Deep Affection Toward Believers

Dr. Brian Allison

Do you love all your fellow believers? Do you like all your fellow believers? Now, you may not like the things some of your fellow believers may do, but do you like them? We, as believers, are obligated to both love and like our fellow believers. Some think that the Scriptures only command us to love fellow believers, but that we are not instructed to like them. That is not true. On the contrary, we are called upon to both love and like them. According to the Scriptures, we are to be affectionately disposed to one another. That does not mean that we have to evidence some gushy feeling. I am not talking about emotionalism here. We, as believers, are to feel warmly towards one another with whom we claim to have a spiritual union in Christ Jesus.

If we can put any stalk in the apostle Paul's own words, then perhaps there has been no more affectionate Christian on record than that of the apostle Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 2, the apostle gives a defence of his ministry; and interwoven through this defence is a revelation of his personal feelings for these believers at Thessalonica. It seems that these personal feelings account for his drive in, as well as the quality of, ministry to them. Notice for instance verses 7 and 8 of chapter 2, "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but [because of this affection] also our own lives, because you had become very dear [i.e., beloved] to us." Now, with the close of chapter 2, we find an incredible display of outpouring of the apostle's affection toward these believers. As we consider the language, apparently the apostle is carried away as he reveals his heart feelings toward them. It seems that he lacks the ability to harness language in order to capture the depth of his love; language fails him in really capturing the intensity of his emotions. Thus, we read in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, "But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while – in person, not in spirit – were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, more than once – and yet Satan thwarted us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy."

Separation evokes strong emotion

The revelation of the true heart state of the apostle Paul was evoked in the face of separation. Being absent from these believers had a profound effect on him; and in a very real sense the truism was realized, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Paul deeply missed these believers – "But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while – in person, not in spirit – were all the more eager with great desire to see your face" (v. 17). Even the way the apostle Paul introduces the closing words of this chapter sets the tone for what he wanted to communicate. He says, "But we, brethren..." This address suggests connectedness, oneness; they are part of the same family.

Recall that Paul and his companions were chased out of Thessalonica because of Jewish detractors. There was a premature departure precipitated by Jewish persecution. They had to flee for their lives. Hence, they had to leave these new converts behind, and yet Paul's heart was still with them – "But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while – in person, not in spirit [and the better translation is "not in heart"]." Paul, in effect, says, "Even though there is a distance between us, my heart is still knit with yours." It was not the case that 'out of sight, out of mind,' but rather, 'out of sight, broken heart'. Paul obviously was emotionally connected with these believers. At the time of this particular experience, his body was in Athens, but his heart was in Thessalonica. It was a difficult experience for him. The separation was excruciating; it was painful. Notice again the term that is used to describe this separation – "Having been bereft." The term 'bereft' expresses great personal loss. It is intensely powerful emotional language. It connotes separation involving sorrow, loneliness, and disappointment. It is the typical experience of the orphan whose parents have been torn away from him or her. Do you get a sense of the apostle Paul's heart? What he is saying, in effect, is that he was utterly crushed at being separated from these believers. It is almost inconceivable that he had this depth of affection. The depth of love is almost unimaginable. The man was emotionally distraught, being separated from these believers!

Strong desire to be reunited

Now, in the intensity of this loving affection, having been separated from them, notice that Paul desperately desired to be reunited with them – "But we...were all the more eager with great desire to see your face" (v. 17). Notice how he piles up words of intimacy and affection – "More eager...great desire." The following verse reads, "We wanted to come to you" (v. 18). The apostle Paul, in his effort to communicate clearly how he felt towards these believers, multiplies his language, desperately trying to communicate the depth of his love. Love naturally multiplies words in an effort to communicate itself to the recipient.

This kind of self-disclosure was typical of the apostle Paul. He wanted his spiritual children to know exactly how he felt about them. It was important for him that believers clearly understood and realized the depth of the love and affection that he had for them. Consider, for example, 2 Corinthians 2:4, "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears [Paul was not ashamed of his emotionality, nor should we be]; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you." Notice also 2 Corinthians 12:15, "And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?" Paul made 'no bones' about how he felt. He took pains to clearly communicate his love to believers. Why did he do that? Why was it so important for the apostle Paul to assure his spiritual children and fellow believers concerning how he lovingly felt towards them? It was important because he wanted them to know that his motivation for ministering to them was right and pure; that he was not there for self-interests. He was there for them, and not for himself. Notice again 2 Corinthians 12:14, "Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours [it does not matter to me what you own, what you possess], but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children." These words are powerful!

Notice again the language that he uses in verse 17 of 1 Thessalonians 2, "But we...were all the more eager." This adverbial phrase – 'more eager' – means to take pains, to do everything that you possibly can, to make every effort. Paul indicates that he did everything in his power to be reunited with the believers in Thessalonica; and notice what drove him. He says, "But we...were all the more eager with great desire." There is only one word in the original for 'great desire', but we need to use a couple in the translation to really get the true sense of the apostle's intended meaning. He states, in effect, "With deep passion we did everything in our power to be reunited with you." Clearly then the apostle Paul was consumed with seeing these believers. He was obsessed with seeing them again. Not all obsessions are bad. We should be obsessed with the glory of God; and we should be obsessed with loving one another. Now, what do you think about this kind of language which the apostle uses? I find it absolutely remarkable. It seems that Paul showed greater love toward believers (which he had known only for a few weeks) than most spouses show to their mates whom they have known for years or, for that matter, to their family members whom they have known for years.

