Uncontainable Christian Love
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Uncontainable Christian Love | 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13. Wasn’t last week encouraging? Especially if you were able to make it out to the evening services, you know that was really good. Praise the Lord for times of refreshing, amen? But I also hope that you’re excited to be back in 1 Thessalonians. J Today, we’re in 3:6-13. Let’s read that together, and then I’ll pray (1 Thess 3:6-13).
I’d like to start with a bit of storyline review, so can you walk me through the timeline of Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church?
- Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to Thessalonica, preaching the gospel. According to 1:5, the missionaries preached the gospel with conviction, and there was clear evidence of the power of the Spirit on their ministry–they may even have performed miracles! Not only that, but they also backed up their message with blameless conduct. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 talks about how Paul, Silas, and Timothy were willing to risk persecution. It says that they maintained their personal purity and integrity. It says that they didn’t flatter the Thessalonians or seek to please them–but also that they did love them very deeply! It also says that the missionaries refused payment, choosing to support themselves financially. In other words, they were totally above reproach. And how did the Thessalonians respond?
- They responded well! 2:13 says that they received the gospel message not as the words of men, but as the very word of God! 1:9 says that they turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. In other words, some of the Thessalonians were converted! They got saved! They were born again–hallelujah! 1:6 says that they became followers of the missionaries and of the Lord, even though they knew full well that they were signing up for persecution! And oddly enough, they weren’t even discouraged about that! Because their hearts were filled with joy from the Holy Spirit! So just like that, the Thessalonian church was born. And the missionaries loved on these new converts like they were their own kids. But did things stay hunky-dory for long? No! What happened next?
- The unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble, and the missionaries were driven out of the city. Where did they go next? (Berea) And then where did they go? (to Athens) But during this whole time, Paul was anxious about the little church in Thessalonica. He couldn’t get them off of his mind! Here they are being hammered by persecution, and he’s three hundred miles away! He prayed for the church regularly, but that wasn’t enough! He wanted to be there, physically present, in order to encourage them! He knew Satan was trying to destroy them, and he was worried that his labor would have been in vain! So he tried time and time again to retrace his steps and return to Thessalonica, but every single time, Satan blocked his way! Finally, when Paul and Silas couldn’t take it any longer, they decided to send Timothy instead.
And that’s where we left off. So you can see that in some ways, we left off with kind of a cliff hanger! Now, we already know how it’s going to turn out because we studied Paul’s glowing report at the end of chapter one about how the Thessalonians became role models for believers in all the surrounding regions about how God was using their testimony to advance the gospel. But still, 3:5 is a bit suspenseful! What will Timothy discover when he arrives at Thessalonica? Will the church have survived? How bad will it be?
Well it’s actually not bad at all, because in 3:6, Timothy returns… and he’s bearing good news! This is actually the same Greek word that is also translated “gospel.” And it’s like, “Whoopie!!” Paul is overjoyed! You get the impression based on this passage that he is dancing all over the room! He immediately begins fumbling for a pen and paper and he’s stumbling all over himself trying to write a letter to them because he is so happy that they are standing firm and that they reciprocate his love! In v. 9, Paul says, “What thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God?” “All the joy with which we rejoice”–did you catch the emphasis there? Paul says, “How can we ever thank God enough for this gift?” He was so happy!
Not only that, but the news from Timothy couldn’t have come at a better time. Paul was going through some difficult trials, and he was tempted to get discouraged, but this news from Thessalonica really lifted his spirits (vv. 7-8). Verse eight is remarkable. Paul says, “Now we can live. Phew! Now we can breathe easy. Now we are really alive… because you are standing fast in the Lord!” Do you see how much Paul cared about these people?
What we see modeled in Paul’s response is what I would call “uncontainable Christian love.” Look with me at v. 12, because this is the lynchpin of the passage. It may even be the theme verse of the entire first three chapters (v. 12). So by this point, Paul has flowed over into a prayer for the Thessalonians, but the theme is still the same: he wants them to increase and abound in love for one another and for all people just as he does for them.
There was an ancient preacher named Chrysostom who preached on this text and said this. He said, “Do you see the unrestrainable madness of love that is shown by his words? ‘Make you to increase and abound,’ instead of cause you to grow.” I think Chrysostom was exactly right; Paul’s choice of words here is powerful. Both the Greek word for “increase” and the Greek word for “abound” have to do with something welling up until is flowing over. This is overflowing, uncontainable love!
