal attacks.


Application Question: Why is it loving to live a quiet life, meaning one that is gentle in response to others, including those who are disagreeable and try to hurt us? In what ways have you seen some Christians become obnoxious in their ministry to other believers and the world, including with ungodly government policies? How can believers tell when it’s time to be like a lion, as Christ was in the temple (John 2:14-17), or like a lamb, as Christ was before going to the cross (Mk 14:53-61)? How is God calling you personally to avoid unnecessary conflict in your relationships with others?


2.     To aspire to lead a quiet life probably refers to learning contentment in God so we can better love others instead of being ruled by discontentment, covetousness, and anxiety.


For most in the world, they lack a quiet heart and mind because they are always anxious about their circumstances, provisions, and future. In Matthew 6:31-33, Christ said this:


So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


When he says the unconverted “pursue these things,” it means a feverish pursuit. It can be translated to “eagerly seek” (NASB) or “run after” (NIV). The world eagerly and anxiously runs after clothes, food, money, and other things. However, believers should be different because they have a heavenly Father who loves them and promises to provide for them. When the world is anxious about the economy, politics, and the future, believers should have peace because they know the one who is in control of the world and that he promised to provide for them. In Romans 8:31-32, Paul said it this way:


What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things


If God has already given us his best, his Son, so we can be saved eternally, how much more will he give us everything else we need for life? For that reason, believers should have peace and contentment in an anxious and confused world. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul said it this way:


I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.


The fact that Paul said he had to “learn” to be content means it’s not our natural disposition. We’re prone to anxiety, worry, complaining, and discontentment. Therefore, we must make it our ambition in life to have a quiet confidence in God, as we accept his promised love, regardless of our situation. No doubt, the other prisoners sat in awe as Paul sang worship songs in the Philippian prison cell with Silas (Acts 16:25). He had learned contentment and thankfulness both in the good times and bad times, as he sought the Lord and trusted him in the various seasons.


Contentment in Christ not only includes not being anxious about our future and provisions but also not running around anxiously like the rest of the world always pursuing things. John described this as the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16 NIV). The world is in a constant race for more and never content with what they have, and Christians often are the same. Therefore, contentment in Christ practically means implementing the discipline of being thankful and practicing simplicity by not storing up our treasures on the earth to protect our hearts from loving this world and not rightly loving God and others. In Matthew 6:19-21 and 24, Christ said to his disciples:


Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and devouring insect destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and devouring insect do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 


Those who continually store up wealth on the earth will never be content. Why? It’s because wealth and luxuries promise to satisfy us but always leave us discontent (especially when the next, better things come out). As we continue to pursue the next thing, eventually things start to control our hearts. Eventually, things become our master instead of God—leading to being ruled by things, covetousness, and anxiety. It’s not that money, cars, homes, clothes, and electronics are bad. They are not. Christ taught that the problem is our hearts! They are bad. He said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” and that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:21, 24). That’s why he teaches us to practice the discipline of simplicity on the earth by not storing up temporary riches (Matt 6:19). It protects our hearts so we can better love God and others. Many are not living quiet lives because they are unthankful and running around like the world pursuing wealth and things and therefore neglecting to love God, family, church, and the lost. Their hearts love things and therefore have no space to love others as they should.


With that said, as mentioned, being content does not just mean practicing simplicity so we can better love others instead of things, it also means having peace of heart when life is difficult. In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul said:


Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


According to Paul who had learned the secret of contentment (cf. Phil 4:11-12), he said that we can have a quietness of heart, even in the worst circumstances, if we live a lifestyle of prayer and thanksgiving in everything. When we pray, petition, and give thanks in everything, God promises to give us supernatural peace—a supernatural quietness of heart that is beyond human understanding.