Spiritually-rooted love and affection

Paul is beside himself here. Now, how do we account for this? How do we account for the intensity of affection that exudes here? As far as I can understand, spiritually speaking, there is only one answer. Paul could only show such intensity of affection, such depth of love, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This depth of affection and love was rooted in, and generated by, the Holy Spirit. We are looking at supernatural love and affection here. This is the kind of love and affection to which God calls us, and which He wants us to experience. It is divine love and divine affection. It is God's own heart being revealed. It is His mercy, His compassion, being manifested in the apostle Paul, and flowing out through him to other believers. In his natural state, Paul was utterly incapable of this level of commitment and emotion. Before his conversion, Paul was a man of hatred and cruelty; a man of anger who thought nothing of extinguishing life at 'the drop of a hat', barging into Christian homes and dragging them away, breathing out threatenings and slaughterings. Yet, he was confronted by the Prince of Love, even the resurrected Lord, and it broke him. It changed him, and he was never again the same. In receiving the Holy Spirit, he received the love of God, poured out in his heart in great measure. That is the only way the apostle Paul was capable of this kind of love. Consider 1 Thessalonians 3:12, "And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you." Paul had the right emphasis; it was the Lord who causes and produces this love. God is the source. Consider also 1 Thessalonians 4:9, "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." In this connection, 1 John 4:7, 8 reads, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God [that is the acid test concerning whether we are born of God – the reality of love; if there is no love, then you are spiritually dead]. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love [that is His nature]." Notice how Peter puts it, "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart [that is, love sincerely; there are many hypocrites in the Church who love out of duty, and not from the heart]" (1 Pe. 1:22). I am sure that we all know what it is to struggle with trying to express true heart love; and yet God can overcome that and give us love for the unlovely, and affection for the ugly. So, Christian, the love of God is to work out in your life, through your life, to touch others. What a privilege to be a channel for the love of God. It is deeply humbling that God would allow His love to flow through us to others.

The enemy of Christian love and affection

The apostle Paul further assured his love and affection to these believers – "For we wanted to come to you [again, the man is redundant] – I, Paul, more than once [understand it was more than once] – and yet Satan thwarted us" (v. 18). It is interesting that the apostle Paul could discern the workings of Satan in contrast to the providential leadings of the Lord. He knew that Satan was creating obstruction. The point is: Whenever the Gospel is hindered, whenever the Gospel ministry is hampered, we can be assured that Satan is at work. Paul was hindered from preaching the Gospel and he concluded that Satan was at work. So, for example, when we attempt to do missionary work in different parts of the world and the government is opposed and shuts the door, that is the work of Satan; or when we do open-air ministry and there are people who mock us and ridicule us, wanting us to stop preaching, that is the work of Satan. Satan is the cause in that his evil designs are being carried out through his lackeys. Paul was thwarted by Satan. In what sense was he thwarted? Perhaps (though we are not specifically told) through the persecution of his Jewish detractors.

Spiritual connection fosters emotional connection

Paul gives the reason for his intense desire to see these believers; the reason for the deep passion that drove him to make every effort to be reunited with them. He viewed these believers in a certain way; he had a certain evaluation of them – "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" (v. 19). Now, here is the critical point; do not miss it or you will lose the whole sense of the significance of why Paul was so bent on seeing these believers again and being with them. Paul ardently desired to see these believers, he greatly wanted to be with them, not because of who they were as people, that is, because they had pleasant personalities or some such thing, but because they were true children of God who had received salvation and who were destined for glory. What I am saying is this: Paul's attraction to these believers was not merely a human or social attraction, but rather a ministerial and spiritual one. Paul's desire to be with these believers (dependent upon his evaluation of them) has in view of the return of Christ; and so his evaluation of them derived force and significance in the light of Christ's return. In verse 19 he refers to them as his hope, his joy, his crown "in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming."

Because Paul's evaluation of these believers, and his subsequent response to them, derived significance in light of the return of Christ, the strength of his attraction, his level of commitment, was because of spiritual connections and reasons, not merely social ones. There was a genuine concern for their spiritual state and progress. First, he says, "Who is our hope?" Paul did not want to discover that, in standing before Christ, he had laboured in vain. He wanted these believers to be the fruit and seal of his ministry at the return of Christ. That was his expectation, his anticipation. Second, he says "Who is...our joy;" that is, Paul's source and reason for joy before Christ on that day would be the realization that these believers had run well, that they had persevered; and that, again, his ministry would not have been in vain. Thus, he says similarly in Philippians 4:1, "Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved." Third, he says, "Who is...our exultation [or glory]?" These believers were to be presented, at Christ's return, as genuine trophies of saving grace, and as the fruit of his ministry, resulting in great praise and thanksgiving. Similarly, Philippians 2:16 reads, "Holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain." These believers were Paul's hope, joy, and glory only in so far as they persevered, making it to the end and standing in the presence of Christ, which would validate his ministry, underscoring the fact that he had not laboured in vain.

So, we conclude. Paul loved these believers, he was affectionately disposed toward them, because they were the children of God who had entered into salvation and had become members of the kingdom. Accordingly, he desired to minister to them and bring them to spiritual perfection. Thus 1 Thessalonians 3:9 reads, "For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?" Paul asked the question, "For who is our hope or joy or crown?" He proceeded to indirectly answer this question. He says, "Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" In the following verse, he gives the clear affirmation, "For you are our glory and joy" (v. 20).

As spiritual leaders, we should feel the same sentiments and emotions towards God's people. We ought to be able to say, "You [the people of God] are [our] glory and [our] joy." Leaders are to be affectionately disposed towards fellow believers. In fact, all believers should be affectionately disposed toward one another. Is that true of you? We need to support and care for one another with the love of Christ. May God enlarge our hearts with His own love.