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Memory Text: “May he 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” (1 Thessalonians 3:13, NIV).
The word friend appears 53 times in the KJV. Very few times friend is used in association with God: one of those few times was when Abraham was called a friend of God. The word for friend in Hebrew is different than Greek. In Hebrew the word is “rea`” and “re`eh”. Both of these words derive from “ra`ah”, which means to tend, to pasture, to shepherd, to feed, to graze. In Greek is mostly phylos, which means friend or associate (buddy or pal).
Did Jesus call the disciples, “buddy” or “pal?’ It is important to notice the context of when Christ called the disciples friends. In John 15, Christ instructed the disciples to abide in Him. Then in verse 10 he tells them that “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.” Then in verse 12 He tells them that His commandment is for them to agape one another as Christ has agape them. Now notice the associations Christ makes in the John 15: 13-15,
John 15: 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15: 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
John 15: 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
Christ told them that He will lay down His life for them – His friends. And, verse 15 tells us why Jesus called them friends, “for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Christ used the term friend to distinguish between servants and friends. As followers of Christ they could be considered His servants. And, they probably had a high estimation for friendship, and Christ clarified what true friendship is all about: agape. If you agape you will have no problem laying down your life. With agape they could do unto others as Christ had done unto them (1 John 3:16).
How do you lay down your life? When Jesus was talking to Peter and asked Peter, “Do you love me?” After Peter’s response Christ instructed Peter, “Feed and tend my sheep and lambs.” This brings us back to the concept of friendship in Hebrew. And, if we look carefully this is how Paul acted with the Thessalonians.
If we recall from last week’s lesson Paul used language that referred to himself as a mother and father to them. Let us read 1 Thessalonians 2: 7 and 11,
1 Thessalonians 2: 7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
1 Thessalonians 2: 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children,
Our lesson states that Paul felt as a parent who is pulled away from his children and leaving them orphan. So, it is no surprise that he longed to know about them, and to see them again. Paul states this in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20,
1 Thessalonians 2: 17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.
1 Thessalonians 2: 18 Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.
1 Thessalonians 2: 19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
1 Thessalonians 2: 20 For you are our glory and joy.
Paul says to the Thessalonians that if they are not there at Christ return, the event would not be perfect. In essence, Paul would consider that he failed and that his work was in vain.
Paul sends Timothy to encourage them, to make sure they are grounded in the faith, and to bring back a report of them. The report pleased Paul. “Paul’s heart went out in tender sympathy toward these believers, who, in the midst of trial and adversity, had remained true to God” (Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 255). We read in 1 Thessalonians 3: 6 – 8
1 Thessalonians 3: 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you—
1 Thessalonians 3: 7 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith.
1 Thessalonians 3: 8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.
So, Paul makes sure they know his desire toward them and let them know that he is incessantly praying for them. Let us read 1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13,
1 Thessalonians 3: 9 For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God,
1 Thessalonians 3: 10 night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?
1 Thessalonians 3: 11 Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.
1 Thessalonians 3: 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,
1 Thessalonians 3: 13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
What Paul is expressing is more than just a pal or a buddy. Paul is expressing unconditional, self-denying, other centered love. Ellen White describes this love,
“True, heaven-born love is not selfish and changeable. It is not dependent on human praise. The heart of him who receives the grace of God overflows with love for God and for those for whom Christ died. He does not love others because they love and please him, because they appreciate his merits, but because they are Christ’s purchased possession.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 101, 102.
This love comes to us from the Holy Spirit who sheds it in our hearts (Romans 5:5). I pray that we accept it.