September 27 2022
“Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. . .” 1st Thessalonians 4:9 (NRSV)
This week’s devotional has been prepared by Rev. Mark Roberts and can be found at https://depree.org/the-greatest-teacher-of-all/
In my junior year of college, I took a seminar called “Christians, Jews, and Gnostics.” By studying historical documents that were around 2,000 years old, we sought to understand what these three groups had in common and what was distinctive about each of them.
This was my first introduction to Gnosticism, the ancient religious-philosophical system that co-existed with and influenced early Christianity. My professor was George W. MacRae who, though a professor of New Testament, was one of the world’s foremost experts on Gnosticism. Professor MacRae had been one of the translators of the Nag Hammadi Library, a treasure trove of ancient gnostic texts that had been discovered in Egypt in 1945. (You can see a curious example of his work here.) Though he was a world-renowned expert in his field, Professor MacRae was also a marvelous teacher, one who loved to help beginning students learn through close study of ancient texts. (He was a major reason I did my doctoral work at Harvard. Plus, for a short time, George was my dissertation advisor, until he died tragically of a heart attack in 1985.)
As I think back on my experience in the “Christians, Jews, and Gnostics” seminar, I feel grateful for the opportunity to have studied with such a world-class teacher. Even at that time, I knew I was experiencing something special. (Though I should add that in that class, which met from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. in an overly warm seminar room, not only did I learn about Gnosticism but also about caffeine. My thermos of coffee kept me wide awake even in the late afternoon. I didn’t want to miss a moment with Prof. MacRae.)
You may well have had an experience like mine, one in which you were able to learn from a true master. But, according to 1 Thessalonians, the Christians in Thessalonica had an even more impressive claim. They had been learning from the greatest teacher of all. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” Taught by God! Now that’s quite something, don’t you think?
If you were to learn anything from God, that would be quite an experience. God knows all things and could teach any subject with superlative excellence, whether physics, music, law, or theology. But notice what God had been teaching the Thessalonians . . . to love one another. In this “field” God would be the best of the best teacher. Why? Well, for one thing, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). There is no greater authority of love or agent of love than God.
Of course, God’s “take” on love is unique. There are many different understandings of love, many varieties, and expressions of love. God created us to love in different ways. For example, we love our friends. We love romantically. We love as parents. We love Bach or the Beatles. We love a gorgeous sunset. I do not doubt that God enjoys it when we love in these ways. But the love of God is revealed to us most clearly and dramatically in the sacrificial death of Christ for us. As it says in 1 John 3:16, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Notice that Paul and his co-writers did not say to the Thessalonians, “You have been taught by God what love is all about.” Rather, they write, “[Y]ou yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (4:9). The Greek behind this sentence makes it clear that God’s teaching leads to action. The Thessalonians have been taught by God in order that they love each other.
The more you walk each day with the Lord, the more you allow God to inform your mind and transform your heart, the more you will grow in Christ-like love for others. You will find new freedom to give of yourself sacrificially. You will discover new compassion for those you might otherwise ignore or even despise. You will love, as John puts it, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).
Let me encourage you to learn from the greatest teacher of all. Let God teach you how to love. Love according to the truth of Scripture. Love as the Spirit moves you. Love in the way of Jesus Christ.
As you think about those who have been your teachers – whether in school, work, church, or other contexts – who are some of the best? What made them such good teachers?
Can you think of ways in which you have been taught by God? How did God teach you? What did you learn?
Are your growing in love for others? Are you more able to love actively and sacrificially now than you were five years ago? If so, why? If not, why not?
Annual Church Conference
Our annual church conference will be on Sunday, October 2nd, at 1 pm at Bridgewater UMC (651 Country Club Rd, Bridgewater Township). If you plan on attending, please email Gretchen at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we prepare an appropriate number of packets.
Small Groups & Adult Sunday School
Our Adult Sunday School and Tuesday Small Group are going through a bible study on the Gospel of Matthew. Sunday’s group meets at 9 am in the A-Wing Conference room. The Tuesday group meets at 1 pm in Fellowship Hall. We encourage everyone who decides to participate in this study to pick up a copy of the Matthew Immersion Bible Study. Free copies can be found in the church office.
Brainstorming Bicentennial Logo
Our bicentennial committee is looking to create a logo for our 200th anniversary and could use your help! If you have ideas, or an actual design, of what an inspiring or effective logo might look like, please feel free to share your ideas with Bruce or Beth LaPenta.
Dr. June’s Recital
Dr. June will perform a piano recital on October 30th at 3 pm. All are invited to join us in the church sanctuary as we listen to Dr. June’s beautiful musical performance.
NJ Woman’s Song Concert
On Saturday, October 22nd, at 4 pm, the NJ Woman’s Song will be performing a concert at our church. So join us for this special afternoon and invite a friend.
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