A Legacy of Love

Lesson Focus:   This lesson is about Paul’s motivation for ministry – the love of Christ – and how Paul showed that love to the church in Thessalonica, a church that shared that same love with others.

Love Compelled:  2 Corinthians 5:14-15.

[14]  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; [15]  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  [ESV]

The love of Christ. Paul has mentioned that two legitimizing characteristics of his ministry are persuasion [11] and a right mind [13]. He now adds a third: in all that he does he is controlled by the love of Christ [14]. Paul tells us he is so controlled by Christ’s love that there is no other course of action open to him but to pursue the ministry that God has given him. But how is it possible to be motivated by the fear of the Lord [11] and the love of Christ? Are not fear and love irreconcilable? It all depends on a proper understanding of fear and love, which, it should be noted, are not opposites. The opposite of love is hate. In the Bible fear is not cringing terror but holy reverence, and love is not romantic feelings but sacrificial care. The two words are consistent and reconcilable. Indeed, the fear of the Lord and awareness of the love of Christ fit perfectly together to provide the true motivation for Christian ministry.

One died for all. How did Paul know that he was the object of Christ’s love? It was, he continues, because one has died for all. Formerly, as a Pharisee and zealot, the crucified Jesus and His followers had been the object of Paul’s hatred. His words we have concluded indicate that a point was reached when he reversed his opinions. So far from viewing Christ as an object of hate because of His accursed heretic’s death on a tree, Paul concluded, instead, that he was the object of Christ’s love. Christ had actually died for him. In His crucifixion, Paul now understood, Christ had died for all, including Paul. Why did Paul change his mind? Clearly it was the Damascus Road event, in which the despised crucified one, now enveloped in glory, spoke to the prostrate Paul. Since glory could come only from God, the glorified Jesus clearly had the stamp of divine approval. The one crucified upon the tree was indeed accursed, but, as Paul now knew, it was because He bore the curse of the punishment of sin in the place of all people. There is no power so great, no motivation as strong, as the knowledge that someone loves me. Paul’s understanding that Jesus, in His death, loved Him, was now the controlling force in the apostle’s life. The association between Christ’s love and Christ’s death became central in Paul’s exposition of the gospel. The all for whom He died are the sum total of individuals, like Paul, whom He loved. The extent of Paul’s ministry and its intensity, both of which are set forth in this letter, seek to give expression to the love of Christ shown to Paul. The universal scope of Christ’s love and Christ’s death is seen not only in the words one has died for all but also in the corollary therefore all have died. We can understand that one had died for all, but what do the words therefore all have died mean? The all in both parts of the sentence is clearly to emphasize the universal, inclusive nature of Christ’s death; none is excluded from the sphere of God’s saving purposes in Christ. Paul ministered to all because Christ loved all and died for all. Christ’s death for all, however, was for the definite purpose that those to whom Paul spoke and who were still alive might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. Christ’s death, in other words, was intended to procure their death; their death, that is, to self-centered living. The words therefore all have died state the universal scope of His saving death, but also give expression to the strong purpose that the death of Jesus should procure death to self. The one who receives reconciliation with God through the death of Christ now says ‘No” to self and ‘Yes’ to Christ. This is the evidence that we are included in the all for whom Christ died. Although the death of Christ is sufficient for all people it is efficient only for those who believe in Him.

Love Communicated:  Acts 17:1-4.

[1]  Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. [2]  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, [3]  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." [4]  And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. [ESV]

In spite of having suffered and been insulted in Philippi, Paul and Silas received strength from God to preach the gospel in Thessalonica, the capital of the province of Macedonia. It was a harbor town, situated at the head of the Thermaic Gulf.  Paul followed his custom and went into the synagogue first, where on three Sabbath days he preached the gospel. Although Paul and his friends must have stayed in Thessalonica for several months, as is clear from his two Thessalonian letters, and although most of the converts must have been Gentiles, even pagan idolators, Luke concentrates on his Jewish mission, which lasted only three weeks, and tells us how his argument developed. First, Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead. This was the standard Christian apologetic towards Jewish people. The precedent for it was set by Jesus, as Luke himself has recorded. During His public ministry He kept predicting that the Son of Man must suffer, die and be raised. Then after His resurrection He first rebuked His Emmaus disciples for their slowness to believe the prophetic witness, which He traced through all the Scriptures, that the Christ had to suffer before entering His glory, and secondly He re-emphasized the teaching of the Old Testament and of His earlier ministry that the Christ must suffer and rise. Naturally, therefore, this became the heart of the apostolic proclamation, which Peter had unfolded already on the Day of Pentecost [2:22ff.] and which Paul summarized later [13:26ff.]. There can be little doubt that in the Thessalonian synagogue the Scriptures to which Paul turned were those already quoted in the apostles’ earlier sermons, especially Psalms 2:1-7; 16:8-11; 110:1; 118:22; Isaiah 52-53, and probably also Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Secondly, Paul was engaged in proclaiming Jesus. That is to say, he told the story of Jesus of Nazareth: His birth, life and ministry, His death and resurrection, His exaltation and gift of the Spirit, His present reign and future return, His offer of salvation and warning of judgment. There is no reason to doubt that Paul gave a thorough account of the saving career of Jesus from beginning to end. Thirdly, he identified the Jesus of history with the Christ of Scripture, boldly declaring that This Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Christ. The identification of history with Scripture, Jesus with Christ, was essential to Paul’s apologetic. Because his gospel was preached not simply with words, but also with power, many believed. For example, some of the Jews were persuaded, convinced by Paul’s careful arguments, and joined Paul and Silas, perhaps withdrawing from the synagogue to become members of a Christian house church, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.


