Genuine Love for the Church

Bible Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13

No movements, strategies, motivations, or marketing plans will ever take the place of a genuine love that transforms lives for the Gospel.

A Genuine Love That Transforms

Discussion Guide: Love at a Distance

The context of 1 Thessalonians is that it is written to a CHURCH. We need to constantly be reminded of what a church is. One of the fundamental doctrines of the reformation, which is simply a recovery of the teaching of the NT, is that the CHURCH is simply all of those people around the world who have been chosen by God for salvation and who profess faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not a building, it’s not a nonprofit corporation. The reformers go so far as to say it is BOTH visible and invisible, and sometimes more one than the other. But the CHURCH is always at its core a body made up of individual PEOPLE.

In our 6 weeks in all of the motives, strategies, and movements of God that are required to LEAD I hope that one fundamental element of leadership has become clear to you. This is an element that can’t be taught, it’s not a skill that can be purchased in a class, and it can’t be outsourced for somebody else who might be better at it than you are. It’s free to receive, costly to hold, and impossible to benefit from unless it changes you in such a way that you are giving it away to others.

The fundamental element of leadership that MUST be possessed if you are going to influence any person in a positive direction in their life is the element of LOVE.

This is key as we get into today’s passage because we are talking about what it actually means to LOVE the church. We live in a culture of bumper sticker Christianity where it might be fashionable to print a TShirt or something that says “I love Venture Church” or even “I love Dallas” or” I love Gastonia.” But when Paul writes the things he writes from his heart, he actually has real people in mind…as in Jim, Bill, Sally, Shawn, Cathy……. Let see what he says in 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13

6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

If you are like the rest of us and seeking to learn more about the Bible as you read it, there is one common characteristic of the letters of Paul that will help you understand how they flow. There is usually a point in the middle of a letter where Paul transitions from some lesson in theology about God, sin, and salvation to the practical “therefore this is what you ought to do about it.” The therefore usually conclude big parts of the end of most of Paul’s letter.

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 is just such a transition point in this letter, another one comes in Romans 12. Verses 9-10 say this

9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

The opening thought in Romans 12:9-10 that is in view again in 1 Thessalonians. Love is not a feeling or concept…but a GENUINE and ACTIONABLE verb.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:6-12 we find 3 characteristics of the genuine love that transforms people.

I)The first characteristic of genuine transforming love is that it LONGS to be with people.

1 Thess. 3:6 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—

I cannot possibly thin of a more timely message that the church needs to hear during the months of COVID-19. This, of course, is not a verse about the wisdom and necessity of social distancing. We as a church have been very clear about the WISDOM and LOVE of using all practical means necessary to keep your virus to yourself. But there are clear lessons to be learned today.

Paul’s life at this point bears witness to the reality that just because you want to be around people does not always mean it is wise or practical to be around people. Paul essentially left Thessalonica in the middle of the night because his presence there had become a threat both to his own life and to the lives of the church whom he dearly loved. He was driven apart from them by circumstances beyond his own control. But what was not driven from Paul was his intense longing and desire to be WITH the church.

One thing that we each need to be aware of because of the social forces of the times in which we live is that your desire to love people with your presence can easily wither away and die. I’m preaching to myself here because I am a natural introvert who would like nothing better than to live in a remote cabin in the mountains and spend days outdoors without people bothering me. One of the greatest forms of sanctification in my life has been for God to call me to the ministry of the church where I am FORCED to be around people and my presence around people has caused me to actually learn to love people in a way that is not natural to me.

I suspect that is where a lot of us are today. When we have the option to not be around people, we often choose that option. For some people that is a wise and prudent option. But we need to constantly examine our hearts to know if we have a Godly and transformed heart that at least desires to be around people.

And we see that the longing to be with people is MUTUAL. The Thessalonians long to see Paul as much as Paul longs to see them. His faith was actually fed by knowing that the love of the church worked in two ways.

How often do people come to church and grow cold and bitter saying, “nobody ever takes any interest in ME? Nobody invites ME over to their house or asks ME about MY WEEK or wants to be my friend?”

Then you examine the situation and how many people have you called on the phone, or spoken to at church, or asked about their week or invited over to your house for dinner?” Love in the church is a two-way street. And LEADERSHIP requires being willing to take the initiative and the risk that you won’t receive back what you give.

