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.
Secondly; it should cause us to re-commit ourselves to loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, and as Christ loves us.
See one of the main problems in the world today isn’t that we don’t love our neighbor… we don’t love them as we love ourselves. And I’ll tell ya’ this isn’t easy for us, including me. I can be selfish and sinful just as easy as anyone else. We put time constraints on ourselves, and people impose deadlines on us, and then we fill our free time with idol things that we could do without. And we just fill up our time with worthless things.
It’s God who works this love in us, but it is we who cultivates this love, it’s we who help this love to flourish if you will. You see; God ordains the means, and the ends to those means, but there is often times a part that we play as well.
Now let me just say this though; loving your neighbor as you love yourself doesn’t mean that you tolerate sinful behavior from them, it doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to certain lifestyles or behaviors. It doesn’t mean just let them stay in their sin. In-fact I would say that isn’t love at all.
Think of it this way. If life was a river, and hell was a giant waterfall at the end of the river, and those who were saved were standing on the banks, while the rest of the world was drifting downstream without any means of navigation, and without knowing what lay ahead, and we as Christians smiled at them and were friendly to them, and cordial to them, and we just gave them a nod as they passed on by, knowing that they were about to go over the waterfall… is that love?
Turn with me to Romans 9:1-3 (Read). That’s loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
Do you want me to tell you how to love your neighbor as you love yourself? Well even if you don’t I’m going to.
The way you cultivate a love for others is to take a good, long, honest look at yourself; and I mean a GOOD, LONG, AND HONEST LOOK. And then look at the forgiveness you’ve been given through the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ. “He who is forgiven much, loveth much.”
The more your eyes are fixed on Jesus, the more you are in God’s Word, the more you see just how sinful you really are, and how much, and how often, and how frequent He forgives you. Your love will grow and grow, and the more it will cause you to live out your love.
So Paul prayed that these Thessalonians would abound in love so that they might grow in holiness. Sometimes I ask my fellow Christians, “Do you want to be holy?” And they always answer, “Well of course I do!” And then I ask them, “Why?” And I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten an answer to that. Let’s look at our text one more time (Read).
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to grow in holiness so that he would be able to present them blameless before God on the Day of the Lord. You see, if we want to grow in holiness so that we can say that we’ve achieved some spiritual benchmark, then we’ve missed the point. It’s not so much about us, as it is about the Lord Jesus Christ receiving the glory that He deserves.
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
And so, if you only take one thing home with you from tonights lessons, take this. The main point. If you want to be perfected in holiness, you need to grow in love. It’s an on-going, life-long thing, and the end result is to glorify God.