Your Reputation Matters –
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Sermon 9 of 14 from the I Thessalonians series
October 1996 – "Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
In our study of 1 Thessalonians we have come to a very practical portion of Scripture. The Apostle Paul packs a great deal of truth into just four verses. My goal this morning is to explain what these verses mean and then to suggest how they apply to us today.
Two weeks ago when we looked at God’s command to abstain from sexual immorality, I did not have any trouble convincing you of the relevance of that passage. All of us who live in Oak Park and in Chicago—and indeed, anywhere in America—face an veritable onslaught of immorality. Perhaps the word avalanche might be more fitting. Because we all feel that pressure it’s not hard to understand why Paul spoke so frankly about this topic.
After I preached that sermon, in fact for the entire week afterwards, I received phone calls and messages from people who were moved by the truth of God’s Word.
I mention that simply to say that today I face a different problem. The words of our text are not so sensational, though they are no less true. Our danger in listening to God’s Word may be that we will dismiss this passage as unimportant.
That would be a tremendous mistake because we need to hear what God is saying to us today. Therefore, I want to challenge you to listen with your ears and also with your heart for the message God has for you today.
Our passage contains two exhortations we need to take seriously. The first is in verses 9-10 and the second is in verses 11-12. Each one describes what the church the owes the world. Everyone concerned about seeing the church make a greater impact on our culture will benefit from studying these verses carefully.
I. An Example of Brotherly Love 9-10Paul begins by reminding them of their duty to practice brotherly love. “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you.” That’s an interesting way to put it, isn’t it? “I don’t need to remind you about this, but I think I will anyway.” The word for “brotherly love” in Greek is a word that everyone here already knows. Literally in Greek the word is philadelphia. It’s a word that outside the New Testament almost always is used for the love of family members for one another. It comes from two Greek words that have been joined together:
philos, which means “tender affection, fondness, devotion.”
It’s a word that implies an obligation to love.
adelphos, which literally means “one born of the same womb.”
So the word philadelphia literally means “tender affection owed to those born from the same womb.” It’s easy to understand why the early Christians adopted this word to describe Christian love. All Christians have been “born of the same womb” through the new birth. Everyone who is saved is saved the same way. God’s doesn’t have three different plans of salvation—Plan A for Protestants, Plan B for Catholics, and Plan C for everyone else. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:3). To be born again means to receive new life through personal faith in Jesus Christ. If you will, it means to be “born from God’s womb.”
Let me illustrate. I have three brothers—Andy, Alan, and Ronnie. I am the second of four Pritchard brothers. We’re all very different. Andy lives in Alabama, I live in Illinois,Alan lives in Mississippi, and Ronnie lives in Arkansas. We have different personalities, different habits and hobbies, different likes and dislikes. Yet one thing binds us together. We come from the same womb. That fact means that there is a special place in my heart for my brothers so that even if I haven’t seen them for a long time, it’s as if I last saw them yesterday. There is a bond between us that time and distance cannot break.
The same truth applies in the spiritual realm. Everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me. And I owe all of them tender affection and brotherly love!
Note three facts about this brotherly love:
1. It is taught to us by God himself.“For you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” The word translated “taught by God” appears nowhere else in the New Testament. It speaks not of a lesson learned in a classroom but of truth learned through relationship. What’s the best way to learn French? Live among people who speak French. Soon you will learn to love French cuisine and to appreciate French culture. The atmosphere of France itself will enter your bloodstream. The same is true regarding love. You learn to love by associating with loving people. Love isn’t taught, it’s caught. Because we come from the womb of God, we share his basic nature, which is love. Therefore, love ought to be the most natural thing for the believer to express.
Brotherly love is at the heart of our Christian faith. That’s why Paul doesn’t have to teach it. To be a Christian is to enter a fellowship of brotherly love.
2. It reaches out to love all of God’s children.“And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” Underline that phrase—"all the brothers.” That’s not easy to do. Most of us love some of the brothers, maybe even most of the brothers. But all of them? That’s a tough assignment.
Let us be clear about this. We are to love all true believers everywhere all the time. No qualifications, no reservations. That’s hard because most of us have some inner qualifications. We don’t like this group or that denomination. Maybe we’re not comfortable with people who speak in tongues or with those who use a Prayer Book. We may even distrust people who have a different worship style that we do. Maybe we have some preferences regarding skin color or ethnic background.
Put simply, all such thinking is simply and must be abandoned. God’s kingdom is not limited to graduates of one seminary or members of one denomination or to people who look, think and act just like us. God’s kingdom embraces all true believers no matter who they are or what church they happen to belong to or even if they don’t belong to any church at all.
Why We Love the WorldNext week we’re having a mini-missions weekend here at Calvary. It’s called “Open Doors” and we’ve having a team from Word of Life in the Ukraine to speak to us. Last week Caleb Lucien from Haiti spoke to us. This is what it’s all about. Brotherly love is the basis for Christian missions. If God’s love abounds in us, we shall evermore increase in our world vision and in our love for all of God’s people everywhere.