Love Continued:  1 Thessalonians 1:2-10.

[2]  We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, [3]  remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. [4]  For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, [5]  because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. [6]  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, [7]  so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. [8]  For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. [9]  For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, [10]  and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  [ESV]

[2-4]  Paul tells the Thessalonians that he, Silas and Timothy always thanked God for them all, mentioned them in their prayers, and continually remembered them before God. Thus memory, thanksgiving and prayer belong together. What Paul and his companions especially remembered about the Thessalonians was the three most eminent Christian graces (faith, love and hope) which characterized their lives. Two aspects of these Christian qualities need to be noted. First, each is outgoing. Faith is directed towards God, love towards others, and hope towards the future, in particular the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every Christian without exception is a believer, a lover and a hoper. Faith, hope and love are thus sure evidences of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Together they completely reorientate our lives as we find ourselves being drawn up towards God in faith, out towards others in love and on towards the Parousia in hope. The new birth means little or nothing if it does not pull us out of our fallen introversion and redirect us towards God, Christ and our fellow human beings. Secondly, each is productive. It is this that Paul emphasizes. Faith, hope and love sound like rather abstract qualities, but they have concrete, practical results. Faith works, love labors and hope endures. A true faith in God leads to good works, and without works faith is dead. A true love for people leads to labor for them; otherwise it degenerates into mere sentimentality. And a true hope, which looks expectantly for the Lord’s return, leads to endurance which is patient fortitude in the face of opposition. So comprehensive is the vision of this verse that Calvin called it ‘a brief definition of true Christianity’. The doctrine of election is a truth which runs throughout Scripture, beginning with God’s call of Abraham [Gen. 12:1ff] and later His choice of Israel [Ex. 19:5-6]. This vocabulary is deliberately transferred in the New Testament to the Christian community [1 Peter 2:5, 9-10]. Moreover, the topic of election is nearly always introduced for a practical purpose, in order to foster assurance (not presumption), holiness (not moral apathy), humility (not pride) and witness (not lazy selfishness). But still no explanation of God’s election is given except God’s love. This is clear in Deuteronomy 7:7-8. Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Paul unites the love of God and the election of God [as in 2 Thess. 2:13 and Eph. 1:4]. That is, He chose us because He loves us, and He loves us because He loves us. He does not love us because we are lovable, but only because He is love. And with that mystery we must rest content. God’s election is essentially a secret known to Him alone [2 Tim. 2:19]. Yet Paul asserts that we know … that he has chosen you. How can Paul and his companions possibly dare to claim that they know this? They give two bases for their knowledge, the first in the following verse [5], relating to their evangelism, and the second in the previous verse [3], relating to the Thessalonians’ holiness. Both were evidences of the activities of the Holy Spirit, first in the missionaries (giving power to their preaching) and secondly in the converts (producing in them faith, love and hope), and therefore of the election of the Thessalonians. This shows that the doctrine of election, far from making evangelism unnecessary, makes it indispensable. For it is only through the preaching and receiving of the gospel that God’s secret purpose comes to be revealed and known. Here, then, is Paul’s threefold delineation of the church. It is a community beloved and chosen by God in a past eternity, rooted in God and drawing its life from Him, and exhibiting this life of God in a faith which works, a love which labors and a hope which endures. What stands out of Paul’s vision of the church is its God-centeredness. He does not think of it as a human institution, but as the divine society. No wonder he could be confident in its stability!

