THEY'LL KNOW WE ARE CHRISTIANS BY OUR LOVE
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
5 NOVEMBER 1995
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
When Jesus told his disciples that other people would know that they were His disciples because of their love for one another (John 13:35), He was telling them about the main characteristic of a true Christian.
We have all heard many people expound Christianity and act out various aspects of worship, but for some reason, what most of them do is not very believable.
That's right! It's because they lack any lasting expression of true love, and they do the things that people of the world do.
And even beyond that, many still live in fear; and with fear, we cannot fully express love.
If we have the love of God in us, there is no place for fear.
The early church in Thessalonica was growing in faith and love, but they were also persecuted because of their faith.
When a person knows of pending persecution, it would be quite natural for them to have some fear. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Paul prayed for them as he did (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).
11. Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you;
12. and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you;
13. so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
As we now look ahead to Paul's second letter to them, we see that his prayer for their growth in love came to pass.
But the main reason he wrote to them was to explain that the Lord wasn't immediately coming back; and that they should hold firm in their love and faith until that time, even if they died before Jesus returned.
If we have true faith and love, it will carry forth even beyond our death.
Listen to the way Paul begins his letter (2 Thessalonians 1:1-12):
1. Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul's greetings are always accompanied by a blessing.
Now if we did this every time we saw someone, others might think we were a little peculiar; but that is exactly what God says believers are to do, even if the blessing is a silent, unspoken one, for He set us aside for this purpose (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).
18. "And the Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments;
19. and that He shall set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken."
Now consider our loved ones. Don't we thank God for them and pray for them behind the scenes?
Then why not before them as well, just as Paul does, but in our own words?
Returning to 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12:
3. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;
4. therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.
If we practiced doing this, as Paul advises, more often with each other, more than likely all our mutual love and faith would increase proportionally.
But I have become convinced that we need to go even further if our love and faith is to fully mature.
True love has no limits.
True love must be extended beyond our sphere of acquaintances to the whole of creation: to every human, to every animal, and to the physical creation.
5. This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.
We all have problems of one kind or another.
In the midst of these problems, wouldn’t it be nice to hear someone say to us, providing they mean it, that they thank God for us all the time?
Doesn't it make us feel better when someone really loves us, and tells us, and shows us?
Doesn't such expression of love help lift us above our problems, and help us give them to the Lord, that we would have peace?
6. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
7. and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
8. dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
9. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
10. when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed--for our testimony to you was believed.
This is truly leaving things in the hands of the Lord, and trusting Him to do what is right and just in His own eyes, and not necessarily in ours.
11. To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power;
12. in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do we want this same kind of peace and assurance in our lives, and to know that we are loved, as well as being loving ourselves?
Then we need to practice it a little more, until it becomes second nature to us; or, even better, until it becomes our first nature.
We should remember the commandment Jesus gave us (John 15:12-17):
12. "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
13. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
14. "You are My friends, if you do what I command you.
15. "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
16. "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you.
17. "This I command you, that you love one another.
I, too, love you my friends.
May God continue to fill you with His unconditional and unlimited love and mature you in the faith, that we and the world around us will have hope, even everlasting hope and assurance, because they'll know we are Christians by our love.
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