COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 4:9But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another." KJV (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
Life in Christ Jesus involves intensely personal identity with God. It is not, as some have suggested, a mere "way of life," or living according to a different set of rules. While this is a common perception, it is thoroughly false. The Old Covenant was one of rules and procedures. It was designed for a people who did not think the thoughts of God, and in whose hearts His law was not written. God's thoughts were not precious to them (Psa 139:17) because their hearts were stony. The situation in Christ, however, is quite different. In Him we receive a "new heart and a new spirit" (Ezek 18:31). His laws are written upon our hearts and put into our minds (Heb 8:10; 10:16). There is an accord with God that cannot be explained in the flesh. We have been "joined to the Lord," and are "one spirit" with Him (1 Cor 6:17). That circumstance has made us teachable to God. He Himself can now instruct us from within. In fact, that is the way in which He leads us. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this when he wrote, "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left" NKJV (Isa 30:21). Our text provides an excellent example of the fulfillment of this promise. It opens the door of hope to every tender heart who desires to do the will of God.
CONCERNING BROTHERLY LOVE
4:9a But as touching brotherly love . . . " Brotherly love is a branch on the tree of sanctification. Holiness, or learning how to possess our vessels in sanctification and honor, has already been mentioned (4:3-4). In that matter we learn to avoid contamination and keep ourselves pure. However, it is not enough to avoid moral and spiritual defilement. Our lives in Christ includes participation in holy activity as well as evading corruption.
A SPECIAL LOVE. Here is a love that is distinct from our love for God, although it is of the same order or kind. It is also superior to all human passion or attraction. "Brotherly love" is one of the primary evidences of spiritual life. It includes kindness, affection, and a preference for one another (Rom 12:10). It is also a virtue that has its beginning when we are born again, and is to "continue" (Heb 13:1). It is never viewed as an option or luxury.
Brotherly love accents our relationship to Christ even more than our relationship to one another. Believers are not brethren because they are merely associated with one another, but because they have the same Father and the same elder Brother. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call us "brethren," "For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father" NASB (Heb 2:11). A preference for the people of God flows from faith's awareness that they are the "sons" and "daughters" of the "Lord Almighty" (2 Cor 6:18). As soon as that perception leaves men, they will view the saints from the standpoint of the flesh, regarding carnal, or outward, involvements as the primary ones.
NOT IN THE FLESH. It is not possible for true "brotherly love" to be expressed by the flesh, or through natural abilities. It is ever true, "Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh" (2 Cor 5:16). "Brotherly love" flows from possessing a "common salvation" (Jude 3) and a "common faith" (Tit 1:4). Common earthly interests are not the basis for "brotherly love." This is one reason for the use of the word "charity" in the KJV. It helps to distinguish this love from all others.
IS JOINED TO FAITH. "Brotherly love" is joined to faith, and is only as strong and consistent as that faith. Frequently the Holy Spirit joins faith and love. Earlier Paul said in this letter, "Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity" (3:6). Later, he will make mention of the protective "breastplate of faith and love" (5:8). The Holy Spirit also affirms that the grace of God is "exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 1:14). Young Timothy was even told that the form, or standard, of "sound words" was to be held firmly "in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 1:13). One of the highest commendations that can be given to believers is that they possess both faith and love. "Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you" (Eph 1:15). And again, "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints" (Col 1:4). What is more, the presence of faith and love confirms the blessing of God, for they both come from Him. As it is written, "Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 6:23). In fact, "brotherly love" is accomplished through faith. As it is written, "Greet those who love us in the faith" (Tit 3:15).
CONFIRMS WE ARE OF GOD. It should not surprise us that the love of the brethren is an evidence that we are accepted by God in Christ Jesus and through our faith. Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). It reveals that we are "of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32). Our primary motivations and spiritual interests are the same. The person who loves his brethren, by that very condition, proves he is abiding "in the light" (1 John 2:8). The Holy Spirit goes so far as to say that the absence of the love of the brethren confirms one is classed among "the children of the devil" (1 John 4:10-12). There is no provision in Christ for the absence of this love.
The reasoning of the Spirit is unusually strong on this matter. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21). A love for God and a lack of love for His people cannot exist simultaneously. When a person loves the brethren, it is because he loves God. If he does not love the brethren, it is because he does not love God. You can see why the absence of the love of the brethren in our day is a matter if great concern.
WHEN THERE IS NO NEED TO WRITE
" 4:9b . . . ye need not that I write unto you . . . " Here is a marvelous commentary on the spiritual stature of the Thessalonian saints. It was not necessary for Paul to exhort or correct them in this area. He had to write to them about adversity and suffering (3:3-4). It was also necessary to write to them about purity and holiness (4:4-5). He even reminded them of the commandments he had given them on abstaining from fornication (4:2). But he did NOT have to write in this manner about their love for one another.
OTHERS HAD TO BE TOLD. When the love of the brethren was lacking, the Spirit never overlooked the matter. This is a critical area, and the Lord will not allow His children to remain uncertain about it. The Romans were told, "Let love be without dissimulation [hypocrisy]", and "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another" (Rom 12:9-10). In extended reasoning the Spirit told them, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (13:10).
The Corinthians had to be told "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth" (1 Cor 8:1). Because of their deficiencies in this area, an extensive explanation of love was required: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (13:4-7).
