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You Have Been Taught to Love

You Have Been Taught to Love

I love the theology of Paul’s epistles, learning who this God is that we trust and serve. And I love the practical view of Christian living that always follows this unfolding of the person and works of God. Sound theology always finds expression in the way we live.

In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul encourages one church toward a life that is pleasing to God and he encourages them in three ways: to be sexually pure, to work hard, and to love one another. And as he discusses love for one another, he draws out four interesting little principles of love within a local church.

God Is Our Teacher

The first and most foundational thing to know about love between Christians in a local church is that God serves as our teacher. Paul writes, “you yourselves have been taught by God to love.” In the school of love, God is the instructor.

How does God teach us to love? That’s easy! More than anything else, he teaches us by example, and the cross of Christ is the best and highest possible example of love. This church was already excelling in love for one another so that Paul could say, “You have no need for me to teach you about love.” Yet he could still call them to love all the more. He was not dissatisfied by what he knew of their love for one another, but knew that when the cross is the example, Christians always have room for greater growth.

Within a local church, the love of one Christian to another will be dependent upon each person’s understanding of the gospel and their focus on the cross of Christ. Is the cross your obsession? Is it central to your life and faith? Your love for others depends on it!

Christians Love One Another

The second thing Paul tells this church is that the Christian’s primary reach of love is other Christians. He says, “You have been taught by God to love one another…”

In our family devotions we have been reading the book of Acts and in Acts it becomes quickly apparent that Luke means to portray the love of one Christian to another as one of the foremost marks of a person who had been transformed by Christ. Of course this does not mean Christians have no love for those who are outside the church. Rather, it simply indicates that the first and primary means of displaying love within the church is the display of love for one another.

Until your love inconveniences you and makes you uncomfortable, you may not have loved at all.

I think we have at least two great cultural challenges when it comes to loving one another at this time. The first is that we are all so busy and distracted that we have trouble making time in our schedules to love one another. The second is that we have trouble loving people who are very different from ourselves. We find it easy to love in simple ways, but difficult to love in uncomfortable ways. Here is how I have been challenged recently: Until your love inconveniences you and makes you uncomfortable, you may not have loved at all. The gospel necessarily compels us to love people in uncomfortable and inconvenient ways. After all, this is exactly how we have been loved by Jesus Christ.

Love Radiates Outward

The third thing Paul says is that he can measure the love of one church by the way it expresses itself toward another church. He writes, “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.”

The City of Thessalonica was in a region called Macedonia, and in that region were several other churches. Paul told this church he could gauge their love for one another by the expressions of their love he saw in neighboring churches. On a hot day you can feel the warmth of the sun against your face and begin to imagine just how hot it must be on the surface of the sun, 93 million miles away. Paul hears from other churches how the Thessalonicans are showing love to other churches in the region and says, “If your love is so strong that it radiates out all the way to Berea, I can only imagine how strong it is right there at the core.”

There is a challenge for each of us: If a church’s expressions of love does not extend beyond its own four walls and even beyond its own city, that love may not be as strong as we think.

Love Keeps Growing

The final thing Paul says about love between Christians in a local church is this: Love is meant to grow. Love is a lifelong calling and is meant to grow all the more. Though this church was loving so well, Paul still warned: “Do this more and more.”

He knew that where love is not growing it is declining. We do not ever reach the end of it and can never coast or take comfort in past expressions of love. In biblical terms love takes form in action as much as feelings, and as love grows, it must take form in deeper and costlier actions.

There is a challenge here for each of us: Is your love for others in your church stronger today than it was a year or two years ago? How would you know? How would they know? Do you pray for those people more now than you did before? Do you spend more time with them? Do you love them in uncomfortable ways and allow their needs to inconvenience you?

Paul’s view of the Christian life, drawn from his great and growing knowledge of God himself, is so practical, so simple, and so transferable. God compels us and motivates us to love and to love all the more.

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