1 Th. 4:9-12 - Excel in the Grace of Giving PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Tim Black   
Monday, 02 April 2007 07:26

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
"Excel in the Grace of Giving"
NAS text
Tim Black

  1. Introduction

    1. There is a family which lives a few miles from my parents’ house in rural eastern Washington, I’ll call them the Thompsons. Mrs. Thompson’s husband had died from cancer, leaving her to care for her two daughters who were in grade school, and try to earn a living at the same time. The Thompsons became just one of a long list of needy families over the years to whom my parents have given food, clothing, a little money, a place to stay. Every Tuesday night, my Mom would pick up several neighborhood kids, including little Amber Thompson, to give them a ride to the boys’ and girls’ clubs at our church called Calvinettes and Cadets. And today, partly as a result of my parents’ kindness, Amber has professed faith in Christ, and has become a faithful member of a Reformed church. The Lord used my parents’ generosity to add one lost sheep to the other 99 in His fold. He can use your generosity to do the same.

    2. Especially in the 70’s and 80’s, in the earlier years of their marriage, my parents never had very much money, but they always had enough to give something to a family in need. They never called our family “needy;” it was always other families who were needy, and to whom we should offer our help. I can see now that this was not a pull-yourselves-up-by-your-own-bootstraps pride, but rather it was humility; it was not pride, but rather generosity.

    3. Mom and Dad were living out what Paul instructs us to do in Ephesians 4:28, that “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” And let me tell you, there is hardly a better way to show someone how great is God’s love for them in Christ than to offer them some food, some clothing, to invite them into your family, and into the family of God, when a person is in need. If you know how great Christ’s love is for you, and if you love Jesus Christ for dying on the cross for your sins, then you will extend Christ’s saving love to the needy in this way. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 25, “37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

    4. It is this same love, God’s saving love for those who are weak, downcast, who are lost in their sin and their misery, which the Thessalonians had begun to show to their needy neighbors in Macedonia. Reminding them that they have begun well, now Paul exhorts them to excel still more in this grace of giving, so that they will bear much fruit for the kingdom of God. And so God exhorts us today as well in this passage to do the same; now that we have begun to give, we must work so we will be able to give more to those who are in need, and thereby we will bear much fruit.

    5. We will consider this passage under 3 headings, then, first, in vv. 9-10a, “You have begun to give.” Second, in vv. 10b-11, “Work to give more.” And third, in v. 12, “Then you will bear much fruit.

  1. Body

    1. You have begun to give (9-10a)

      1. Faith: Taught by God

        1. First, you have begun to give. Paul speaks first of the reason for, then of the fact of, your giving. First, the reason you have begun to give is that you have been “taught by God to love one another.” Paul says this in v. 9, saying,

          • 9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.

          • Paul didn’t need to remind the Thessalonians of their basic Gospel-duty to love one another, because God Himself was teaching them to do so. Paul is not here denying that the Thessalonians need any teaching whatsoever, for clearly Paul is teaching them about many things throughout this epistle, and even about their duty to love one another. But Paul is speaking here about the fact that God has already begun to give them a working faith, and a laboring love. In giving them faith in Christ as their Savior, God has taught them to love one another, and so now their love has begun to labor, even under persecution, even being willing to suffer so that others might hear the gospel and be saved. In contrast to the Old Covenant, where people would look into the mirror of God’s law and then forget its requirements for their lives, now in the New Covenant God in fact writes the law on the hearts of His people, as He promised in Jeremiah 31:33-34, saying

            • "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it."

          • The New Covenant in Christ is the fulfillment of Is. 54, where God says this to His needy, afflicted people, in v. 1,

            • "Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous Than the sons of the married woman," says the LORD.

          • And in vv. 11-13,

            • 11 "O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, And your foundations I will lay in sapphires. 12 "Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies, And your gates of crystal, And your entire wall of precious stones. 13 "All your sons will be taught of the LORD; And the well-being of your sons will be great.

          • In the restoration of His people, in the New Covenant, and in the salvation He would bring through Jesus Christ, God said “Your sons will be taught of the Lord.” This is what God is doing for us now, writing His holy law on our hearts by giving us holy hearts in our regeneration, and now by sanctifying us, making us more holy, throughout the rest of our lives. We are taught by God.

      2. Love: You do practice it

        1. But not only are you taught to love one another, Paul says, but “indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren.” Paul says this in v. 10a,

          • 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia.

        2. Paul told us about the way the Thessalonians had shown love to the brothers throughout Macedonia in ch. 1:6-10, where he says

          • 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation 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 the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.

