By Andy Alexander
Paul taught Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness because “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). So as God’s people we can and ought to be growing stronger every day even though our physical frame may be deteriorating.
A dangerous and very deceptive attitude that can stifle or stop our spiritual growth altogether is that of complacency. Webster’s dictionary defines complacency as “self satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers of deficiencies.” Growth in Christ will help us to be alert to dangers and aware of our deficiencies.
Many times a person goes through a process of zealous activity for the Lord followed by a complacent attitude and then spiritual death. The process goes something like this. We learn through a study of the gospel that we must believe in Jesus as God’s Son, confess our faith before men, repent of our sins, and be immersed in water for the remission of those sins (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:3 8; 22:16). We obey these simple conditions and quickly and zealously begin to work for the Lord. As time passes we allow other things to enter into our lives and take away the burning desire we once had to serve the Lord (Luke 8:14). Then we become complacent in our attitute toward Jesus and his work. We convince ourselves that we have arrived and we no longer need to work and grow as we once did.
The church of Christ at Thessalonica had several good qualities, but the apostle Paul exhorted them to work harder and “increase more and more” (1 Thess. 4:10). There is no stopping place in Christianity where we can relax and coast on into heaven.
The Thessalonian brethren had received the word of God “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). They were good examples to all the believers in Macedonia, because they were active in spreading the gospel (1 Thess. 1:7-8).
The Thessalonians also left behind their former way of living. They divorced themselves from idolatry in order “to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).
The were persecuted because of their faith in Jesus Christ by their own countrymen just as the churches of God in Judea had been by the Jews (1 Thess. 2:14). These afflictions did not move them away from the Lord and this brought great joy to Paul and his companions (1 Thess. 3:1-9).
Christians are commanded to “love one another with a pure heart fervently” and this was one of the foremost characteristics of the Thessalonians (1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Thess. 4:9-10). Even though Paul commended them highly for their love toward one another, he exhorted them to “increase and abound in love” and to “increase more and more” (1 Thess. 3:12; 4:10).
They were not to become complacent in their love to one another as this would lead to a cooling of their love toward Christ. The judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46 teaches that what we do for our brethren we do for Christ (Matt. 25:40). Therefore, as we demonstrate our love for the brethren, we are showing our love for Jesus.
We are not to go around broadcasting the “great” things we have done for our brethren or as the saying goes “blow our own horn,” However, as we live and teach God’s will, people will know that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, and that he is the guiding light in our lives (Matt. 5:13-16).
Jesus said in John 13:34-35,
A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
Christ demonstrated his love for us by coming to this earth, suffering, and dying on the cross for our sins (Rom. 5:6-8). We show our love for Christ by crucifying self and following him (Lk. 9:23). This requires that we think of others and put their interests ahead of our own (Phil. 2:14). Our actions toward our brethren should, if properly carried out, cause people in the world to know that we are followers of Christ.
True Christians will not be known by buildings, parking lots, bank accounts, or any other worldly measure of greatness, but by their “love one to another.” We must seek to be true followers of Christ by abounding more and more in our love toward one another.
Our love for Christ must always reign supreme in our hearts. If a conflict arises and we must choose rather to serve Christ or serve man, we must choose Christ (Matt. 10:37). We show our love for Christ by keeping his commandments.
There are some people who try to separate loving Christ and keeping his commandments. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). In the same context he stated, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” and “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (Jn. 14:21,23).
We are given a motive for loving God and that is because “He first loved us” and demonstrated his love for us even when we were ungodly (1 Jn. 4:19; 4:10; Rom. 5:6-8). Loving God, Christ, and our brethren is not some tingling, syrupy feeling that is hard to explain. The Bible which commands this love thoroughly teaches us how to carry out this command.
How were the Thessalonians to show their love for the brethren? By some silly grin and slobbering compliments? I think not! Let us notice some ways the Holy Spirit directed the Thessalonians to increase their love.
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thess. 5:11). Note: they were already practicing these things, yet they were taught to continue these good practices. The only way they could comfort themselves together was to be together. The Hebrew brethren were taught to assemble in order to exhort one another and stimulate one another unto love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). The Christian who forsakes the assembling of the saints is not demonstrating his love for them or Christ who gave the commandment.
This command also says we are to edify one another. When we come together we ought to do what we can to encourage and build up the body. There are many ways in which we can carry out this command. We should study our Bible and seek to put valuable input into the Bible class, see that our children are prepared for worship services, be on time so that we do not disturb others, speak to those who are present and genuinely offer words of exhortation (Acts 17:11; Col. 3:16; Acts 4:32; Heb. 3:13).
The Thessalonians were also commanded to warn the unruly or undisciplined (1 Thess. 5:14). Christianity is a disciplined life and those who do not maintain the standards as set forth by our Lord must be warned.
There are some in the church who believe love is always positive and never negative. They would encourage the unruly brother by commending him for his good traits and ignoring his sinful practices. While it is good to commend our erring brethren for their good deeds, we must also rebuke them for their sinful ones. Our Lord gave praise where praise was due to the churches of Asia, but he also rebuked and admonished those who walked disorderly (Rev. 2-3).
If a brother begins to drift from the truth and lead an undisciplined life, those who love as Christ teaches that we should love will warn him of the dangers that lie ahead.
Another way that we increase our love for the brethren is by encouraging the fainthearted and supporting the weak (1 Thess. 5:14). There are times in our lives when we get despondent or fainthearted and a kind, encouraging word from a brother or sister in the Lord picks us up. A simple word or phrase at the right time lets us know that someone is thinking of us and cares.
The “weak” in this verse are those who can not do for themselves. Jesus does not want us to encourage slothfulness by doing for those who will not do for themselves. However, he commands us to do for those who cannot do for themselves. The elderly widow who can not patch her roof can and should be helped by those who are able, but the lazy brother who is able but not willing to patch his roof should get wet. We increase our love by helping those who need our help.
These are just some of the areas enumerated by the Holy Spirit in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians that show how we can increase more and more. Let us be diligent to abound and increase in our love to one another.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 8, pp. 238-239
April 16, 1992