September 25, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture—1 Thessalonians 4:9 (NRSV)
Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. . .
God wants us to understand what love is all about. We learn about love from other people, from art and music, from biographies and poems, and most of all from Jesus Christ revealed to us in Scripture. But God wants to teach us, not just about love, but how to love. We are to love, not just in words, but in truth and action.
This devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
In my junior year of college I took a seminar called “Christians, Jews, and Gnostics.” By studying historical documents that were around 2,000 years old, we sought to understand what these three groups had in common and what was distinctive about each of them.
This was my first introduction to Gnosticism, the ancient religious-philosophical system that co-existed with and influenced early Christianity. My professor was George W. MacRae who, though a professor of New Testament, was one of the world’s foremost experts on Gnosticism. Professor MacRae had been one of the translators of the Nag Hammadi Library, a treasure trove of ancient gnostic texts that had been discovered in Egypt in 1945. (You can see a curious example of his work here.) Though he was a world-renowned expert in his field, Professor MacRae was also a marvelous teacher, one who loved to help beginning students learn through close study of ancient texts. (He was a major reason I did my doctoral work at Harvard. Plus, for a short time, George was my dissertation advisor, until he died tragically of a heart attack in 1985.)
As I think back on my experience in the “Christians, Jews, and Gnostics” seminar, I feel grateful for the opportunity to have studied with such a world-class teacher. Even at that time I knew I was experiencing something special. (Though I should add that in that class, which met from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. in an overly warm seminar room, not only did I learn about Gnosticism but also about caffeine. My thermos of coffee kept me wide awake even in the late afternoon. I didn’t want to miss a moment with Prof. MacRae.)
You may well have had an experience like mine, one in which you were able to learn from a true master. But, according to 1 Thessalonians, the Christians in Thessalonica had an even more impressive claim. They had been learning from the greatest teacher of all. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” Taught by God! Now that’s quite something, don’t you think?
If you were to learn anything from God, that would be quite an experience. God knows all things and could teach any subject with superlative excellence, whether physics, music, law, or theology. But notice what God had been teaching the Thessalonians . . . to love one another. In this “field” God would be the best of the best teacher. Why? Well, for one thing, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). There is no greater authority of love or agent of love than God.
Of course, God’s “take” on love is unique. There are many different understandings of love, many varieties and expressions of love. God created us to love in different ways. For example, we love our friends. We love romantically. We love as parents. We love Bach or the Beatles. We love a gorgeous sunset. I do not doubt that God enjoys it when we love in these ways. But the love of God is revealed to us most clearly and dramatically in the sacrificial death of Christ for us. As it says in 1 John 3:16, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Notice that Paul and his co-writers did not say to the Thessalonians, “You have been taught by God what love is all about.” Rather, they write, “[Y]ou yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (4:9). The Greek behind this sentence makes it clear that God’s teaching leads to action. The Thessalonians have been taught by God in order that they love each other.
The more you walk each day with the Lord, the more you allow God to inform your mind and transform your heart, the more you will grow in Christ-like love for others. You will find new freedom to give of yourself sacrificially. You will discover new compassion for those you might otherwise ignore or even despise. You will love, as John puts it, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).
Let me encourage you to learn from the greatest teacher of all. Let God teach you how to love. Love according to the truth of Scripture. Love as the Spirit moves you. Love in the way of Jesus Christ.
As you think about those who have been your teachers – whether in school, work, church, or other contexts – who are some of the best? What made them such good teachers?
Can you think of ways in which you have been taught by God? How did God teach you? What did you learn?
Are your growing in love for others? Are you more able to love actively and sacrificially now than you were five years ago? If so, why? If not, why not?
Ask the Lord to help you love today. Then be ready for what God will do in and through you.
Gracious God, thank you for being our teacher. You teach us in so many ways. What a privilege it is to learn from you.
Even as you once taught the Thessalonian Christians to love one another, I ask you to teach me. Help me to love more truly, more actively, more consistently, more sacrificially. Direct me, Lord, to those I should love. Give me wisdom to know how best to love them. And give me the will to act on that wisdom.
Today I pray for my church, that we will learn from you how to love each other. Teach us also, Lord, how to love our neighbors and even our enemies. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Sharing the Gospel Through Competence.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.