The Love Expression
The Love Expression
(Read 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5)
God is the source of love, Jesus is the proof of love, and believers must be the agents of love in this world.
This biblically accurate statement must be the standard for our living, both within and outside of the church. We must show love to the lost in order to influence them with the gospel. But we must also share love with each other in order to encourage one another to keep the faith. God has done his part, Jesus is doing his part—are you doing yours? The love expression moves what's in our hearts and minds to how we speak, serve, and suffer, both for the good of others and to the glory of God.
Here in our text, Paul continues to show us his heart after expressing his love for the Thessalonians in the previous verses (while also affirming his inability to return). Now he remarks: "But my love wouldn't let me just do nothing. We decided to send Timothy to check on you and to minister to you because even though I couldn't come, I had to know how you were doing." From this deeply moving expression of Christian love we learn a timeless truth: Our concern must manifest itself in selfless behaviors that prove love amidst difficulty.
Godly compassion, authentic devotion, and real love are best demonstrated in the storm, not in the sunshine. There is no room on the walk of faith for fair-weather friends. If we plan to be together, we have to be prepared to love one another when times get hard. There are too many people who will stand with you in the sunshine and leave you alone when it starts raining.
What behaviors demonstrate Christian concern based on Paul's transparency here in the text? There are four behaviors in the text that you and I need to examine and incorporate into how we live with one another.
In this passage, Paul is saying, "You mean so much to me that even in my absence, I still found a way to check on you."
Men were not emotional in antiquity. But here, Paul breaks his silence, blows his cover, and leaks his feelings. He tells them that not knowing how they were got the best of him. When he couldn't keep it together any longer, he and the missionary team decided to send Timothy to them. Here, Paul is being honest, vocal, and transparent about his feelings and leaving us a noteworthy example. Honest affection is what we have received, and honest affection is what we must reciprocate.
You will never know the power of love until you let yourself be vulnerable to the pain of love. Yes, love hurts, but it's worth it. Just ask Jesus! You ought to be happy today because the reason you are sitting in a sanctuary—perhaps behind stained glass windows or on padded pews—is because God expressed his honest affection. The Bible says that God is love, but before Jesus showed up, love was just an abstract concept.
Jesus manifested himself in the flesh and walked around on this Earth to show us what love looked like in living color. Love hurts, but it's worth it. It was not the nails that held him to the cross; he chose the nails to substantiate his love. They didn't keep him up there—his love for us did. He was pierced and beaten because he loves us. Love hurts, but it's worth it. Aren't you glad that he stayed? If he came down, we would not be saved right now.
The way Jesus and Paul were so transparent is the way we have to be if want to be a part of a thriving community. Love hurts, but it is worth it. Because I love you, yes, you can hurt me! But my affection from God mandates my affection for other believers. I still attend the family reunion, even with undesirable and disagreeable relatives, because we are bound by blood. Well, my honest affection for other Christians has the exact same reasoning. We aren't bound by the blood of DNA, but we are bound by the blood of the Lamb. Consequently, we must be fully committed to the community of faith. With all that is involved, believers should take the positive and the negative and persevere, because love never fails.
Paul uses the plural pronoun "we," which indicates a group effort and joint decision between him, Silas, and Timothy. Even though Paul was being hindered from returning, Timothy was going to go back to encourage the Thessalonians in their faith. Paul gives Timothy's name, his connections—"our brother and co-worker in God's service" (3:2) who works for the boss, helping to spread the Good News—as well as who Timothy is to him, who he is to God, and who he will be to them. In order for Timothy to be received, Paul had to validate him.
Paul sacrificially makes this statement to help validate Timothy's ministry: "He is both our brother and yours. Don't greet him or treat him as a stranger, but treat him as family, too. Not only is he our brother, but he is also God's co-worker." Paul calls himself co-worker to God in his writing to the Corinthians, but what he is doing here is situating Timothy's ministry on equal footing to his own. It takes a mature faith to promote someone other than yourself in the same position.
Timothy's ministry is that he has come to have a positive purpose in their lives to underwrite a negative purpose. To establish and exhort them in the faith is the positive side. That no one be moved by these afflictions is the negative side.
Timothy comes to establish means, to stabilize a structural integrity that has now been compromised because the temperature has changed. The building was erected in fair weather, but now it needs some reinforcements. They needed their faith stabilized.
Paul also sends Timothy to comfort them—he uses the same root word that Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit. He is our comforter, and he comes alongside us to walk through this life with us. The Thessalonians had the Holy Spirit, but they needed a Timothy: because, in this dark, fallen world, you will need someone visible, someone vocal, and someone tangible to help encourage you in your faith. It's one thing to have the Holy Spirit walk alongside you, but it is something else to have a brother or sister hold your hand while you are trying to make it through.