The kind of love that longs to be around people is not focused on itself. It’s not asking who invited my kids to their kids’ birthday party even though I invited them to mine. It’s not sitting around keeping a count of its own successes and good deeds. Instead……..

II) The second characteristic of genuine transforming love is that it finds genuine JOY in the success of other people.

7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.

This joy in others’ success gets to the heart of what it means to be a leader. Many scholars believe that Paul is alone as he is writing this letter. Timothy and Silas have each gone to different places to double down on the work that the team has done. Paul himself seems to be chased from town to town by people who want to ruin him and see the message stopped. His reality is distress and affliction.

But despite the reality of what Paul is living, his EXPERIENCE is exactly the opposite. “We are comforted about you through your faith.” It’s first of all interesting that Paul uses the pronoun “we” even when he is alone. Even though Paul might be physically alone, he knows that he is never alone in the church.

Even if Paul may feel as if he is experiencing illness, distress, or some affliction, the reality of his faith is that he is experiencing life. So what aspect of faith is keeping Paul going?

“For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

I’m using the words joy and life interchangeably here, and I believe this is how Paul would intend this. Go back to his opening of the letter in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 9

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the JOY of the Holy Spirit……..they report……how you turned from idols (death) to serve the LIVING and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead (life).

In Phillippians, Paul is facing the prospect of martyrdom, but he writes an epistle of joy

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” Philippians 2:17-18

God created man for nothing else but happiness. He created him only that He might communicate happiness to him. – Jonathan Edwards

Why can Paul be joyful in tribulation? Because joy equals life. And even if Paul faces the prospect of losing his life or health, if he does it for the sake of others finding faith and eternal life, then there is only JOY!

Paul’s strength…his vitality…his joy….the life force that compelled him to get out of bed every morning…was not simply tied to things God was doing in his own life. Paul was most affected by the successes of what God was doing in the lives of others.

This actually is the key ingredient for leadership. A leader is not someone who is primarily concerned with his or her own success. A leader is someone whose motivation and joy come from the successes of OTHERS.

How does this work out in life? On a sports team…a leader, whether a coach or a player, is someone who actually finds his/her role in making the other players better. A leader in a company or organization is someone who empowers everyone else to do their jobs better. A leader in the home is someone who enables the full flourishing of the rest of the family. A pastor in the church is defined as a man who equips the saints for the work of ministry (Biblical success).

Now I want to speak directly to those who are in the church who are from older generations. Older people are often not the people known in the church for their joy. And when I point this out I often get some response like “one day you will find out about the aches and pains of getting old.” That is very true. Nobody’s physical life gets better because they get older. Every day every single one of us is one day closer to our bodies breaking down and us ultimately dying. That is not something I like to think about because frankly the thought of getting old, worn down and dying sucks. But just not liking an idea doesn’t make it go away.

I’ve been in churches where the ENTIRE focus of the older generations was on themselves and their own entertainment…as if they were trying to defeat the reality that life becomes increasingly less fun as you get old and your body wears out. When Austin first came to this church and it was an old traditional Baptist church, I am told that the first big fight that he had was overusing redirecting funds for the senior adults to go have fun at the beach every year to purposes of reaching lost people in our community for Christ. The great irony is always that the more time, money, and effort that people..even senior adults…. spend on their own entertainment the more sour, unhappy, and lacking of joy and life they become.

I believe that God’s purpose for your life as you enter into the later stages is WAY BIGGER than seeking your own entertainment in hopes that will help you forget about the hardships of aging. As you age and life gets harder and you increasingly find less stuff to get excited about in your own life, God’s intention is for you to shift more and more into investing your time, energy, and gifts in the lives of younger people. In doing that, you will start to see your own joy as bound up into seeing new generations of people coming to know Christ and his eternal life.

Practically, who am I speaking about? I’m speaking about older pastors who take time to pray for and mentor younger pastors. In student ministry, the most effective workers are those people in their sixties and seventies who actually take time to go hang out with teenagers and figure out what is going on in their worlds. The best Kid Zone workers are the ages of grandparents.

