1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Concerning Brotherly Love
Tertullian, a third-century teacher in the Church in North Africa, once quoted the pagans as saying of Christians of that era, “See how they love each other.” 1 John 3:14 tells us that “we know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers.” Love of fellow-believers is a quintessential mark of any local body of Jesus Christ, and of the universal Church as well. Do not think that we should love pagans equally as the brotherhood. Granted, we should treat unbelievers with the same fairness in our dealings as we would a beloved brother and be kind and generous to everyone we meet. But believers share a bond with other believers that we cannot share with unbelievers simply because of the Spirit living within us. Indeed, a Christian’s close friends should be other Christians because of that spiritual bond. One would think something terribly wrong if one did not have a special affection for one’s own blood brother or sister; we should expect no less of that spiritual bond believers can only share with other believers. And how great a scandal it is to unbelievers within a community when it becomes public knowledge that a local church is divided within itself; even they know that people who profess Christ should not behave in such a way.
And the Thessalonian Christians did love one another and even shared resources beyond their means to help their suffering brethren in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). But one problem they had which inadvertently relates to brotherly love is that some of them had become idle, not busy at work but becoming busybodies. So bad was the problem that Paul had to refer to it again in his second letter to them (3:6-15). We assume that this character defect among some of them might have been due to a presumption that the Lord’s imminent return precluded the need to earn a living, and so was one of the reasons Paul addressed this doctrine in both his letters to them. We must remember that work is not a curse but a blessing from the Lord, for we were commanded to keep the Garden before we sinned—sin made work a drudgery by making it so that we must wrench fruit from our labor rather than enjoying it naturally there from. But the Christian ethic adds that we should do our work as unto the Lord which then fills our work with immense meaning (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23-24). My experience has been that people who do not hold jobs either from inability or unwillingness are among the most miserable of people. And so the Apostle implores us to “live quietly,” mind our own business, and work so as not to be a burden on others, which is not practicing brotherly love. Circumstances might one day render us needy, but we are never to choose to be needy.