But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more. – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.
The verses above develop another aspect of Paul’s prayer found in chapter 3 that “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:12. Paul hopes that his instructions here will be one of the instruments used by God to begin to answer his earlier prayer at the end of chapter 3.
Love was the primary thing in 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13 that Paul prayed would “establish” their hearts in holiness. The NIV uses the better term “strengthen” to describe Paul’s instruction. Paul does not want the Thessalonians to reject his instructions about holiness (verses 2–8) but knows that if they increase in love, they will be strengthened in holiness. Indeed, all the interpretations of verses 4–6 involve the underlying notion that to maintain a condition of holiness there must be love and respect for others, all of which will fulfill the grand goal of pleasing God (verse 1). This notion of love now becomes explicit in verses 9–10.
From one perspective, they needed no more instruction from Paul about loving one another, since they themselves had been “taught by God to love one another.” Presumably this teaching came from Paul himself when he was among them. The statement that they had been “taught by God” underscores Paul’s earlier statement that the instructions he gives do not ultimately derive from his own authority but from Christ’s authority (verses 2 and 8). This instruction “to love one another” derives not only from Jesus’ present authority but also from Jesus’ Upper Room discourse, where He told his disciples three times to “love one another” (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; see also 1 John 3:11; 2 John 5). Paul, as he so often does elsewhere in his letters, is passing on and developing Jesus’ teachings for his readers. In this light, the phrase “taught by God” refers to Jesus as the divine teacher.
The Holy Spirit’s influence inducing Christians to love one another may also be implied in the expression, since the phrase “God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit,” has directly preceded his instructions of verse 9-10 (see again verse 8; also Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22). The use of the phrase, “taught by God” and similar expressions elsewhere further suggests the internal teaching by the Spirit (see Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:33–34; John 6:45). These other uses speak of God directly teaching a person in some apparently spiritually internal manner. That both Jesus and the Spirit may be included as the subject of the teaching is apparent from the observation that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. In short, Jesus taught the love command during His earthly ministry and then sent the Spirit to continue to teach it to His people and to empower them to fulfill it.
In addition to the fact that Paul’s readers have already been taught by God to love each other, a second reason they need no further instruction is that they are actually applying the earlier instruction to their lives as exemplified in verse 10. Not only have the Thessalonian Christians genuinely begun to practice love toward each other but their love flows over even to “all the brethren who are in all Macedonia.”
One might think that Paul would be content with this and stop to thank God for it. He is, however, so desirous that they keep on loving that he urges them not to be satisfied with their past performance but even “increase more and more” implying from that day forward. The sense is that although they do not need to be written to about love because they are practicing it so well, nevertheless they need to excel even more, which is the main point of verses 9–10. Paul knows that perfect sanctification in any area of life is impossible this side of heaven, so he encourages them to keep advancing in their growing love.