[5-10]  The gospel of God. It is natural for Paul to move on in his mind from God’s church to God’s gospel because he could not think of either without the other. It is by the gospel that the church exists and by the church that the gospel spreads. Each depends on the other. Each serves the other. (1) Our gospel came to you [5]. Before Paul, Silas and Timothy arrived in Thessalonica there was no church; when they left, the church had been planted and had taken root. How did this happen? The planting of the church was the direct result of the preaching of the gospel, which Paul now depicts by four expressions. (a) In word. The gospel is itself a word or message with a specific content. That is why it must be articulated, verbalized. In all our evangelism, whether in public preaching or in private witnessing, we need to take trouble with our choice of words. (b) Also in power. Words by themselves are seldom enough, even in secular discourse. Because they may be misunderstood or disregarded, they need somehow to be enforced. This is even more the case in Christian communication, since blind eyes and hard hearts do not appreciate the gospel. So words spoken in human weakness need to be confirmed with divine power which refers to the internal operation of the Holy Spirit. It is only by His power that the Word can penetrate people’s mind, heart, conscience and will. We must never divorce what God has married, namely His Word and His Spirit. The Word of God is the Spirit’s sword. The Spirit without the Word is weaponless; the Word without the Spirit is powerless. (c) With full conviction. Power describes the objective result of the preaching, conviction the subjective state of the preacher. Paul’s preaching was not only powerful in its effect but confident in its presentation. He was sure of his message, of its truth and its relevance, and in consequence was bold in proclaiming it. Yet this confidence and this courage are precisely what many modern preachers seem to lack. (d) In the Holy Spirit. This expression belongs to the other three expressions. That is to say, the truth of the Word, the conviction with which we speak it, and the power of its impact on others all come from the Holy Spirit. It is He who illumines our minds, so that we formulate our message with integrity and clarity. It is He whose inward witness assures us of its truth, so that we preach it with conviction. And it is He who carries it home with power, so that the hearers respond to it in penitence, faith and obedience. You received the word. As Paul has given a description of his preaching of the gospel, so now he gives an equally full description of the Thessalonians’ receiving of it. His first thought is to link it with their afflictions. There had been considerable opposition in Thessalonica to the gospel, and so also to those who preached it and those who embraced it. The authentic gospel always arouses hostility (not least because it challenges human pride and self-indulgence), although the opposition it provokes takes different forms. But persecution had not deterred the Thessalonians. They had received the word in spite of the suffering involved. The same Spirit who gave power to those who preached the gospel gave joy to those who received it. This pattern of outward opposition and inward joy has often been repeated in the long history of the church. Became imitators of us and of the Lord indicates the profound change which came over the lives of the converts. To receive the word includes this. It is no mere intellectual acquiescence in the truth of the gospel; it is a complete transformation of behavior through a close following of Christ and His apostles. And then they became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. Those who take Christ and His apostles as their model inevitably themselves become a model to others. It is marvelous to see the effect of the gospel on those who receive it. It may mean persecution and consequent suffering. But it also involves inward joy through the Holy Spirit, the imitation of Christ and the apostles in changed lives, and the setting of an example to others. Four new relationships seem to be implied: the opposition of the world, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the imitation of the Lord and His apostles, and being a model to the rest of the church. If the preachers were marked by truth, conviction and power, the converts were marked by joy, courage and obedience. The word of the Lord sounded forth from you [8]. We must notice carefully the threefold contrast in verse 8 between the two means by which the gospel spread from Thessalonica. The first is between the word of the Lord and your faith in God. The second is between the loud ringing out of the gospel and the much quieter becoming known of their faith. And the third is between the local provinces of Macedonia and Achaia which the preaching reached, and everywhere to which the news of their faith had penetrated. Even if Paul’s everywhere is hyperbole, he is certainly saying that the Thessalonians’ faith was becoming known far beyond Greece. In verses 9-10 there is a three part analysis of Christian conversion. (1) You turned to God from idols. The verb translated turned became an almost technical term for conversion, which is a turn from sin to Christ, from darkness to light, and from idols to God. It would be difficult to exaggerate how radical is the change of allegiance which is implied by the turn from idols to the living and true God. For idols are dead; God is living. Idols are false; God is true. Idols are many; God is one. Idols are visible and tangible; God is invisible and intangible, beyond the reach of sight and touch. Idols are creatures, the work of human hands; God is the Creator of the universe and of all humankind. (2) To serve the living and true God. The claim to have turned to God from idols is manifestly bogus if it does not result in serving the God to whom we have turned. We must not think of conversion only in negative terms as a turning away from the old life, but also positively as the beginning of a new life of service. (3) To wait for his Son from heaven. It is immediately noteworthy that serving and waiting go together in the experience of converted people. Indeed, this is at first sight surprising, since serving is active, while waiting is passive. In Christian terms serving is getting busy for Christ on earth, while waiting is looking for Christ to come from heaven. Yet these two are not incompatible. On the contrary, each balances the other. In combination they will deliver us both from the presumption which thinks we can do everything and from the pessimism which thinks we can do nothing.


Questions for Discussion:

1.         What is the relationship between Christ’s death on the cross and His love controlling us? What evidence does Paul give for us to know if Christ’s love is controlling us or not? Do you see this evidence in your own life?

2.         What was the threefold focus of the message Paul preached in Thessalonica?

3.         Why are faith, love and hope the three most eminent Christian graces? Note the two aspects of these Christian qualities: each is outgoing and each is productive. Do you see evidence of this in your own Christian walk?

4.         How can you know that God has chosen you? Why must these evidences be present in anyone chosen by God [see Rom. 8:29; Eph. 2:10]?


Acts, Darrell Bock, BECNT, Baker.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Inter Varsity.

The Letters to the Thessalonians, Gene Green, Pillar, Eerdmans.

The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

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