Rarely have I ever heard anyone say that a person is a spiritual giant because of the way they love. I may be wrong, but I think most people consider theological knowledge as the measure of spiritual maturity. We highly esteem those who have a great deal of knowledge, especially theological knowledge.
But knowledge without love is a sure sign of the lack of spiritual maturity. The Apostle Paul clearly explains this in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Having the knowledge of the greatest mysteries of God and even a deep faith to move mountains is deemed nothing without love. Love then is a standard for how we measure our spiritual maturity.
Love for All, But Especially the Family of God
It is true that as believers we are called to love everyone, but our love should especially be toward our fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus actually said that the world would know that we are His disciples by the love that we show toward one another (Jn 13:35). We are to love the world and even our enemies (Matt 5:44), but our love for the family of God is vitally important.
There is a real emphasis in Scripture on “brotherly love.” This is actually a very common word in the Greek, philadelphia, from “philos” which means love or affection and “adelphos” meaning brother. The term originally meant affection for someone from the same womb, blood relatives. But it is used several times in the New Testament to describe the love that fellow Christians have for one another, especially since now they are a part of the same new family (Rom 12:10, 1 Thess 4:9, Heb 13:1, 1 Pet 1:22, 3:8, 2 Pet 1:7). As believers we have been born again into the family of God, so that we call each other brother and sister in the Lord.
It is also vitally important to realize that love for the family of God actually becomes a test of our real conversion. The Apostle John makes this clear in his first epistle. He says the real test of whether or not you have been born again and walk in the light is whether or not you love or hate your brother (1 Jn 2:9-11). The one who hates his brother is still in the darkness. Yet the one who loves his brother has passed out of death into life (1 Jn 3:14).
Is Love Natural or Supernatural?
The kind of love that the Bible talks about is not a natural love. The world naturally loves its own, and has an affection for pleasures, and pursuits. But having an “agape” love for others is not natural. It is not natural to love the way Jesus intends his followers to love. This love actually comes from God. When a person is “born again,” the Holy Spirit comes and abides, or lives, inside of us. It is the Holy Spirit who then teaches us to love. Paul told the Thessalonians that he did not need to write to them about loving each other because they had been “taught by God” to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9). This phrase is actually one word in the Greek theodidaktoi literally meaning “God taught.” It is clear that it is the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit who teaches us as Romans 5:5 explains, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The Apostle John also confirms this when he says in 1 John 4:12, that God’s “love is perfected in us. But this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” This was the promise of God in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” The Holy Spirit inevitably teaches every believer so that their new birth is confirmed by the love that they show to one another. It is inconceivable that a true believer would not show love on a consistent basis. Loving one another should be second nature to a believer.
Character of this Love
This divine love that is shed in our hearts is manifested in several ways. First, this love is a non-selective love. When we become Christians, our love for fellow brothers or sisters overcomes differences in race, theological positions, demographics and even political positions. Just as the Thessalonians’ love for all the brothers in Macedonia was evident (1 Thess 4:10), so our love will extend to all who are in Christ. The color of someone’s skin is no longer a barrier to love. Age has no bearing on our affection for others. And even theological & political differences should not prevent us from loving a fellow believer deeply.
Second, it is a caring love. Like the apostle Paul we will have a “great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thess 3:17). Paul said of the Thessalonian believers that they “always remember us kindly and long to see us (3:6). The Church is not a corporate business entity, but rather a family knit together by Christian love. Being involved in a church means that we are committed to one another and that we genuinely care about the lives of others (Rom 12:9).
Third, this love is a concerned love. While it is nice to talk about things of this world like sports and the news, the main concern of brothers and sisters in the Lord is always about faith in Christ. The most important aspect of love that a fellow Christian can have is a desire to “establish and exhort” a brother or sister in their faith” (1 Thess 3:2). Trials will inevitably come and family looks out for one another. We are always ready to help each other persevere in our faith and love for Christ and one another (3:6).
Last, this love is a working love. By this I mean that we are not passive but actively loving others. Particularly we honor and esteem our pastors. We live at peace with others. We admonish those in the church who are idle. We encourage those who are weak and fainthearted. We never repay evil with evil, but seek to do good to one another (1 Thess 5:12-15).
Excel Still More and More
This love that we have for one another should always be increasing. While we may be doing well, we can always do better. Paul commended the Thessalonians for their love for one another and yet prayed that the Lord would make them “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (3:12) and he urged them to love “more and more” (4:10).
Our love can always grow for others. We must first love deeper in our minds. This requires being humble and considering others more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3-4, 1 Cor 13:1-2). Instead of judging people in our minds, we should give others the “benefit of the doubt” never assuming the worst about them but rather assuming the best. Second, we can be more generous with our money, helping those in our midst who are struggling financially. Being generous and helping our brother and sister is truly an act of love (1 Jn 3:17-18). Third we can give our time and be a servant to one another. This may mean being hospitable and opening our home and providing a meal. It may mean helping someone who has had surgery by mowing their yard. The possibilities are endless. Fourth, we can pray for one another. There is no greater act of love than to pray for our brothers and sisters. Fifth, we can simply be attentive to others around us by being warm and welcoming and hospitable.
Mature Families and a Mature Church
While we definitely don’t want to dismiss growing in theology and growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), we also want to be known as a loving church. We can and must improve and grow in our love for one another. The sign of our maturity is how well we love! We can and must love our family deeper. We can and must love our church family deeper. What can you do to love better in your church, in your home, at your work?
Click here to listen to a sermon on this topic from 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.