The love of God is not limited—not by nation or ocean or tribe or tongue or custom or clothing or race or politics or creed or caste or any other human condition. When the love of God captures us,. our hearts will be as big as his—reaching to the ends of the earth.
3. It should always be increasing in our lives.“Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.” What does it mean that our love should increase? It means that we should increase in our …
Sympathy for those in need …
Patience for those who are struggling …
Tolerance toward those with whom we disagree.
The most powerful recommendation for any church is this—that the members love one another! The world pines for this … and flocks where it is found. The latest research from George Barna shows that the when the unchurched are asked ask what they looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church or a relevant church or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. And not just a church where the Bible is clearly taught. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heartcry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in.
How God Teaches Us To LoveThis was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, camps, no radio or TV, in fact they had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did it happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” One Roman writer put it this way:
They know one another by secret marks and signs … And they love one another almost before they know one another.
How do God help us grow in this area? By putting us in situations that force us to practice Christian love. Over the years I have observed God do this again in again. He allows two people to have difficulties with each other, often to the point of anger and bitterness. He does it because the only way we learn to love is by dealing with unlovely people. I have seen it happen between husbands and wives, parents and children, between co-workers, neighbors, fellow students, and relatives. People who start out disliking each other often end up as dearest friends.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that “we may talk so much about loving people in general that we love no one in particular.” One writer graphically describes the problem of loving the unlovely.
Some people are so miserably unlovable. That odorous person with the nasty cough who sat next to you in the train shoving his newspaper into your face. Those crude louts in the neighborhood with the barking dog. That smooth liar who took you in so completely last week. By what magic are you supposed to feel toward these people anything but revulsion, distrust and resentment, and a justified desire to have nothing to do with them?
It is not magic but rather the power of the Holy Spirit who causes us to love the unlovely.
The church is to be a community of love. We owe it to the Lord, to each other, and to the watching world.
Let brotherly love abound more and more.
Let Christian sympathy go out to those in need.
Let us take the banner of God’s concern around the world.
Let us pray for one another and especially for those with whom we disagree.
Let our hearts grow and grow with brotherly for all of God’s children
We owe the world that kind of example!
There is a second exhortation we must take seriously.
II. A Challenge to Balanced Living 11-12In order to understand these verses you need to know that in Thessalonica there had been great excitement about the Lord’s return. When he was with them, Paul had taught them about the imminent return of Christ. The word “imminent” means “at any moment.” It means that Jesus could return today or tomorrow or next week or next year.
Whenever people get excited about the Lord’s return there are always those who take it to extremes. Throughout history there are been those who have set dates for the Second Coming of Christ. That’s bad enough, but when people begin to believe those dates, they start doing strange things like selling all their possessions and going up on a mountain to wait for Christ to return. In the 1800s a man named William Miller predicted that the Lord would return on a certain date in 1844. Thousands of people believed him, sold all their goods and went up on the mountains. When Jesus did not return, Miller was discredited and his followers disillusioned.
That kind of thing has happened often throughout church history. In answer to that kind of extremism Paul issues a strong call for balanced living. He gives three commands, each of which answers a common problem.
1. Live a quiet life.This is the answer to the problem of restlessness. The word “quiet” is a word meaning “Sabbath rest.” It speaks of the cessation of work, of the end of conflict, of peace after warfare. Be ambitious, Paul says, to live quietly. Or you might say, Be ambitious to have no ambition. We need these words because our ambition tends to be noisy, to make splash, a name, to get ahead, to rise above the crowd.
Eugene Peterson translate this phrase with two words: “Stay calm.” It means to be less frantic and more settled in your life. Don’t be flaky—always restless for something better in life.
This week I ran across the following quote: “You will never be happy until you learn to enjoy what you already have.” Those are good words for us to hear. So many of us spend thousands of dollars seeking happiness when the answer is really to enjoy what God has already given us.
Every Day Above Ground is a WinnerGod made us for simplicity and quietness. We are the ones who devise duplicity, complexity, and frantic activity. But you cannot be frantic on the inside and tranquil on the outside.
Let me give you another quote to chew on: “Every day above ground is a winner.”
These words of the Apostle Paul fit our workaholic age. We live in such a hurried age, with little sense of stillness and rest. There is so motion and so little progress. We work harder to achieve less. We are a generation of hyperactive overgrown kids who stay perpetually hyped up on caffeine, sugar, TV, and raucous music. Our motto is, “Get on the bus or get out of the way.” Life for most of us is a mosquito swarm of impending duties. We measure our success by how much we accomplish each day. No wonder we are restless, edgy, tense, nervous, and easily distracted. We talk but have nothing to say, we listen without hearing a word.
If you think our generation is unique, remember that these words were written to a city church in a bustling, hurrying, rowdy, large metropolis. Paul knew exactly what he was talking about.
So what is your ambition? That’s a good question for a church full of workaholics.
