Updated: Nov 21
We often spent several weeks at my grandparents' house in East Texas during the summers. Around their house and farm were several other homes. As I recall, almost everyone had gardens and livestock or farm animals. I have great memories of times spent with my grandparents. They were 5 miles from Lake Rayburn. When the chores were done for the day, the evenings were often spent swimming or fishing at the lake.
Of the great memories, I also remember their neighbors. Across the road, they owned cattle and had a small tank or pond for the cattle. I was welcome to take the fishing poles and fish their pond anytime. In the other direction, the neighbors had kids our age with dirt bikes. We spent countless hours running trails and blacktop roads on those dirt bikes. It seemed like everyone snapped peas, baked sweets, and canned. It's just things you learned growing up on a farm.
Another memory I have is how everyone shared what they had. Neighbors were friends and a small community. The community pitched in, from tools to tomatoes, fried pies, and tractors, if a friend was in need. But it wasn't just about a need. When people had extra, they shared. It was a sincere attitude of generosity.
In our studies, we are considering Paul's letter of 1 Thessalonians. We are in the second half of the letter (4:9-12). As we drop into our studies, it's good to remember where we are. We are in the second half of the letter, where Paul challenges the church to grow, chapters (4-5). As we zoom in a bit more, Paul desires the church to "live in order to please God" (4:1). Paul provides examples from their culture and experiences of what living for God looks like. It looks like a life set apart and dedicated to God (4:3-8). In this lesson, as we will see, living to please God looks like a life of loving generosity (4:9-12). In our next lesson, living to please God is a life lived in hopeful expectation of the Lord's return (4:13-18). Although writing to a church in Thessalonica some 1800 years ago and into a very different culture than ours, Paul provides wisdom for our lives today as those who follow Christ. Our purpose is to seek God's wisdom through His Word and in this letter.
A Commitment to Love
1 Thessalonians 4:9–10
"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. And in fact, you do love all of God's family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more"
There are a few things we should notice as we explore this text. First, as we saw last week, Paul is not correcting or rebuking the church. They love each other and the larger community: "And in fact, you do love all of God's family throughout Macedonia." Paul challenges the church to grow "do so more and more." He calls them to excel in their faith, a phrase he uses earlier in the chapter (4:1). Christians should not let our faith become idle.
The Scriptures challenge us to grow, mature, and understand God more deeply. No matter how long we have been following Christ, there is always opportunity to move closer to Him. Paul's challenge is to move closer; live to please God.
What Is Love?
Second, we need to understand love and how Paul intends for us to understand love in this passage. Love is a word that is connected to many different emotions and feelings. Today, in our culture, this is primarily how we understand love, emotions, or feelings. To help us understand what Paul means, we may need to shift our understanding of love or broaden our understanding.
Love originates from God:
When God describes Himself to Moses, He describes Himself as one who abounds in love.
"And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin..."
God describes Himself as overflowing in loyal love (abounding in love). This core understanding of the character of God is critical for understanding God as revealed in Scripture.
In the letter of 1 John, John describes God as love.
1 John 4:7–8
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."
Love is part of the character and nature of God, and love originates from God.
Love is action:
We also see that love is more than emotions and feelings; love is action.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
Love is more than feelings and emotions; love is action. God so loved that He gave his one and only Son. Our words or promises are often empty without being demonstrated through our actions. Our actions shape and define our character. We may say we love our spouse (and I hope you do). However, those words are meaningless unless they are demonstrated through actions of sacrifice and generosity.
Love is more than emotions, promises, or words. Love originates in the character and nature of God, and love is the action of sacrificial generosity.
Excel Still More
Paul desires the church to excel in love. They are demonstrating their love through sacrificial generosity. They are giving and sharing with those in their community and throughout Macedonia. Do so more and more.
It seems like Paul changes his thought in (4:11). However, I think as we consider this a bit more, Paul teaches us that our work should be connected to love and generosity.
1 Thessalonians 4:11–12
"and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
Following Jesus also means a commitment to loving and serving others (1 Thess. 4:9-12). Paul instructs them that Christians should be known in the city as reliable people who work hard. This is not only to make money but also so that they can have resources to provide for themselves and generously share with those in need.
Crossing The Context
As we cross the context, what are some key takeaways for our lives today?
Paul challenges the church to grow and not become idle. He desires for their lives to be lived in a way pleasing to God. Part of a life pleasing to God is a life that excels in sacrificial generosity; love.
a. Love is more than emotions and feelings. Love originates in God. Do our actions demonstrate God's love and generosity?
b. Do we see our work as connected to our faith in Jesus? Our labor as an accountant, homemaker, carpenter, or project planner is about more than paying the bills. Our work is connected to the purposes of Christ. Is He glorified in our 9-5?
God describes Himself as overflowing in loving kindness. Do our lives reflect His generosity and kindness?
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).
resources & downloads
Article: Loving Generosity
Notes & Handout: Loving Generosity
Slides (PDF): Loving Generosity
BibleProject: Guide-Book of 1 Thessalonians
BibleProject: 1 Thessalonians Overview Video