1 Thessalonians 4:9. Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.
1 Thessalonians is possibly the first epistle written by Paul. In fact, it might be the first written words of the New Testament (or maybe James). And what theme dominates this early letter to this baby church? Love.
1:3 – Paul commends their “labor of love.”
3:6 – Timothy reported to Paul about their love.
3:12 – Paul prays that they would “abound in love for one another and for all.”
5:8 – Paul reminds them that they are wearing the “breastplate of love.”
5:13 – Paul asks them to “esteem their leaders very highly in love.”
So love is sort of a big deal.
But love can be one of those topics that we hear so much about as Christians that we just sort of tune out whenever it’s brought up again (and again, and again). Has that ever happened to you? Has love become a cliche to you? I hope not, because learning to love is the promised supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9 Paul says two things about love that are quite unique and even surprising. Especially as we consider that this is the first time in history that these two thing have ever been said. Here they are:
1. Now concerning brotherly love.
Our love for one another is “brotherly love.”
As we have seen above, Paul talks about love several times in this letter. And the word for love that he has used over and over is the Greek word agape. Agape is the general word for love -affection, self-sacrificing, unconditional benevolence toward another. God is agape.
But “brotherly love” is the Greek word philadelphia. This is a word that means familial love. It is only and always used to describe the love of those that are biologically related. Brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews.
This is the first time this word is used in the Bible, and likely the first time it was ever used to describe people that weren’t biologically related. Paul hijacks this word to teach the Thessalonians, and all of us, this most important lesson – in Christ we are one big family. We don’t just have agape for one another; we have philadelphia. Biological brothers and sisters have a natural bond that produces love in their hearts for one another. And Christians have a supernatural bond. A spiritual DNA from God himself that binds our spirits together and produces love in our hearts for every other believer.
Do you see yourself as part of one big family of God? Do you feel philadelphia for your Christian brothers and sisters?
2. you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.
“Taught by God.” This phrase is one word in Greek. Theodidaktoi. Before 1 Thessalonians 4:9 this word did not exist anywhere in all of ancient literature. It appears that Paul made it up. But this word isn’t amazing only because it’s brand new. It’s amazing because of what Paul is saying to us about our love – God himself has taught us how to love.
The idea comes from Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s coming and reign.
Isaiah 54:13. All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.
The prophet predicted it and Paul is saying “It’s here!” The day when we will be taught directly by God how to love. How is God teaching us to love? Not by simply commanding our love (although he has done this). But by placing the Trinitarian relationship of love into our very beings. By our union with Christ. By the indwelling Holy Spirit who pours God’s love into our hearts. That’s how. We are taught to love by indwelling Love. Now as we experience the Trinity’s sacrificial love and holiness from within, we are being taught how to love sacrificially in our communities.
Loving through sexual morality (4:1-8).
Loving by living quietly and minding your own business (4:11).
Loving by getting a job and not mooching off others (4:11-12).
“To live is Christ” tells us two important truths about our love. It is a brotherly love. It should feel normal and natural to love others, because love is born into us. And it is also being “taught to us” by God himself. The Holy Spirit. Christ in us. The Trinity’s love for one another teaching us what our love can and should look like in our churches, homes, communities, and beyond.
Do you struggle to love? Why or why not?
You in Christ
Are you experiencing God teaching you how to love?
Christ in you
What is one way you could show brotherly love today?
Playlist: Songs of brotherly love.