The pursuit of things not only hinders us from loving God and others but also brings anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear make us consumed with our circumstances or potential circumstances (such as not having enough or protecting what we have) and therefore keep us from loving God and others as we should. In Matthew 13:22, Christ described the worries of this life as a thorn that keeps the Word from bearing fruit in our lives. It keeps us from loving others which is a fruit of God’s Word.


In a world full of people who are discontent with what they have, covetous about what they don’t, and anxious about circumstances they can’t control, believers should aim to lead quiet lives by having a quiet confidence and contentment that comes from their relationship with God. It delivers them from anxiety, covetousness, complaining, and discontentment (cf. Phil 2:13-14, 1 Thess 5:18) and frees us to love God and others as we’ve been called to.


Application Question: In what ways do discontentment and covetousness commonly hinder our ability to love God and others? Why does the storing up of things commonly negatively affect our heart spiritually and how (Matt 6:19-24)? How is God calling you to practice the discipline of simplicity? In what ways is God calling you to live a life free of anxiety and fear and instead have a quiet confidence in God who holds your future?


3.     To aspire to lead a quiet life probably refers to avoiding overwork, having proper rest, and living a balanced life. 


Often people in this world get their identity from their work and being productive. When we ask people to introduce themselves, often they will first mention their work (what they do for a living) before they mention their hometown, family, or faith. Because of this culture which tends to focus on productivity, many tend to overwork which has hazardous effects on their faith, family, and person. In fact, with Israel, while they were in Egypt, they were enslaved. During that time, they were identified and valued only by their work and what they could produce, not by being a person made in the image of God who had a family and different gifts and abilities. Consequently, when Israel left Egypt, God gave them the Sabbath, in part, to deliver them from the idolatry of work and finding their identity in what they produced instead of their relationship with God and others. One day a week, from Friday night till Saturday night, they needed to rest and worship. It was a reminder that they were more than what they produced and that working was not their chief calling in life. They were made to worship God, and to cultivate intimate relationships with their family, friends, and community.


Likewise, many of the people that Paul wrote in Thessalonica were probably slaves. Greeks and Romans despised manual labor and viewed it as work only fit for slaves. They thought the highest form of work was using one’s mind. Consequently, soon after Paul called the Thessalonians to live quiet lives, he called them to “work with their own hands” (v. 11). Because Paul talked about manual work specifically, this probably meant that most in the congregation came from the lower classes, including many being slaves. To add to the likelihood that many were slaves, in 2 Corinthians 8:2, Paul mentioned how many of them gave generously out of their “extreme poverty.” Since many of the Thessalonians were from the lower, working class (and possibly slaves), that’s how society valued them and probably how many of them evaluated themselves. Their identity was based on their work and productivity and not their identity as children of God and members of a family, which are more valuable than their work.


Consequently, when Paul called them to aim to lead a quiet life, he was probably in part calling them to not idolize their job and productivity and consequently overwork. If they were doing that, even with good things like church ministry, it would have drastic consequences on them physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. It would lead to burnout, depression, and an inability to maximize their God-given gifts. It would negatively affect their families, as their kids and spouses would often be neglected and harbor angry feelings. Even worse, overwork would cause them to neglect God, which negatively affects everything.


In a world that commonly idolized work and productivity to such an extent that it negatively affected its people, Paul called them to rebel by making it their ambition (their goal) to lead quiet lives free from the idolatry of work and its negative consequences. The idolatry of work and busyness is often a hindrance to loving God, our family, and our church, as careers become the priority.


Sabbath Principle


Though not under the Mosaic law and its command for us to practice the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, we are wise to practice the sabbath principle in our lives by taking one day off a week. Christ said that God made the Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). God rested on the Sabbath day, not for himself (since he doesn’t need rest) but to give us an example to model. We are not God (or gods); we need rest. We need rest each day, as we go to sleep at a decent hour, so we can offer God, our families, and others our best throughout the next day. We also need at least one day a week to focus on rest, recovery, and worship to recharge, so we can serve God and others to the best of our ability. Sometimes, we’ll need extended seasons of rest, such as extended vacations or a sabbatical after hard seasons of work. If we don’t have these, we’ll be ruled by work and experience terrible consequences in our health and relationships, including with God, others, and ourselves. It’s been said that we will rest because we choose to in order to recover and have a proper work-life balance, or we will rest because of sickness, burnout, depression, or even death. We must choose wisely. We must rule our calendars and schedules instead of being mercilessly ruled by them.