The world loves to talk about love, doesn’t it? In the 60’s there were songs like, “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” And the modern LGBT movement is based upon an extension of that idea of free love. But ironically, despite all the rhetoric, there is a massive dearth of real, genuine love in our culture! Just go on Twitter! Or watch the news about some protest, and notice all the hateful, vicious words people use against each other, or even write on signs!
Our world does need love, but it’s not the kind of love they think they need. They need the love of Christ, and they need people to lovingly care for their souls! We as Christians should be stepping up and filling that void. We should blow unbelievers out of the water when it comes to showing love!
You say, “Why is love so important?” Well look at v. 13 (v. 13). What’s are the first two words in v. 13? What does those words tell us to do? They tell us to go backwards and connect this verse with what came before. Specifically, v. 13 is giving the result of v. 12. Paul prays that the Thessalonians would increase and abound in love for one another and for all so that their hearts would be blameless and holy when Jesus comes!
Some people tout holiness but they have no love. Can I tell you something? People like that don’t understand holiness. According to Paul, love is essential to holiness. You can’t be truly holy unless you have love. That’s why Paul prays that the Thessalonians would increase and abound in love so that their hearts would be established blameless in holiness. Don’t pretend to be holy if you don’t have love.
In the rest of our time together this morning, I want to answer three questions about uncontainable Christian love.
- Who Must We Love?
First, we must love other believers (v. 12).
In v. 11, Paul completes his thought on prayer that he started all the way back in 1:3 (1:3)! So in chapter one, Paul lists some praises, and then he sort of gets sidetracked with a story; and then in 2:13, he comes back to some more reasons he is thankful, and then he gets sidetracked with some more of the story–until finally, in 3:11-13, he tells the Thessalonians what he is praying for them about! And the essence of his prayer is this: “I want you to increase and abound in love for two groups of people: first for one another (which is a reference to their fellow church members there in Thessalonica) and then for all (which means “all people”).”
So who must Christians love? First, we must love our fellow believers! Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John picks this thought up again in 1 John 4:7-8, in which he says, Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Do you love other believers? If not, something is wrong with you spiritually.
But even if you do genuinely love other believers, your love should be constantly growing! There’s a hymn that says, “More love to Thee, O Christ–more love to Thee!” Is it good to pray that we love Jesus more? Yes! But we should also pray that we love others more! Is your love for other Christians increasing and abounding? Are you progressing in sanctification in this area?
So first, we must love other believers.
But second, we must love “all” or “all people.”
The command to love unbelievers is not as common in the New Testament as the command to love other Christians. And yet, here it is in this text “as plain as the nose on your face,” you could say!
Now, I’d like to do a complicated word study with you this morning…. What does “all” mean? (all) Oh, it means “all,” like as in “everybody”? It can’t possibly mean that, can it? Does this mean that I am supposed to love… democrats? What about Muslims? Felons? People who have wronged me? People who get on my nerves? What about homeless people? What about people of another ethnicity? You must love all of those people! And don’t take the teeth out of this by saying something like, “I may have to love them, but I don’t have to like them!” You must have a heart of love that extends to all people.
What if we stopped vilifying our enemies and instead got to know them? What a difference that would make! This past week, New York passed some legislation about abortion that was simply pure evil. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Now how can you respond to something like that? You can post about it angrily on social media or talk about it with your friends who already agree with you, OR, you can volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center or simply seek to win the lost who have no clue what biblical morality looks like!
I’m reading a book right now called, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It’s the story of a devout little Muslim boy who grows up and turns his life over to Christ. You talk about a book that will help you to identify with the lost–it’s excellent! Just seeing what Nabeel took for granted as a child, and how sincere he and his family members were, and how someone loved him enough to lead him to Jesus–it’s very inspiring! We as Christians shouldn’t become hardened Muslims! We should seek to reach them with the gospel and pray for their salvation! “Father, guard our hearts! Help us to always be increasing in love for all people!”
So we see that we must love all people. But number two…
- How Do We Love These People? We love other people by pursuing their salvation and spiritual maturity.
One of the most dangerous ideas about love that is out there today is that if you don’t condone my lifestyle, you hate me. So, for instance, if you say homosexuality is a sin, you must hate gays and lesbians. Is that true? No! It could not be farther from the truth! Because if we truly love people, we won’t want them to continue in their sin! It is not loving never to talk to your loved one about sin and its consequences! What is loving is to tell them the truth and to plead with them to be saved!