One children’s church teacher I distinctly remember growing up in Greensboro is a lady named Minnie Andrews. She is the first person I can remember telling me how to be saved. She was old enough to be hunched over and white-headed then, but she could tell Bible stories like no one else. And she was always joyful about it. Minnie never had kids of her own, but when died close to 90 years old, the church was full of probably 300 grown adults who said she was the reason they knew Christ and would see her in heaven.

So grown people. Hear me LOUD. DO NOT EVER use old age and infirmity as an excuse for not leading people in the Gospel. If your joy in the lives of others, you will never be let down. You can pray, you can talk. You can ask people about their own lives. As long as you can do that, you can make an investment that outlives you…and will ultimately give you joy when your own body fails.

III) Genuine transformative love seeks to bless others by GROWING their faith

The last part of this passage is about prayer. In verses 9-10 We find that Paul

  1. Gives thanks to God for the church
  2. that Paul intensely prays for his own longing to see the church and
  3. that Paul is praying intensely for the faith of the church.

9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

Verses 11-13 teach us about prayer because they actually are a prayer that Paul is writing on behalf of the Thessalonians. This is a particular kind of prayer known as a benediction. Sometimes at the end of our worship here at Venture we pray a benediction. It’s unfortunately not a common form of prayer today, but I believe it should be a discipline into which we engage more…blessing others’ with our spoken prayers.

Paul chooses a benediction to transition from one section of the epistle to another.

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

We can see straight into the heart of Paul by listening to his prayer. Paul is seeking to be a blessing to the churchby growing their faith in three ways

  • By growing their faith in knowledge
  • By growing their faith in love for one another
  • By growing their faith in holiness/sanctification

In knowledge…..we want to “supply what is lacking in your faith.” Some commentators believe that Paul is merely saying here that what is lacking in their faith is his presence. But notice he says that he wants to “supply something that is lacking.” Paul’s absence is causing a lack…and it’s hard to believe that just Paul being in the room is what lacking….what’s lacking is that Paul still has many things to teach the Thessalonians.

Do you know that one of the most loving things that you can do as a leader is to teach what you know about faith? This takes time, effort, and intentionality. You get the feeling that Paul spent more than just 30 minutes a week teaching and the Thessalonians spent more than 30 minutes a week learning. He longed to give them the KNOWLEDGE of God.

IN love for one another… Paul is teaching an expectation that the church will only grow in their love for one another. This is actually the telltale sign of your faith. If your love for people both the church and “for all” is not growing, then your faith and knowledge of Christ is not growing. You can’t know Jesus and not become like Jesus in your heart. And Paul is not merely talking about this as a noteworthy side thing, he is praying for them to ABOUND in love. The idea of abounding is that there is so much of it that it can’t be contained. Our love grows so great that we simply cannot help but to spend our time with our neighbors, to do good to the community, to share Christ.

And in holiness/sanctification. This idea that to know Christ is to be holy before God is not very commonly preached because holiness is a hard subject. But it’s absolutely biblical. The idea here is what we call a core doctrine at Venture, and that is the doctrine of sanctification.

Because Jesus has already accomplished victory over sin, every person who belongs to Jesus is guaranteed to be able to battle sin in his own life. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in our ongoing battle against sin, every Christian is being made more like Jesus in our desires, thoughts, and actions.

How does God go about doing this? “That he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness.” One thing true of believers in Paul’s church that is still true today….nobody comes to Christ because their hearts and actions are already blameless. We come to Christ precisely because we need something that we lack….namely holy and blameless living.

Paul had only spent a short time with the church at Thessalonica. It would only be natural to believe that they were still very early in the journey toward holy living. Their lives were likely still full of pagan thought patterns and pagan actions. This should never be a surprise to us. But the truth of the Gospel is that every person who believes in Jesus and becomes part of the church WILL see his/her life TRANSFORMED. It’s already guaranteed.

Transformation happens from the inside out. It begins with the heart, the inward man, being established as blameless before God and then works itself out into radically transformed behavior. This is why merely giving new Christians rules doesn’t work. Teaching them to commune with God in an ongoing daily sustaining relationship does work.

Challenge:

Where do you need to grow your own heart in the area of leading people with genuine love? Do you desire time with people? Are you genuinely pulling for others to win at life? Are the people around you becoming more like Christ because of the time you are spending with them?

 

Study Notes

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