The Worthy Walk—Part II: Abounding in Love
1Thessalonians 3:6-13 / Matthew 5:38-48
Reverend Bryn MacPhail / September 22, 2002
We recall that the primary reason for Paul writing the Thessalonians was so that they would “walk in a manner worthy of the God” who had called them “into His own kingdom and glory”(2:12).
Our new status—if we have been transformed by the power of the gospel, our new status is that we are now children of the kingdom. We are children of the King and so there is a particular manner in which we must now walk. And what must under-gird all of our behaviour is the desire to please God, and the desire to honour Him by the way we live our lives.
Paul explains in this letter how he was unable to do a follow-up visit with the Thessalonians and that is why he sent his colleague, Timothy, instead (3:1,2). Paul references Timothy’s visit in verse 6, saying, “Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love.”
It is easy to detect how encouraged Paul is with the progress of the Thessalonians. Yet, this does not prevent Paul from giving further exhortations. Paul could have, after hearing of the Thessalonians progress, said to himself, ‘It appears the Thessalonians are getting along just fine. They are progressing in their faith and love and so there is no need for me to write to them.’ But Paul understands how quickly progress can turn into complacency, and so he does write to them, offering the Thessalonians further instruction.
If I am to follow Paul’s example then, I am constrained to bring you exhortations from this pulpit that will challenge you to grow in godliness. And the reason for this is a positive one: We have made progress in our faith and we refuse to be complacent. We have made progress in our faith, and I am committed to seeing further progress in the ministry at St. Giles Kingsway.
As chapter 3 comes to a close, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians with a prayer that begins in verse 12, “may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
Notice the connection between the report Paul received and the instruction Paul gives. The report Paul received from Timothy was that the Thessalonians had grown in their faith and love (3:6). Yet, in his exhortation to them, Paul prays that the Lord would cause them “to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men” (3:12).
What we should conclude from this is that there is no room for complacency in the life of a Christian. The Christian who is marked by love, must be increasing in love. We would be wise then, to ask ourselves, ‘How am I doing? Have I progressed in my Christian life in such a manner that I am more loving than I was five years ago? Or have I become complacent? Or, even worse, have I become bitter and unloving towards others?’
Friends, notice where this love comes from. This is no ordinary love that Paul is calling for here. The love Paul calls for has a Divine origin. It is for this reason Paul prays, “may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another.”
If the love we are called to abound in comes from God, I infer then, that this love is of a different character than what we are accustomed to. This inference is buttressed by other portions of Scripture. We remember the words of Jesus, who said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).
Let’s work this one out. Loving others is not unique to Christianity. Loving others is something that is common to human beings. Therefore, just because someone loves people doesn’t mean that they are a Christian.
Why would Jesus say then, that “all men will know we are (His) disciples if (we) love one another”? Jesus says this because the love that Christians have is markedly different in character than the love that is common to humanity.
Let me give you an example of this: Jesus’ command to “love (our) enemies” (Mt. 5:44). Jesus follows this command by asking rhetorically, “If you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them”(Lk. 6:32).
So you see, it is not just any kind of love that marks us out as Christians. For Jesus says that even sinners love those who love them. Christian love involves loving our enemies. Christian love means loving those who do not love us.
This principle is critical to the health of any church. Are you surprised that there is conflict in the Christian church? Was I surprised to learn that there have been times of conflict within this congregation? No, I’m not surprised. I once heard a minister ask, ‘Do you have people in your church? Yes? Then you have problems in your church!’
Loving, as Christ would have us love, is not easy and that is why Paul prays for our love to abound; that is why Jesus insists that we love those who do not love us.
I promise you, if it hasn’t already happened, someone in this church is going to offend you. Someone in this church is going to dishonour you. Someone in this church is going to frustrate you. Sooner, or later, someone in this church will make you angry. What are you going to do? Paul is telling us to abound in love for this person. Jesus is telling us to love those who mistreat us. And it is in this context we must hear Jesus’ promise, “all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).
Jesus is saying that the world will see something special in us if we are marked by the kind of love He prescribes. It is not enough for us to love those who treat us well—any human being is capable of that. If you want to convince someone that Christianity is true, then you must love in a manner that baffles our natural sense of justice. If you want to convince someone that Jesus is real, then you must love as He prescribed. You must love your enemy.
And please notice that Jesus doesn’t simply say, ‘Act in a loving manner toward your enemy’. He says, “love your enemy”—that is, really love them.
Are there some here today who would resist this? ‘I cannot love the one who has offended me. I am incapable of loving them.’ That may be true, and that is why Paul says, “may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another.” We need the Lord’s help to fulfill the Lord’s command.
Friends, this is not optional. To be a Christian requires forgiving what is unlovable in others, because God has forgiven what was unlovable in us.
Part of what it means to walk in a manner worthy of our calling is to abound in our love for one another. Walking the worthy walk is appropriate to our standing as children of the King.
I am fond of a story often told by British pastor, Stuart Briscoe:
In this account, the king of England's two sons were playing in High Park, London. One said to the other, 'I'll bet you a schilling that all fat policeman have bald heads.'
The other one said, 'OK, I'll bet you.'
Coincidentally, an overweight police officer walked by wearing the regulation British police helmet. Of course, they would need to dislodge the helmet. Neither of the sons was very adept at that sort of exercise, but fortunately a young scruffy kid from the East Side of London came along.
The sons said to the boy, 'Do you think you could dislodge that policeman's helmet for us? If you do, we will give you 6 pence.'
The boy said, 'Sure', and he picked up a stone, and with a flick of the wrist, knocked the helmet right off the police officer's head. And lo and behold, the fat police officer had a baldhead. This, of course, does not prove that all fat policemen have baldheads, but the boys were not into statistical analysis.
The one son said to the other, 'You owe me a schilling.'
And while one son was paying his debts, and while the other son was collecting his debts, the police officer came by and asked, 'What's your names?!'
The first son replied, 'Sir, I am the Prince of Wales.'
The policeman said to the boy, 'First you insult my person and now you are resisting arrest. You are going to be in deep trouble young man! Now tell me your name! What is your name, really?'
'Officer, I really am the Prince of Wales'.
He said, 'I don't believe you', and turned to the second son and asked, 'What's your name?'
The second son replied, 'Well, he is the Prince of Wales, and I'm his brother, the Duke of Kent.'
The officer said, 'I don't believe you either. First you insult my person and now you are resisting arrest. These are serious charges.'
The officer then turned to the scruffy young boy and asked, 'What's your name?'
The scruffy boy nudged the other two with his elbow and whispered, 'Don't worry boys, I won't let you down.' . . . 'Officer, I'm the Arch Bishop of Canterbury.'
Why did the policeman not believe that the two boys were the king's sons? And why did the scruffy kid from east London not believe that the two boys were the king's sons?
The answer is this: They were not living worthy of their calling. And we must not expect anyone to believe we are Christians, we must not expect anyone to believe we are children of the King, unless we live worthy of our calling.
You are a child of the King—honour Him by abounding in love for one another. Amen.