        3. Now how did the word of the Lord sound forth from the Thessalonian church? Certainly, both in their words and their deeds. But partly through the grace of giving. Turn with me to 2 Cor. 8, where Paul says “the churches of Macedonia” generously gave of their money for the work of the Lord. The three key churches in Macedonia were in Berea, Philippi, and Thessalonica. The Philippian church was the first to give, but undoubtedly the others followed (cf. Philippians 4:15). This means the way the Thessalonians practiced love for the brethren was specifically that they gave of their own material possessions to help support their needy neighbors.1 Paul says in 2 Cor. 8:1-7,

          • Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. 7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

        4. The NIV translates this last phrase “excel in this grace of giving.” Even though they were in “deep poverty,” Paul says, the Macedonians gave out of the overflow of their joy in Christ, so that they could contribute to the “support of the saints,” as v. 4 says. And so Paul exhorts the Corinthians, who were more wealthy than the Thessalonians, to show the sincerity of their love by doing just as the Thessalonians have done, as he says in vv. 8-9,

          • 8 I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

        5. You see, just as Jesus Christ gave up the great riches of glory and honor which he had at His Father’s right hand in heaven in order to humble himself, to take on human flesh and be made in the likeness of a man, in order that we might receive in His death and resurrection the riches of salvation from our sins, so now Christ calls you to give of yourselves self-sacrificially in order that your brothers and sisters in Christ may come to know Him, to love Him, to be saved from their sins, and to be delivered from some of the misery of this life. God has begun to give you a real, laboring, hardworking love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as for all those whom God may call through your efforts to share His salvation, but now you must prove the sincerity of your love by giving from your heart, by giving of your life, of your resources, that others might be saved. Will you “excel in this grace of giving?”

        6. You see, God has blessed you so that you will be a blessing. Now in the New Covenant God is fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham in Gen. 12:2-3, saying

          • I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

        7. And God promised to His people in Deut. 28:12-14 that if they would keep His commandments, then He would make them a blessing to all nations, saying

          • 12 "The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.

        8. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” Do you hear what this is saying? In Christ God has given you all things, but more than that, we count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. God does richly bless us, spiritually as well as materially in this life, and in view of this let us not cling selfishly to what He gives us, but rather gladly give of these blessings to those who are in need. Is this benevolent spirit not the heart of what God commanded His people to have in Deut. 15:6ff? God says there,

          • 6 "For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. 7 "If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. 9 "Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10 "You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11 "For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'

    2. Work to give more (10b-11)

      1. And so if you have received the incredible riches of salvation in Christ, and have been given life, and health, and material blessings in any measure whatsoever, do not harden your hearts against your needy brothers. Make it your ambition to work with your hands so that you may give more to those in need. Make it your ambition to give more food, more clothing, more hospitality, more of Christ’s love, more of the gospel, and more of the ministry of the church, to those who need Christ’s love so desperately in the world around you. Paul exhorts you to do just this in 1 Thess. 4:10-11, saying,

        1. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”

      2. Paul exhorts you, then, to “work to give more.

      3. Now Paul is not being a slave-driver here. He is not exhorting you to drive yourselves into utter poverty, but rather he is exhorting you to work so that you have no need. So that you will NOT be in poverty. But further, he exhorts you to work so that you may give to others. Just as you have begun to give to those in Macedonia, he says, just as you have begun to show hospitality, to be generous to the needy in your house, your neighborhood, your presbytery, so now excel still more, for the gospel must go out, for the needy will always be with you, for you must continue to grow and abound in love for one another, for you must continue to excel in this grace of giving.

      4. My parents have diligently, faithfully, worked all their married lives, not earning a great amount of money, but earning enough to be able to give to those who are in need. I have sought to do the same. And I know that God has begun to give you this grace of giving as well; this is why He has given you a job, a house, and a willing heart. But now Paul exhorts you, you must excel still more.

      5. Practical means: work. The practical means by which you do this is to work at your job. Paul had set a Godly example in word and deed to the Thessalonians, as he reminded them in ch. 2:8-9, saying

        1. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”

      6. Paul’s goal was not to take, but to give. He worked with his hands to earn money so that he could preach the gospel to the Thessalonians, so that he would not be a burden to them. This was his pattern, his habit, everywhere when he preached the gospel. Sometimes he even would bring a gift from more established churches with him, in order to impart to a needy church the gospel of God. And now the Thessalonians had become imitators “of us and of the Lord,” as Paul says in 1:6, giving self-sacrificially out of the abundance of God’s provision, that the gospel would go out to perform its saving work in the hearts of their neighbors.