As Paul commanded of the Thessalonians who were part of the lower class and slavishly worked with their hands, we must also make it our ambition to lead quiet lives by shunning overwork, properly resting, and having a balanced life. As mentioned, practically this means putting down work and going to bed at a decent hour, choosing a sabbath day a week to focus on rest, recreation, and worship, and also taking strategic seasons of rest, like a vacation. It will also mean setting healthy boundaries at work by at times respectfully saying, “No.” Sometimes, it might mean choosing a new job or career if one can’t have proper boundaries. As a goal, we must make it our ambition to lead quiet lives free from the idolatry work that leads to burnout, sickness, and an inability to properly love God and others, including our families and churches.


If we going to abound in love, we must make it our ambition to lead a quiet life by avoiding unnecessary conflict with others, being content in God, regardless of our circumstances, and shunning the idolatry of work in lieu of a proper work-life balance.


Application Question: How do you struggle with having an unquiet life—one prone to discord with others, anxiety and discontentment with life, and/or a tendency to overwork? In what ways do people commonly find their identity in work and how does society often create an unhealthy work-life balance? How is God calling you to make it your aim to live a quiet life of love by avoiding conflict, discontentment, covetousness, and anxiety, and by having a proper work-life balance?


To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Focus On Our God Given Callings to Keep Us from Gossiping, Listening to Gossip, and Being Judgmental


…to attend to your own business…

1 Thessalonians 4:11


When Paul calls for the Thessalonians to attend to their own business, this command probably had both a negative and a positive element. Negatively, Paul was calling believers to not gossip, listen to gossip, or be judgmental of others. He was probably specifically referring to the group within the congregation who apparently had stopped working and were simply waiting for Christ’s coming. Because of their lack of busyness, they had become busybodies getting into others’ business, gossiping, and judging others, probably both within the congregation and outside of it. In 2 Thessalonians 3:11, Paul addressed this more directly. He said, “For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others.” As mentioned, they were probably not only gossiping about others but also being judgmental. In Romans 14, Paul rebuked the Roman believers for judging one another over nonmoral matters such as preferred worship days and what one ate or drank. In Romans 14:4 and 10-13, he said this:


Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand … But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister.


Likewise, today, believers often become judgmental towards others over issues like clothing worn, types of movies watched, music listened to, worship songs sung publicly, the moderate use of alcohol, or even political affiliation. Paul warned believers about dividing over issues like this. We should be very gracious and tolerant when it comes to preference or wisdom issues. With our freedoms, in Romans 14, Paul gives us two main pieces of advice: (1) Don’t judge or despise others based on these types of issues (cf. Rom 14:4, 10), and (2) Don’t cause others to stumble with our freedoms (cf. Rom 14:13). In Romans 14:21, Paul said, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” If we sense that a certain freedom we are indulging in is or might cause a weaker believer to stumble, then we should gladly give up that freedom whether that be eating, drinking, wearing, going to, or being entertained by. God will hold us accountable if someone stumbles because we practice certain freedoms. In Matthew 18:6, Christ said it would be better to have a millstone tied around our neck and be thrown into the sea rather than cause one of his little ones to stumble. When it comes to freedoms that might cause others to stumble, we should choose to graciously love the vulnerable instead of selfishly clinging to our rights.


Unfortunately, the judgmentalism happening in Rome, apparently, was also happening in Thessalonica. Believers were not minding their own business but rather gossiping about others and being judgmental over matters of personal preference or wisdom, which caused discord in the church.


