Summary: Christians should abound in Christ-like love and this love actually will work towards our sanctification. This is the 6th in our series on 1st Thessalonians
Living out Love
Text: 1st Thessalonians 3:11-13
By: Ken McKinley
Well we’ve gone over the background of this book, we’ve talked about how Paul, Silas and Timothy had been in Thessalonica around 49 AD, and how persecution arose and Paul had to make a hasty escape in the middle of the night. We talked about that because of this Paul was worried and he sent Timothy back to check up on the Christians in Thessalonica; and how Timothy came back with a good report. And so now in our text Paul is changing his focus, or I guess we could say, he’s changing the direction of this letter. From this point on, Paul wants to talk to the Thessalonians about the future, not about the past.
Now our text here is a type of prayer, and I want you to notice that Jesus is on par with God the Father, where they are both mentioned together in verse 11 and in verse 12 where Paul asks the Lord to make the Thessalonians increase and abound in love. Now this is important to remember if you ever run into one of those so called “experts” who says; “Of course you know that the doctrine of the deity of Jesus wasn’t believed until 200 years after His death.”
Paul goes on to pray that the Christians in Thessalonica would not only abound in love towards one another, and to all, but that they would walk in holiness. In other words, that they would live out their love. If they had true, Christ-like love, then they needed to be living it.
Now when I was a kid and someone would say, “Such and such is a ‘holy man’,” that would conjure up all sorts of thoughts in my imagination. I would imagine that person as some sort of guru who could walk on water, and had a perpetual glow around his head. That he probably didn’t like Rock N’ Roll music, and that he lived on some higher plane of existence, (You’ve got to remember I grew up a godless heathen). Holiness was something totally removed from my understanding. Well as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found out that there are actually a lot of Christians who see holiness as some sort of abstract thing that’s beyond reach except for a choice few. They see it as something so spiritual and religious that it’s beyond their reach. And then some even see it as something they don’t want to reach. Paul doesn’t see it that way.
The Bible teaches that one day, we will be perfected in holiness, we will finally be rid of sin, and our sinful nature. Paul talks about that in Ephesians 5, where he says that Jesus will present the Church to Himself as holy, without spot or blemish. And so in this prayer, what Paul is doing, is praying for this to become a reality.
But there’s a step to this. It’s an important step. He says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all… SO THAT He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father…”
Now the NIV reads differently. The NIV reads like Paul is making 3 requests, but that’s not the case. There are actually just 2 requests here. The 1st is that God would make a way for Paul and the others to visit the Thessalonians. The 2nd request is in verse 12 where Paul asks that the Lord would make them abound in love for one another and for all.
Verse 13 is not a new sentence, nor a 3rd request. It flows out of verse 12, and so this is one instance where the NKJV, the ESV and the NASB actually translate the sentence better than the NIV. We find the same thing in Ephesians 5 where Paul begins by praying that the Ephesians walk in love, and ends with Christ presenting His church holy and blameless without spot or blemish, and we find it in Philippians 1:9-11 (Read).
So what is holiness? Some say it’s the consistent living out of God’s Law; I say it’s the consistent living out of God’s love. Turn with me to Romans 13:8-10 (Read). Think about it like this. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you won’t covet their things, you won’t steal from them, you won’t want to murder them, you won’t slander them, you won’t want to have an adulterous affair with their wife… in-other-words, you’ll consistently live out God’s Law.
Now how does this apply to us today? If we are to live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loved, how does that shape our decisions and our behavior?
Well first of all, it ought to influence our prayer life. We have a tremendous privilege to pray for one another in the Body of Christ. In other words, we can go to the sovereign, Almighty God and ask Him to move on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can even pray that God would help them, and us, to love more like He does. That’s what Paul did in our text.