The Greeks had a number of words for “love,” two of which are found in the New Testament. Eros (not found in the New Testament) is the Greek word from which we get the word erotic. It refers to the sexual side of love. Agape is the form most used in the New Testament, as it refers to the self-sacrificing side of love. It is often used in relation to Christ’s love for us as manifested at the Cross.
Another Greek word for love, philos, is highlighted in our passage for today. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what they already know about “brotherly love.” The Greek word behind brotherly love is the word from which the city of Philadelphia gets its name. In the Gentile world philadelphias referred to love for blood relations. But the church extended this meaning to include love for fellow believers, the Christian family of choice. This kind of familial love is taught by God and is a miracle of God’s grace whenever it happens.
The Thessalonian church seemed to have a number of lazy and disruptive individuals. Enthusiasm for the second coming of Jesus may have led some members to quit their jobs and become dependent on Gentile neighbors. But being ready at all times to witness does not mean being disruptive, nosy, or lazy on the job or in the neighborhood. For some outsiders, the closest they will ever come to the church is the impression they take away from the behavior of known Christians in their everyday lives.
Paul’s solution to the Thessalonian problem was to encourage them to be ambitious (“aspire”), not for power or influence but to live a “quiet life” (4:11) that would involve minding their own business and working with their hands. In the ancient world, manual labor was the primary means of self-support. In today’s world Paul would probably say, “Support yourself and your family and save a little extra to help those in legitimate need.”
How could we apply Paul’s words in these verses to our own lives, our own immediate context?