As mentioned, Paul’s command for the Thessalonians to attend to their own business not only had a negative aspect—referring to not gossiping and being judgmental—but also a positive one. When believers are diligently using their time to complete God’s call on their lives, they will be less prone to fall into various sins, including becoming judgmental gossips. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) says it this way, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” When a person is not wisely using their time to do God’s will—such as faithfully attending church and using their gifts to build up other believers or diligently working to provide for themselves and others, then they will be prone to fall into the evil of the day. It’s typically during one’s free time that a person looks at dishonorable things on the Internet or TV, gets drunk on the weekend, stumbles with the opposite sex, or in this case becomes a busybody in everybody else’s business. When we are using our time well to cultivate our gifts, serve others, and serve God, we will have less time and opportunities to fall into various sins including gossip and listening to gossip.


Now, certainly, Paul was not calling the Thessalonians, or us, to mind our own business in such a way that we neglect our call to care for others. When it comes to sickness, financial struggles, conflict, or even flagrant sin, our bother’s business is our business! In Galatians 6:1-2, Paul said,


Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.


Also, Hebrews 13:12-13 says this:


See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception.


We should care for each other and help meet others’ needs. But we should also challenge one another to make sure none are becoming hardened by sin and ultimately turn away from God. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” So Paul is not calling believers to selfishly focus on themselves to the neglect of others. We should seek to be positively involved in other’s lives—meeting their needs and helping them grow in Christ. However, we should not be negatively involved in others’ lives, participating in their sins, breaking confidentiality by sharing their secrets, gossiping about them, or judging them.


To emphasize this further, when referring to not being judgmental, again, this does not refer to overlooking sin issues. We should point out sin and unwise choices that might lead to sin to help protect our brothers and sisters. Being judgmental refers to judging people based on nonmoral, personal preference issues like dress, entertainment, style of worship, or even one’s doctrinal views on nonessential issues. We must be careful about that. But also, when dealing with a sin issue, we must avoid an unloving judgmental manner. Our manner is very important to God and the potential offender. We must handle sin in an edifying manner instead of a condemning manner which beats the offender down and pushes him or her away from God and God’s people. Ephesians 4:15 says we should speak the truth in love to help the body of Christ grow. Truth without love is harsh and judgmental. Love without truth is tolerance of sin. Love and truth must come together. One simple way to avoid a judgmental manner in correcting sin or a potential sin is our tone. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Our words are important but so is our tone when giving them. A gentle, humble tone is often perceived as more loving and concerned, which commonly will turn away wrath, though not always.


When Paul called the Thessalonians to abound in love, they would do this, in part, by focusing on their own God-given callings as family members, church members, neighbors, and workers, which would keep them from becoming busybodies, gossips, and those who stir up discord. By being properly busy and good with our time, it will keep us away from many temptations, including being unloving to others.


Are we being wise and productive with our time to keep us out of sin? If we’re not using our time wisely, according to God’s will, we’ll be prone to fall into various sins, including being unloving to others, especially those God has put in leadership over us at work, church, or even in government. Leaders are always the easiest targets. When we are attending to our business, completing whatever God has called us to, it will keep us away from the unloving practices of the idle—gossiping, listening to gossip, and being judgmental.


Application Question: In what ways does a lack of busyness commonly lead to various sins? What is the difference between correcting sin in someone’s life and being judgmental? How can we correct sin in the lives of others in a loving and wise way? How is God calling you to attend your business (meaning his business) so you can better love others instead of being unloving?


To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Be Diligent Workers Who Are Good Examples to the World and Other Believers


…and to work with your hands, as we commanded you. In this way you will live a decent life before outsiders and not be in need.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12


Finally, Paul calls the Thessalonians to work with their own hands (v. 11). Again, this is probably partially a rebuke to those who had stopped working because they were waiting on Christ’s coming and consequently were relying on others for their daily provisions. They were demonstrating selfish love—focused on their own concerns—instead of brotherly love that wisely, cares about others and builds them up. When Christians are lazy and not working to provide for themselves and their family, they become bad witnesses to other believers and nonbelievers as well.