Paul’s love for the Thessalonians did not mean that he unconditionally accepted whatever lifestyle they might choose. In fact, in the very next chapter, he issues a clear call for moral purity! Demanding love–that’s totally unheard of in our world.
We see in v. 13 that Paul earnestly desires for the Thessalonians to be standing firm when Jesus comes back. He cared deeply about their spiritual maturity! Also, the reason Paul is so excited in vv. 6-9 is that the Thessalonians are standing firm! Would he have still loved them even if they weren’t standing firm? Yes, but he would also have been disappointed, because his love was directional, you might say. It was not disinterested in the sense that Paul didn’t care what the Thessalonians did or believed.
So on the one hand, you could say that our love is to be unconditional, in the sense that we love everyone. But we resist the definition of unconditional love that says “You must condone my sinful lifestyle.” We love people by pursuing their spiritual maturity.
That leads us to our final question….
- How Do We Pursue Their Salvation/Spiritual Maturity?
Three simple answers, and they all come from this text. Number one, we pursue their spiritual maturity with our words. Look down at v. 10. Had Paul given up on his dream of revisiting the Thessalonians? No! You say, “Why did Paul care about that anymore, now that he knew they were doing fine?” Well, it says in v. 10, he still wanted to supply what was lacking in their faith. He knew based on Timothy’s report that they had holes in their spiritual maturity. Paul wanted to fill in those holes. And in order to do so, he wanted to be present, in order to talk with them.
But in lieu of physical conversation, what did Paul do? He picked up a pen and started to write. Again, he used words.
Have you ever heard the little saying, “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary”? It’s good to be reminded that our testimonies are powerful, but you must not downplay the significance of words! God uses words to save people. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” And God uses words to grow Christians. “Sanctify them by your truth; Your word is truth.” So words are essential.
How good are you at using words to build up fellow believers or to witness to the lost? You say, “Pastor Kris, I could never do that! I’m too timid.” Some of us are more timid than others, but all of us are commanded to speak truth into the lives of others.
Number two: we pursue spiritual maturity in others with our presence. This has been an interesting and unexpected theme in 1 Thessalonians. Even in this passage, in which we would expect Paul’s eagerness to visit the Thessalonians to diminish, it does not! He still wants to visit them!
Why do you think your physical presence with another person is so important when it comes to making disciples?
Number three: we pursue spiritual maturity in others with our prayers. Paul prays for the Thessalonians. Pray for other people! And when you do so, pray for important things! Sometimes, when pray for others, we focus almost exclusively on physical needs. Not that physical needs are bad to pray for. But when Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, he was asking God to make them ready for Christ’s return. He wanted the Thessalonians to be standing firm when Jesus comes back. He wanted them to be blameless in holiness. He wanted them to be increasing in love.
We would do well to pray this way for other believers.
As we conclude, I want you to imagine that you are in some kind of court, and you’re seeking to defend the fact that you love other people. Maybe your neighbor stands up and says, “He only loves his own tribe; he doesn’t really love us.” What would say to that? To what instances of self-sacrifice would you point? Maybe a fellow church member stands up and says, “You know, to be honest, I’m not even sure that she loves her fellow church members all that much.” Would you have something to say? Could you tell them how much you pray for them? Could you share with them how you grieved when that fellow church member fell into sin and how you took painful steps to restore him or her? How have you gone out of your way to show love to people who are unlike you politically, ethnically, economically, or in terms of religious beliefs?
I think that as a church, we do pretty well with one another love. Now, to be sure, there is always room to grow, but what I would particularly love to see us grow in as a church is in our love for “all people.” Do you love your neighbors? Do you know their names? Do you pray for them? Do you try to help them with physical or emotional needs? Now, we’ve seen from this passage that our love for other people has to go beyond that; but how can we say that we care for them spiritually if we aren’t even willing to help out with the little things? And what doors for the gospel might we open up if we were to humbly serve and get to know the lost? These are important questions we must answer.
The world assumes that Christians are stuck up and arrogant, and that we don’t really care about people. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s true. In many other cases, it’s just a stigmatization. But let’s do whatever we can to break that stigmatization, and to blow people away with uncontainable Christian love.