Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
A few weeks ago I had chapel here in our building. I shared some thoughts on the opening words of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. He said: “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the Edit-O-Earl for Pentecost 22, I drew your attention to those same words, especially Paul’s favorites, “faith, love and hope.” In one of his most quoted passages (First Corinthians 13), he wrote about them and closed, “and the greatest of these is …”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in the church began all communication with others in the church by thanking God for them? All God’s children have been given faith, hope and love by the power of the Holy Spirit. We may all sin and have lots of shortcomings and do all sorts of things that upset each other or cause differences among us, but we still have good reason to thank God for each other. If we began that way, by giving thanks, I can’t help but believe it would have a wonderful influence on how we finished.
This week’s Epistle lesson, also from First Thessalonians, is not much different from Paul’s beginning of the letter. In this lesson he says, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
The words seem innocent enough. It is common among Christians to speak of loving each other. We are only following our Leader when we do. Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples because of our love for each other. But the plain facts are that there was a whole lot of hate in Thessalonica!
Paul first went there after suffering persecution, a physical beating and imprisonment, in Philippi. Later, he was forced to leave Thessalonica because of persecution there! In fact, some of the Thessalonians followed him and stirred up trouble for him in Berea as well. Persecution continued for any Thessalonians who came to faith in Christ as a result of Paul and others telling the Good News about Jesus to them.
Still later, knowing that they were continually being persecuted, Paul sent Timothy to find out how the believers in Christ were doing … particularly how they were withstanding the persecution. When Timothy returned with a good report about the Thessalonians, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to encourage these new Christians to remain steadfast in the faith, clinging to God’s grace in Christ.
When Paul wrote in verse 13 of Sunday’s lesson, “May He [the Lord] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones,” his purpose was twofold. First, he was earnestly praying that God would preserve their Christian faith and life. Second, he was reminding them that the persecutors of the church have their day coming … “when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones”!
Apocalyptic images of Archangel Michael and his warriors sharpening their swords in anticipation of bringing paybacks to persecutors are designed to reassure the persecuted. It’s kind of like saying that, even if the U.S. Armed Forces don’t find Bin Laden, Michael and his friends will!
But even in the midst of persecution and trouble, our love for each other must increase and overflow. The overflow part has the rich possibility of transforming our enemies into friends. That’s why Paul didn’t stop with just love for each other. He added, “and for everyone else.”
He also added, “just as ours does for you.” Again, this is so Christ-like. Jesus often urged His disciples and He urges us to love as we have been loved. Among His famous last words in the upper room, perhaps the most significant were, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
He said that right after He had washed the disciples’ feet and not long before He also said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20).
The entire conversation took place on the night He was betrayed. It was the same night and about the same time He said about a piece of bread, “This is my body given for you.” It was the same night and about the same time He said about a cup of wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
That is how much He loved them. That is how much He loves you.
I can’t read these words of Paul without remembering those words of Jesus. Paul knew Jesus’ words well, he repeated them in First Corinthians 11:24-25.
Jesus came to the world to change enemies into friends. Perhaps as our love increases and overflows, He is doing the same thing through us today. But we get in His way when we nurse our differences, instead of thanking Him for our faith, hope and love. We get in His way when we dwell on bad news and fail to tell the Good News about Jesus. We get in His way when we whimper about persecution in the church and neglect His mission to everyone outside it.
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. Amen.