With that said, though work is often a burden and at times undesirable, it was God’s plan for all humanity from creation. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to cultivate it. At the fall, however, work became tainted in that it would now consistently bring hardship and frustration. God told Adam that from the sweat of his brow, he would eat from the ground. And that the soil, instead of always producing fruit, would grow thorns and thistles (Gen 3:17-19). The result of the fall was pain and frustration in our work; however, work, in itself, is still part of God’s gift and beautiful plan for people to provide for themselves, bless others, and help society flourish.


In fact, the implication of Paul’s command to the Thessalonians to abound in brotherly love before calling them to work with their hands is that Christian love should not only be demonstrated to believers but also to those in our workplace—to our bosses, co-workers, and patrons we serve. We demonstrate love by our attitude in working, by caring for others at our workplace, by witnessing at appropriate times if God allows, and by being diligent at work. Tom Nelson said this about the Thessalonians and their call to work:


The Thessalonian believers did not become a monastic community or pull up stakes and head out en masse as Christian missionaries. These first-century believers saw their gospel stewardship through the lens of their vocations and stations in life. Having embraced the gospel, they were honoring Christ in the various vocations and stations of life they were in when they were called. The gospel was spreading like wildfire throughout the increasingly mobile Roman world, which was brimming with economic activity … as these Christians were faithful to their callings to these arenas.[5]


We should demonstrate God’s love to the world as teachers, businessmen, government officials, salespeople, caregivers, homemakers, students, and any other honest work God calls us to. It’s one of the primary ways we bless the Lord, bless the world, and allow our lights to shine in a dark world.


In contrast with this, when Christians are lazy and a drain on society by depending on welfare or church benevolence, even though they are healthy and able to work, they are bad witnesses to the world and other believers. In 2 Thessalonians 3:7-13, Paul said this about his own work while in Thessalonica:


For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead, in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat. But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right


Though Paul could have taken a wage from the Thessalonians for his pastoral labor, he chose to not burden them and instead gave them an example of hard work. We must be exemplary and loving as well, in whatever workplaces God places us.


One of the reasons Paul’s teaching is so important is because believers often compartmentalize their faith. Faith is for church on Sunday, but it is not for my job or school from Monday through Friday. Even some of the Thessalonians, as mentioned, felt like working was worthless because Christ was coming soon (cf. 2 Thess 3:11). However, they couldn’t have been more wrong. In the Parable of Talents, it’s very clear that Christ expects us to be working when he returns, and he will reward those who have been faithful workers (Matt 25:14-30). This parable should not just be applied to spiritual things like church, giving, and witnessing, but all things. Everything we do should be devoted to God. In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul said this to Christian slaves: “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ.” Whatever we do, whether as educators, administrators, businesspeople, or even homemakers, we must do it heartily as unto the Lord, realizing that we’ll receive our reward from him. We should also do our work heartily as a witness to the world who watches us. In Colossians 4:5-6, Paul said this:


Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.


When around unbelievers at the workplace, we should demonstrate the utmost integrity in all our interactions. We should work diligently both when our bosses are looking and even when they are not because ultimately God is. We should also demonstrate love for our co-workers and those we oversee. As managers, we should labor for our staff to excel at their jobs, have proper rest, be well-provided for, and be able to abundantly take care of their families. This is one of the ways we demonstrate Christian love in our workplaces and are a witness to others (cf. Col 3:22-4:1).


