Lesson 11: As They Are Taught by God to Love One Another Page 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Thess.)
by John Lowe
Lesson 11: As They Are Taught by God to Love One Another (1Thessalonians 4:9)
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:9 (NIV)
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one. Paul made this transition in his prayer recorded in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13―“Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” Just as God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him: “and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.” (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:9 (NIV)
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.
“Love” is the subject, and the statement Paul makes is rather amazing. A believer must have “love” for the brethren. It is a supernatural love that is “taught by God”: “All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace” (Isaiah 54:13). Such love can only be produced in the hearts of believers by the Holy Spirit. Paul recognizes that they have already been taught by God how to “love each other,” this being through God’s example in sending Christ (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:1-2), through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22; Romans 5:5), and through Jesus’ teaching (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17), which the apostles echoed in their instruction (Romans 12:10; Galatians 6:2; 1 Peter 1:22). Indeed, the Thessalonians have already learned lessons of love, as demonstrated by their love for all the churches in Macedonia (such as at Philippi and Berea; 4:10). This love is something they have demonstrated (1 Thessalonians 1:35), possibly through hospitality (Romans 16:1-26) or acting as benefactors by helping those in need (2 Corinthians 8:1-57, 8-11, 24). As in 4:18, he urges them to excel in what they are already doing.
Notice that after Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit, brotherly love4 is the first thing that he mentions. Christianity sprang up in a land and culture where clan ties were strong and society was more corporate than individualistic. But that was not the case in the Greco-Roman culture; hence, Paul’s constant emphasis on love.
But here, on this occasion, since he is speaking to those not yet made perfect, he urges them to “abound more and more” (v. 10). He makes their well-known love for one another the basis of an appeal that they would go on to ever new heights of love. When he later wrote 2 Corinthians he praised the practical expression of their love in making a substantial gift for the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:1). It is this kind of thing that he has in mind here also. The passage in 2 Corinthians may indicate how well his remarks were heeded.
Brotherly love (philadelphia) is a word which is used elsewhere in the literal sense of love for blood brothers and sisters. But in the New Testament it is used for the special love Christians bear towards one another as fellow-members of the family of faith, as those who are conscious of having the same Father in heaven. Such brotherly love is of special importance:
1) for it is a testing fruit of regeneration (1 John 3:14; 4:8).
2) for its visible existence is a condition of the world’s conversion (John 17:21).
3) for it is a token also of true discipleship (John 13:35).
4) for it is obedience to Christ’s New commandment, and enforced by His own example (John 13:34; 15:17; Ephesians 5:2); and is essential to the spiritual growth of the church (Ephesians 4:16).
I believe that love is the identifying mark of a child of God; that is to say, one of the evidences that a person is a child of God is that he loves his brother. So let’s review the four kinds of love in Koine3 Greek vocabulary used in New Testament times.
• “Eros” refers to physical love; it gives us our English word erotic. In modern society, this is the sexual or intimate passion you feel for a lover, the alluring pull of a well-dressed woman, or the irresistible air of a fashionable gent. It is a selfish kind of sexual love. Erotic love demands, “Give me.” It responds to physical excitement, the thrill of hormones calling to hormones. It is the desire for sexual satisfaction. Eros love does not have
to be sinful, but in Paul’s day its main emphasis was sensual.
• “Storch,” (also called “storge”) refers to family love, the love of parents for their children. Storge is familial love, the affectionate love you have for your family, whether that is your son, daughter, mother, father, or immediate/extended family. It is considered to be the most natural, or common, manifestation of love that we know.
• “Philia” (or Philadelphia) love is a friendly, or brotherly, love. The love felt between close friends, mentors, teams, and close communities. The important difference between eros and philia is that philia is an unemotional, virtuous love. Unemotional (dispassionate) in that there is not a romantic side to this relationship. Philia is a love built on respect, equality, familiarity, and understanding. It is the love of deep affection such as in friendship or even marriage. It is a sharing kind of love between best friends. Also called brotherly love, love that responds to fellowship. Brotherly love is a harmonious Clan love between family members.
The word Philadelphia is often translated “brotherly love.” Because Christians belong to the same family, and have the same Father, they should love one another. In fact, we are “taught by God to love each other.” That is something that should give modern Christians much food for thought; that the early church was characterized by love. “Behold how these Christians love one another.” The characteristic Christian attitude that we see among the believers in Thessalonica, is one of profound faith in God, a faith that spills out into all of life in the form of self-denying, self-giving love. God the Father taught us to love each other when He gave Christ to die for us on the Cross. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God the Son taught us to love one another when he said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). And the Holy Spirit taught us to love one another when He poured out the love of God in our hearts (Romans 5:51) when we trusted Christ.
• “Agape” love is “Christlike love,” which is a sacrificial kind of love; the love God showed toward us through His Son. It is not simply a love based on feeling. It is expressed in our wills. Agape is the highest form of love, for it is unconditional love. This is commonly referred to as God’s love for man, and of man’s love for God. Agape is an all-consuming love.
Christlike love responds to need wherever it appears. This unselfish love seeks the highest good for another. Jesus calls us to this kind of love, which says, “I give love without any strings attached.” Christlike love doesn’t waver: “regardless of how you respond to me, I accept you as you are. I believe you are valuable. I Care when you hurt. I desire only what is best for you. I forgive all past offenses.”
Without any promise of response, Christlike love reaches out to give, to participate, and to encourage. Jesus’ love is replicated in a caring congregation that meets every one on the level ground around the Cross. Agape love treats others as God would treat them, regardless of feelings or personal preferences.
Paul has on occasion remarked on the way the Thessalonians displayed this virtue (1:3; 3:6). They showed that steadfast love for others which can come about in someone only when that person has been transformed by the power of the divine agape, and has come to see people in the way God sees them. But there is something more than this. When the miracle occurs in people, they find themselves in company with others of like mind and will be naturally drawn to them. Their soul will be knit to those others. Thus, in addition to agape, self-denying love toward all people, they come to practice philadelphia, love of the brothers. This is often insisted upon and it has always been a hallmark of vital Christianity that love of those within the brotherhood has abounded. John, indeed, gives this as the criterion whereby one may know that one really has “passed from death to life” (1 John 3:14; 3:10).
The word or words rendered “taught by God” occurs only here in the New Testament. It has no reference to any external instruction but signifies the spiritual teaching of the heart. For though it was by the word of God that Paul first taught the Thessalonians to love one another, he gratefully recognizes that they were able to learn this lesson only because the Holy Spirit had taught it to their hearts (Isaiah 54:13; John 6:45).
Have you noticed that animals do instinctively what is necessary to keep them alive and safe? Fish do not attend classes to learn how to swim (even though they swim in schools), and birds by nature put out their wings and flap them in order to fly. It is nature that determines action. Because a fish has a fish’s nature, it swims; because a hawk has a hawk’s nature, it flies. And because a Christian has God’s nature (2 Peter 1:42), he loves, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8).