      7. But the temptation is to lose heart in these acts of benevolence. To neglect to do good to all, and especially to those of the household of faith. And some in fact in Thessalonica, and even in any church today, will fail to excel in this grace of giving. My friends, do you think you have nothing to give? Do you think first of yourself as someone who is needy, rather than as someone who can give? That you must receive before you can give? I know what that feeling is like. You may need to hear Paul’s warning in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. Turn with me there, and hear what Paul says to us. He says,

        1. 6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

        2. And so I exhort you as well, do not grow weary in doing good! If you are tempted to lead a disorderly and undisciplined life so that you end up in poverty, or if you are tempted to depend on others rather than work to support yourself, or if you are tempted to spend your time acting busy, interfering in the affairs of others, rather than working diligently at the tasks which God has set before you to do, then Paul gives you one very solid, trustworthy, and inescapable piece of advice—work with your hands. He says in v. 11 of 1 Thess. 4,

          • make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.

      8. My friends, even if you are needy, even if you are in deep poverty, as the Thessalonians were, work so that you will have something to give to those who are in need. Do not think of yourself first as a ward of the church or a ward of the state, do not think of yourself first as one of the needy, but think of yourself first as one who can give to those who are in need.

      9. The Lord DOES richly bless us in this life with all things, even in giving you this grace of giving, and just as He has begun to sanctify you in this area, so He will continue to bless you so that you will be a blessing to your neighbor. So that through you all nations will be blessed. Whether you give a tenth of all you have, whether you offer more, even if you give all that you own, as did the widow in the temple, remember that through your helping hand they will come to know the love of Jesus Christ. And so if His love is at work in you, you will work to give more, to give to the needy, that they may know the salvation of the Lord.

    3. Then you will bear much fruit (12)

      1. And the result, then, is that you will bear much fruit. Paul says this in v. 12, saying

        1. 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

      2. You see, if you grow and abound in love for one another, then your growing holiness will become manifest to the unbelievers who know you. You will not be known for your desire to take from them, but rather for your desire to give to them. You will not be known for being selfish, greedy, covetous, but rather you will be known for being self-sacrificial, generous, hard-working, and kind. If you humbly work with your hands, and work in order to give to those who are in need, you will behave properly toward outsiders.

      3. But also then you will not be in any need. You will not need to ask others for their help without also being able to freely and joyously give of your own lives at the same time. And so you see, you will be able to share God’s saving love with those who need to hear the gospel. This IS the result of working with your hands—it is an expression of love for your brothers, and it results in the spread of the gospel. Jesus said in John 13:35 that

        1. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

      4. What sort of love is this love which we must have? 1 John 3:16-18 says that

        1. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

      5. Jesus speaks of this love as the fruit which we must bear in our lives, saying in John 15:8-9,

        1. 8 "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.

      6. Jesus confirms that this fruit is love for one another in John 15:16-17, saying

        1. 16 "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 "This I command you, that you love one another.

      7. We must bear this fruit of love for one another by giving generously of our resources that the gospel may go forth, and that the lost may be saved. And my friends, if you work so that you may give to the Lord’s work, so that you may show God’s love to those around you, He will supply your every need to enable you to share His love. And He will use your efforts to bring great praise and glory to His name through the salvation of many. Paul says these things in 2 Cor. 9:6ff. Turn with me there, to 2 Cor. 9:6ff. Paul says,

        1. 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

  2. Conclusion

    1. And so now let us give thanks to God for His inexpressibly great gift of salvation, and more and more as He enables us let us now excel in this grace of giving. Let us work with our hands, that those who are in need may rejoice with us not only for these material blessings, but for the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through Jesus Christ our Savior! Let us excel in this grace of giving.

1Paul has the Macedonians’ giving of their financial resources which he describes in 2 Cor. 8-9 in mind when he speaks of the Thessalonians’ “practice” of love toward their Macedonian neighbors in 1 Thess. 4:10. Paul’s specific concern with giving is apparent when these two passages are compared with one another. The dating of the two epistles lends support to this view. But only one commentary (Green) among the several I was able to consult saw that Paul’s specific concern was with the grace of giving, and mentioned a connection with 2 Cor. 8-9 on this point. Other commentators divide this passage into two sections with the loosely related concerns of brotherly love and work, but Green rightly sees their deeper connection in Paul’s concern that the Thessalonians give. Green’s insight permits us to recognize the passage’s clear connection with Paul’s overarching theme of faith, love, and hope.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 April 2007 20:07