In contrast, when a believer is not working hard to provide for himself and his family, he is a bad witness to his family, church, and the world. In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul had harsh words for lazy believers who were not providing for themselves and their families. He said, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”


The Unemployed, Disabled, and on Welfare


With that said, this passage should not be applied to those who have disabilities, cannot work, or can’t find a job in a bad economy, and therefore need to rely on government funds and possibly the church. Again, Scripture calls us to carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). The early church in Acts 2 began to sell all they had to care for the poor in the church. And in 1 Timothy 5, Paul taught the church to provide for godly widows who could not support themselves after the death of their husbands and a lack of family. Because of unfortunate circumstances, we may at times need to lean on the government, which is part of the reason we pay taxes, and at times on the church. We should not let pride keep us from using these resources; they may be God’s grace to us in certain seasons of life. But if we are healthy and able to find employment, we should not only work to provide for ourselves but seek to help others in need, especially other believers. Ephesians 4:28 says, “The one who steals must steal no longer; instead he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he will have something to share with the one who has need.”


Dignity of Honest Labor


The final thing we should take from this passage is the dignity of all honest labor. When Paul called for the Thessalonians to work with their own hands, he gave dignity to labor that was despised in the Graeco-Roman world. As mentioned, Greeks despised manual labor and believed it was only fit for slaves. They believed that the more dignified a person, they should do work with their minds instead of their hands. By doing this, they were more like the Greek gods who spent lots of time philosophizing.[6] However, Christianity teaches that all honest work has dignity, and none is necessarily better than the other. Abraham was a shepherd. Christ, the Son of God, was a carpenter, and Paul, though an apostle, was a tentmaker. All of them would have had rough hands from their manual labor. Though manual labor was looked down upon in the Roman world at that time, Christianity taught there was dignity in that work, as in all types of labor that is honest, provides for our needs, and enables us to help others.


Therefore, if the Thessalonians were going to excel in brotherly love, they needed to be exemplary workers. By working, they could set a godly example in the workplace, demonstrate love to others, and be a witness to those commonly encountered. They also could provide for themselves, their family, and those in need. In contrast, those who were lazy and not working were being unloving by burdening others and being bad witnesses to unbelievers who were watching.


Are we being exemplary workers? Are we honest in all our dealings? Do we offer a full hour’s worth of work for an hour’s worth of pay? Do we use our money to not only provide for ourselves and our families but also those struggling around us? When we do all these, we are adding action to our faith and demonstrating God’s love to others. Are we growing in Christian love by being godly workers, as Paul commands?


Application Question: How can Christians better demonstrate Christian love in the workplace? How is God calling you to be more diligent in your work and to show Christian love to your co-workers, including unbelievers? How can we discern the difference between helping those in need through our generosity and handicapping them?




How can we grow in Christian love? From Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonian believers, we learn principles about growing in and manifesting this love in all areas of life.


1.     To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Zealously Practice It towards Believers Within and Outside Our Local Churches

2.     To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Aim to Lead Quiet Lives Before God and Others

3.     To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Focus on Our God Given Callings to Keep Us from Gossiping, Listening to Gossip, and Being Judgmental

4.     To Grow in Christian Love, We Must Be Diligent Workers Who Are Good Examples to the World and Other Believers


Application Question: What principle about growing in Christian love stood out most and why?



Prayer Prompts


·      Pray for God to enable us, our local church, and other churches to abound in love by supporting each other, praying for each other, and carrying each others’ burdens.

·   Pray for God to give us grace to live quiet lives by avoiding unnecessary conflict, learning contentment in God, and avoiding overwork to live a balanced life.  

·     Pray for God to protect our community from a spirit of gossip, judgmentalism, and division by enabling us to focus on our calling to serve God and others.

·     Pray for God to empower us to be diligent and honest workers who bless God and others through our labor as students, educators, businessmen, educators, government officials, homemakers, etc.

[1] Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 13, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 84.

[2] Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 13, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 85.

[3] David Guzik, 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), 1 Th 4:11.

[5] Richard D. Phillips, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), 145.


[6] Mark Howell et al., Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 101.


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