More and More for Oak Hills, Part 3
August 31, 2023 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Over the last few weeks we have been considering Paul’s unique command in 1 Thessalonians 4 to “do more and more.” He links this command to three actions: pleasing God (faith), holiness (literally, our walk), and love for one another. We have already discussed faith and holiness; let’s consider the command to love one another “more and more.”
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.” While he commends the Thessalonians for their love, Paul also calls them to a higher standard, “more and more.”
What does “more and more” love for one another look like?
The command to love is all over the New Testament. Jesus commends the Old Testament command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” as the second great commandment. Then, in his Farewell Discourse, he tells his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn. 13:34). The disciples pick up this command and make it central in their ethical teaching for the early church. Paul says in Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine,” and then in 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” Peter speaks about love in the context of the growth in holiness, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). Of course, John has some of the starkest teaching about love for one another. He writes in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.”
With such an emphasis on the command to love one another, we can expect some clear instructions on what this love looks like. Paul gives one of the clearest pictures of what love should look like in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” We are called to love one another “as Christ loved us.” And Paul specifically highlights the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.
True, biblical love is sacrificial. We must be willing to give ourselves up for another. Since Christ literally died for us, we may think that the only way we love “as Christ loved us” is by being willing to die for another. Our physical lives, however, are not the only thing we are called to lay down for others. Right here in Ephesians, Paul calls us to lay down our rights for retaliation and retribution. The chapter break might distract us from this connection. Verse one of chapter five opens with the conjunction, “therefore.” It links the command to “walk in love” with the verse immediately before this.
We find in 4:31-32 Paul commanding, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” These verses mean that we lay down and sacrifice our bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice and unforgiveness out of love for one another. Why is this a sacrifice? Let me briefly explain here, and you’ll hear more in the sermon on September 10.
Forgiving others and letting go of bitterness and anger are sacrifices because we must release our sense of justice in order to forgive. We withhold forgiveness because we believe that justice must be served against the offender. We become bitter because we do not feel justice has been rightly served. Our anger lingers and becomes sinful because we hold onto a zeal for our sense of justice. In order to “love as Christ loved us,” we must release our sense of justice; we must be willing to count the offender as forgiven and righteous, as if they have done no wrong. This is exactly how Christ has loved us. He forgives us and counts us as righteous in his sight.
We live in a cultural moment where one’s sense of justice must not be released. Forgiveness is not readily part of any conversation. People are actually rebuked and canceled for not being angry enough. The call to love as Christ loved us is a radical, counter-cultural movement. It involves great sacrifice, just as Christ “gave himself up for us.” If we are unwilling to make sacrifices, we are unwilling to love others.