Our church has begun a study on what the epistle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians sometime around the early decade of the 50s AD. It is a letter of great hope that shows Paul’s deep love and concern for the Thessalonians. In the first chapter, Paul writes of their great testimony that had been reported to him, and how in all the known world of that time, their story was being heralded. It was a story of how those people turned from a life of sin and idolatry to a life of love and faith. Once they walked according to the course and pattern of their culture which was steeped in idolatry, and now they walked according to the pattern of the gospel they had received willingly.
Today, I want to write to you about chapter two of this letter, and focus upon the initial love of Paul for these people. For when he found them, they were idolaters; they were immoral; they were lost; and they were sinners. The world of the Thessalonians was polytheistic. It was filled with gods and goddesses. It had emperors who claimed to be gods, and temples for worshipping all kinds of gods. This was the culture of the day. People were violent. There were gladiator games, and other forms of violent entertainment. People were immoral: from temple prostitution to political leaders taking their own brother’s wife. No matter the age, little has changed. Sinfulness is cultural, and so it stands that Paul came and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ who came to save his people from their sins.
Perhaps you’ve heard something of Paul’s Macedonian call, and you’ve wondered what that was. That was this town. Thessalonika was in Macedonia. How did Paul conduct himself among these folks who practiced idolatry, and whose culture was just as sinful as ours? As you read I Thessalonians chapter two, I challenge you to underline every time Paul shows how much he loved them, was concerned about them, or showed affection for them. Paul loved them. He treated them gently. He nurtured them. He endured suffering from their town. There was opposition. He shared his own life with them (as he so writes in verse 8), and they became very dear to him. He encouraged them, comforted them, and treated them like a father would his children. He did all of this without compromising truth.
Today many people do not think that is even possible, but Paul writes in this letter that you can still love people and speak the truth to them in love. Paul shows us that it’s possible to preach, teach, and share the unbiased, unchanging word of the living God to every culture and people group no matter how sinful it is, and still do it from a heart of love for others. Today I fear that Christians have forgotten that truth and love go hand in hand. It seems today that people only love those who preach their same message. Believers, we are called to preach truth, and we are called to love with all of our hearts both people and God.
Paul writes that he had boldness when he came to the Thessalonians. He said he didn’t preach error or compromise the message’s purity just because the society he preached to was impure. His gospel wasn’t to please people, but ultimately to please God. He didn’t seek men’s praise, but God’s affirmation. Yet, he was gentle. He cared for them. He walked worthy of the word of God, and still encouraged them. He conducted himself righteously, blamelessly, and also treated them like a father does a son or daughter. Love and truth go together.
We live in a world that is trying to tell us that the truth has to change if it is to be loving. I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Truth always is more powerful in the arms of people who have the love of God shed upon their hearts. Truth is a sword, but in the hands of someone who loves with that Agape (unconditional God-like) love it becomes a surgical instrument that removes bitterness, emotional pain, years of slavery to sin, and heals the human heart. It’s still going to cut. Truth always does that, but in the hands of love it cuts with a purpose. It cuts to heal.
“The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) And when your thoughts and heart’s intentions are laid bare before a loving God what will he find? Will he find a heart who longs for him more than the sin that must be cut away? Love and truth are tied together to remove the malignancy of the human soul. What has God’s word been saying to you? What needs to go? He loves you enough to cut it out of your life so that you might be healed. What a loving God who has given us his only son! May Jesus forever get the glory due his name.
Brian Taylor began his ministry as young man on the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the Panhandle of Texas. For the last five and half years he has served as pastor of Forest Avenue Baptist Church in Sherman, and loves preaching and pastoring on the southside of Sherman. He has been married to his wife Sarah for 17 years, and they have five children.