The Labor of Love

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 in Preaching, Sermons
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1 Thessalonians 1:3 — We give thanks to God always… constantly bearing in mind your… labor of love.”

The word “love” is a rather elusive concept in our culture.  You might have heard it expressed in Christian circles that love is more than an emotion, it is a state of being. I agree, though it would take another blog to unpack that more fully. Here, we must consider the fact that the world, and perhaps even those in the church, have a warped view of love.  The world’s understanding of love is often nothing more than the lust rooted in the sin nature.  We know that is not the love that Paul commends here.

However, when we look at biblical love, it too must be qualified by the language used in a particular verse. There are four words for love in the Greek: phileo (brotherly love), eros (romantic love), storge (familial love), and agape (divine love). It is this last word that Paul uses here to describe a love that is born from above, a love that John MacArthur says implies a  “willing, self-giving sacrifice.”

Love is the greatest of all virtues in Scripture.  Jonathan Edwards said,

Let a man have what he will, and do what he will, it signifies nothing without charity; which surely implies that charity is the great thing, and that everything which has not charity in some way contained or implied in it, is nothing, and that this charity is the life and soul of all religion, without which all things that wear the name of virtues are empty and vain.[1]

Love as the king of virtues is taught by the apostle Paul. In Colossians 3:12-14 – 12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved (see 1 Thess. 1:4 – “Knowing, beloved of God, His choice of you”), put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

And again clearly in 1 Cor. 13:13 – But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Of course, each of these needs a little more contextual explanation, but love is evidently supreme.

Peter also considered the importance of love, 1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

How is this love shown to be evident in the life of the believer? Jesus shows us, Matthew 22:36-39 – 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”  That is the baseline for the believer, the summum bonum, the supreme good of the Christian life.  The commandments reflect two things:

1. Love for God

It is obedience to the first tablet of the Law out of the sheer joy we have in being the child of God.  It is the love for God in the heart and mind of one who has the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, who has truly been loved by God.  Those who have experienced the love of God then long for communion with Him, they love His Word, they worship and adore Him, they pray Adoring Him, Confessing to Him, Thanking Him, and Supplicating to Him – asking for His good wisdom and provisions.  J. C. Ryle spoke to the necessity the love of God that is then marked by a love for God:

The charity of the Bible will never be found except in a heart prepared by the Holy Ghost. It is a tender plant, and will never grow except in one soil. You may as well expect grapes on thorns, or figs on thistles, as look for charity when the heart is not right. The heart in which charity grows is a heart changed, renewed, and transformed by the Holy Ghost… Such a heart is deeply convinced of sin… Such a heart is deeply sensible of its mighty debt to our Lord Jesus Christ. It feels continually that it owes to Him who died for us on the cross, all its present comfort, hope and peace. If it can do nothing else, it strives to be like Him, to drink into His spirit, to walk in His footsteps, and, like Him, to be full of love . . . Love will produce love.[2]

2. Love for others

In Gal. 5:13, Paul proclaimed, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  Then in Eph. 5:2 – “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”  This sacrificial love, love for others first, for their joy and benefit, not your own, is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.  This is what Jesus taught in John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (foot washing in beginning of John 13).

  • John1 John 4:8 – The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Especially love for the brethren – 1 John 4:19-21 – 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Love does not mean that you must always approve of another persons actions. Nor does it mean that you must always agree with another person all of the time. When Paul thanked God for the love at Thessalonica it was because their love was evident.  He was not referring to something easy or potential but tough and real.  It was a labor of love.” It was hard work, but it was joyful, self-giving work.  Notice how he put it in 4:9ff:

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 – 9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

Inside and outside the church, the Thessalonians were making a determined effort to love the unlovely just as Christ loved us and died for us when we were unlovely.  Christ made us lovely, and if we are walking in love by the Spirit then we are both loving and lovable.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 3-4.

[2] J. C. Ryle, Practical Religion, 174, italics mine.


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