Many of you recognize the name of Peter Marshall, famed Chaplain of the United Stated Senate in the years just after World War II. He is remembered for his pithy prayers that opened each session. Here is the prayer he prayed on May 8, 1947:
Help us to do our very best this day and be content with today’s troubles, so that we shall not borrow the troubles of tomorrow. Save us from the sin of worrying, lest stomach ulcers be the badge of our lack of faith. Amen.
2. Mind Your Own BusinessThis is the answer to the problem of meddlesomeness. We all know people like this. They are busybodies who feel called to mind their business and yours too. They believe they have a right to invade your privacy. This is a perverted view of brotherly love. One writer speaks of “the busybodies compulsive itch to set other people right.”
I know the biblical excuse people give for being a busybody. “I am my brother’s keeper,’ they proclaim. Indeed, the Bible does teach that we should watch out for the welfare of those around us. However, it is possible to worry too much about what other people say and do. You end up telling others how to do their work and run their life.
Almost no one appreciates a busybody. If they say they do, they’re usually politely lying.
Let me share three signs that you have crossed the line of genuine concern and have started meddling:
1. You base your happiness on what others do or say.
2. You repeat your advice over and over hoping to convince someone.
3. You judge others on whether or not they do what you say.
There are two things wrong with this: First, busybodies violate the principle of individual liberty given to every Christian. Each of us will stand individually before God someday. Since you’re not God, don’t try to play God for someone else. Second, busybodies spend so much time worrying about others they neglect their own lives. You end losing all sense of values. You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. You become at expert at seeing the grain of dust in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye.
3. Work with your own hands.This is the answer to the problem of idleness. If you’re looking for true welfare reform, it begins right here. It’s important to understand that Paul isn’t being metaphorical here. He literally worked with his hands as a tentmaker whenever he could so that he could support himself while he preached the gospel. Even though he was highly educated, he didn’t mind hard work in the least and he didn’t find manual labor embarrassing.
It’s historically true that the upper classes of Rome and Greece despised manual labor. That’s why they owned so many slaves. They hated to work with their hands. But Christianity brought in a new ethic based on personal responsibility and hard work. Remember, Jesus was a carpenter!
Religious People Can Be a NuisanceWork is a blessing, not a curse. The Christian ought never to be a parasite. Most of our life is spent working to earn our bread. If we cannot be holy at our work, it is useless to attempt being holy elsewhere. Someone has said, “It is a terrible thing for religious people to have nothing to do but be religious.” And again, “Those who get up in the morning with nothing to do but be religious are generally a great nuisance.” It is the man who gets up the morning and goes to his job and works all day in the marketplace, it is the woman who pursues her daily tasks at home and on the job with cheerfulness, these are the ones who make an impact for Christ in the world.
How we work is as crucial as how we pray. There is no greater testimony than the Christian mechanic at his bench, the Christian teacher in the classroom, the Christian secretary at the desk, the Christian nurse at the hospital, or the Christian accountant keeping the books.
This is true Christianity. This is where it all begins! Going to church means little if you are a lazy goldbrick on the job. Our problem is that we don’t see our daily work as a way worship God. But it is. What you do on Monday is just as sacred in the eyes of the Lord as what you do in church on Sunday.
“A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God,” said Martin Luther.
III. The Difference We Will MakeVerse 12 wraps up our passage with a word about the impact this kind of life makes.
1. You will win the respect of outsiders.Let me state it negatively and positively. On the negative side, “Don’t be lazy and give the church a black eye.” On the positive side, “You can make the church beautiful by the way you do your job.”
Remember, you are the only Bible someone will ever read. You are only gospel someone will ever hear. You are the only Christian someone will ever meet. What do people read, hear and see when they look at your life?
The lowliest occupation becomes a powerful sermon when it is done with dignity, propriety, honesty, diligence and faithfulness. The common man who does his common job with uncommon grace will never lose his self-respect and will win respect for the church of Jesus Christ.
Someone has said it this way: “The only way to show that Christianity is the best of all faiths is to show that it produces the best of all men.” When we Christians show that our faith makes us better workers, truer friends, better neighbors, kinder men and women, then we are really preaching.
Our lives are sermons that daily draw others to Jesus … or push them away from him.
2. You will not be dependent on othersAll of us want to be independent. There is a good kind of independence we should all strive for. It’s the kind that comes from paying your bills on time every time so that you don’t have to steal, borrow money, or run up a huge credit card debt. There is nothing wrong with accepting charity in the time of need. But to come to depend on it and to think it is owed you … that is a terrible sin.
I began this sermon by saying that you might overlook this passage because it isn’t sensational. But the words of Paul were written for us today.
What does the church owe the world? If we stand back and look at the first 12 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, we get an answer like this: Each Christian here is under obligation for three things:
A holy life—free from immorality
A harmonious life—always increasing in brotherly love
An honest life—living quietly, minding our own business, working with our own hands.
This is what we owe the world. This is what God expects from us.
If you want to make an impact on the world, this is where you need to begin.
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