Love is not amorphous. It takes particular shape in the attitudes that guide and the actions that express how we feel toward others. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote: “you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” Now, in verses 10–12, they go on to show one application of that general principle to a concrete situation in the Thessalonian church.
Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Notice several things about these verses.
First, there is no upper limit on love. No matter how lovingly you feel about or act toward someone else, you can always love them more deeply and more actively. Thus, after commending the Thessalonians’ love for “all of God’s family through Macedonia,” the missionaries urge them to “do so more and more.” Today, what are you doing to love the people in your life “more and more”?
Second, love is ambitious for the right things. The missionaries write, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Notice that they aren’t anti-ambition. Rather, they’re pro-ambition, as long as ambition is directed at the right end. Too often, ambition has to do with self-promotion, self-advancement, and self-enrichment. The missionaries’ emphasis points in the opposite direction. What are you doing to promote others rather than yourself?
Third, love works. The specific issue at Thessalonians seems to have been that certain members of the church sponged off the church’s benevolence fund instead of working. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, the missionaries laid down a rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,” that is, shall not eat at the expense of the church’s benevolence fund. Not feeding the hungry may seem unloving, but when able-bodied freeloaders suck up the church’s benevolence funds, they take resources out of the mouths of the non-able-bodied who have needs. The able-bodied freeloaders are the ones acting unlovingly, not the church that refuses to cater to their whims. What are you doing to husband your resources to meet the needs of people who cannot meet their own needs?
Fourth, love is sustainable. The missionaries encourage the Thessalonians to “win the respect of outsiders” and to “not be dependent on anyone.” Obviously, these words, especially the latter ones, are directed at able-bodied Christians. There’s no shame in being dependent if you can’t help yourself. Indeed, it is the obligation of Christians to care for their own without shaming them. But the goal isn’t to create an ongoing cycle of dependency but to help another through a tough spot. What are you doing to help others move out of poverty and into financial self-sufficiency?
In sum, love helps the poor and does so more and more.