The sacrifice on Paul's part is very intense. Paul was not a physically well individual; we know about the thorn in the flesh. Let's look at what his method of operations looked like. He never started a ministry campaign by himself; because of his physical disabilities, he always traveled and ministered in a minimum of twos. But this time, he is willing to be left alone in Athens. To heighten this sacrifice, Athens was filled with people who thought about everything but God. Here he is a displaced person, in an ungodly location, by himself—not by force, but by choice. He is essentially saying, "I would rather minister alone than keep Timothy with me and not know whether you are all right." He makes a deliberate sacrifice to send his help to be their help. His optimal companion was also his best pupil.
"So that no one would be unsettled by these trials" (3:3) is the great concern of Paul for this church. This word "unsettled" in the original language means "to wave or to wag." It pictures a dog's wagging tail. If we aren't stable in the faith, then the daily situations, difficult issues, and stressful crises of life will move us back and forth between belief and unbelief, just like the hectic extremes of a dog's wagging tail. This is why we need God and each other to remain centered, focused, and encouraged, because trouble is guaranteed to all. We must find ways to sacrifice in order to minister to the faith of others. If you are walking with Jesus and you are just in it for yourself, you may need to tap him on the shoulder and have him turn around, because you are following the wrong leader.
We have been chosen by God to suffer together for him. He gave Timothy a specific task with both a positive and negative reason.
Paul is saying, "Dear Thessalonians: You know from previous instruction and from personal experience that God has set us up to suffer. When your itinerary is set, you can't avoid where the plane or car will stop. You still must stop by the hotel of suffering."
When he says "we" in verse four, he speaks of the whole: both the author and the recipients, the writer and the readers, the preacher and the members. We will all suffer, and therefore we should all be able to identify with each other. God set the itinerary for your life, and he made suffering one of the destinations along the road. Preaching that doesn't prepare us to suffer is not interested in our survival. If Jesus and Paul preached suffering, if Peter and everyone else preached suffering, how can I edit it out of the Christian contract?
Paul quickly moves this young church from milk to meat. Yes, God is love. Yes, grace is amazing. Yes, mercy is necessary. But please don't leave out that suffering is inevitable. God only had one child without sin; he will have no children without suffering. Paul says, in essence, "I told you that pressure, affliction, and trouble would come."
Because we all suffer, we should all be able to identify with each other. Deliver me from Christians who feel the need to act like nothing ever goes wrong. When you suffer in silence, you miss the opportunity to be ministered to today and to do ministry tomorrow. No one wants to hear you when they are hurting because you didn't testify when you were hurting. When people feel like you can't relate, they also feel like you can't help. Personally identifying with others says, "I have ups and downs, but when I look at you, I have hope that I can make it." We must endeavor to suffer victoriously so that we can identify with Christ and each other.
"I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain" (3:5).
Paul didn't say, "I had to make sure that the enemy didn't hurt your feelings or that the enemy didn't hurt your body." You can make it limping—just ask Jacob. Your limp is necessary to show you how to depend on God. When Paul says, "I had to make sure the enemy didn't hurt your faith," he repeats the fact that he could bear it no longer. Now he says, parentally, that he has this protective instinct: "I'm your father and your mother in the faith at the same time, and I have to make sure the trouble I forecast has not shaken your faith."
Only God can forecast your storm and be your anchor at the same time. The meteorologist is really no good to you past their warning. They can't reinforce anything; they can only tell you what is on the way. But thank the Lord that he won't just warn you: He will be with you when trouble comes.
The tempter wants to tempt you to stop believing. That's the devil's endgame. He is trying to get you to let go of the only thing that won't move, because if you let go of God, you will get swept away.
Hold onto your faith. Your faith in God is what enables you to navigate the circumstances of life. Paul had protective reasoning for why he had to send someone to see what was going on with this church: "I need to make sure the tempter has not pushed you to throw away your faith, because if he has, then my labor was in vain." He wants to make sure they are not like the vine that got choked out when trouble came.
Here's a word of advice for every believing heart: Check your ship! Because anything or anyone that's making it difficult for you to hold onto God needs to go. You need to get rid of them or of it. People, attitudes, appetites, and things on your ship that draw you away from God need to be tossed overboard.
If Jesus had written this letter, it would have the same message with different words:
Love one another.
Sacrifice for one another.
Identify with one another.
Protect one another.
Jesus taught with the "one another's."
As we express love in the midst of difficulty, we have to keep on encouraging, keep on believing. We can't afford to give up on anyone or throw in the towel. We have got to hold onto our faith. We have got to express love, because we have experienced it!
Romell Williams is the senior pastor of Lilydale Progressive M.B. Church in Chicago, Illinois.