The Colossians were told, "And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness" (Col 3:14). This did not mean the Colossians were woefully deficient in love, for they were commended for the love they had "to all saints" (Col 1:4). Their circumstances, however, required some extra effort in this area.
Peter wrote to dispersed believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia; "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4:8). Their dispersion had apparently proved an occasion for the devil to inject a critical and intolerant spirit among them. They were to be on guard for his intrusions.
In his old age, John wrote extensively about love to his readers. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1 John 3:14). And again, "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18). See how gentleness and urgency are combined in wisdom.
NO SUCH DETAILS REQUIRED FOR THE THESSALONIANS. However, no such details were required for the Thessalonians. Whatever deficiencies they may have had, they were not in the area of their regard for one another. Here was an area where they were especially strong-an realm where corrective and more extensive teaching was not required.
We learn from this that the people of God can excel in certain areas, and that they are commended for their achievements in those matters. There are many examples of this in the Scriptures. Jesus, for example, commended the church at Ephesus in certain things. They could not "bear those who are evil." They also had "tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars." They persevered, endured, labored for His name, and did not become weary (Rev 2:2-3). On these matters, He did not give extensive teaching. They did not need to be taught further in those areas. However, they were lacking in a very critical field. They had "left" their "first love," pushing Jesus into the background, even though they were intensely busy in good things (2:4).
The church at Thyatira was also challenged by Jesus. He recognized their comely spiritual qualities, commending them for their "charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience," and their works, which, at the last, were "more than the first." He did not admonish them to work more, and endure more. However, He did have something against them, and on that He made extensive comments. "You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols" (Rev 2:19-20). There are other examples, but this will suffice to make the point.
Sound teaching seeks to fortify the saints in their weak areas, as well as establish their faith by powerful proclamations and expositions of the Gospel itself. Teaching the saints is not training them to spout the party line, or espouse some favored theological view. Neither, indeed, is it to bring a mere external familiarity with the text of Scripture. The godly teacher must be alert to commend the saints where the working of God is perceived in them. He must also supply what may be lacking in their perception. This is what Paul called perfecting "that which is lacking in your faith" (1 Thess 3:10).
THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING TAUGHT BY GOD
" 9c . . . for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another." Some versions accent the fact that the Thessalonians were being taught by God to love one another: i.e., "are taught by God." KJV,NASB Others emphasize that their progress was owing to Divine tutelage: i.e., "have been taught by God." NIV,NRSV In both cases, the progress of the Thessalonians in the matter of loving the brethren REVEALED they had been taught by God.
DECLARED BY THE PROPHETS. The prophets declared a day when men would be "taught by God." "He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths . . . And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD" (Isa 2:3; 54:13; Micah 4:2). Jesus referred to this, affirming it was the reason why men came to Him. "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me" (John 6:45). David declared, "Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will He teach sinners in the way. The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way" (Psa 25:8-9). This is the "knowledge of the Lord" which the prophets said would eventually cover the earth "as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14).
A DISTINCTLY NEW COVENANT EXPERIENCE. Being taught by God is also involved in the writing of His laws upon our hearts and the putting of them into our minds (Heb 8:10; 10:16). This is, as affirmed in the eighth and tenth chapters of Hebrews, a uniquely New Covenant experience. The Lord's description of those under Law illustrates this point. Their fear of God was taught to them by men, not by God. "Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men" (Isa 29:13). In view of this, the Lord dried up the wells of human wisdom, dictating that they would not be sufficient to bring men to Himself. "Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden" NKJV (Isa 29:14). The Spirit confirms this circumstance in First Corinthians (1:19-24; 3:19).
TAUGHT TO LOVE THE BRETHREN. Our text reveals the Thessalonians had been taught by God Himself to love one another. The teaching was so thorough and effective that no further word was required by this prince among the Apostles. Here was a case where an express command from God was not necessary to provoke the love of the brethren. This circumstance belies the postulate that saints can only do what they are commanded to do. Here is a case where men did not love one another because God commanded them to do so, but because He TAUGHT them to do so!
The people did not need some man to teach them HOW this was to be accomplished. This is the kind of teaching to which the Spirit referred in First John 2:20. "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things . . . But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him" (1 John 2:20,27). Some have imagined that "the anointing" is a mere feeling, or that it refers only to a supernatural empowerment to do something. Here, however, it refers to being taught something. It involves the ability to perceive, understand, and comprehend. This is something no man can do for another. Only God can do this!
And what is it that God taught these good brethren? It was not how to build a church, solve the problems of society, or gain the domestic advantage. God taught them HOW to love one another - how to EFFECTIVELY love one another. The fact that men have found this to be exceedingly difficult, confirms the necessity of Divine tutelage. The remarkable division that exists within the religious community declares the need for Divine instruction!
This is part of putting on the new man, something that Jesus teaches us to do. "If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him . . . that you put off . . . the old man . . . be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man" NKJV (Eph 4:20-24). Let no person doubt the fact or effectiveness of God teaching men! The instruction is personal, and it alone yields what God requires. While we teach men "to observe" all that has been commanded (Matt 28:20), the Living God effectively teaches them HOW to do it.
Let it be clear that this teaching occurs within the confines of Divine fellowship (1 Cor 1:30; 1 John 1:3). As we live by faith and walk in the Spirit, we WILL be taught by God, and His teaching WILL be made known in our conduct-particularly in the matter of loving those He has put into Jesus, washing, sanctifying, and justifying them (1 Cor 6:11).