Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ESV
Paul had an obsession with love. He prayed for it constantly. It seems that in virtually every one of his prayers, he requested that God would increase the love of those for whom he prayed. For Paul, love was synonymous with being a Christian, because the kind of love he was referring to was not of this world. It was from above. Along with the apostle John, he could say, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV). There is an earthly kind of love and then there is godly love. God’s love is sacrificial and selfless, while the love of this world is selfish and self-centered. God’s brand of love gives. The love of this world gives to get. God’s love doesn’t show favoritism. The love of this world is based on convenience and reserved for those who are lovely or deemed loveable. So when Paul prayed that the love of the believers in Thessalonica would increase and abound, he was praying for something supernatural. That’s why he prayed, “may the Lord make you increase and abound.” It would have to be a work of God. We are incapable manufacturing the kind of love God requires. When Jesus commanded His disciples, “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 ESV), He knew that they would find it an impossible command to keep – without help. Which is why He sent the Holy Spirit. It is only with the Spirit’s divine assistance that they would find the strength and motivation to love like Jesus loved. And when the Holy Spirit descended upon them that day in Jerusalem, it was a game-changer. They were transformed from timid, self-centered disciples who lived with a what’s-in-it-for-me mentality, into selfless, sacrificial servants of God who had a lay-it-all-on-the-line attitude concerning love and life. They would willingly and eagerly take the message of God’s love, as expressed through the gift of His Son, to the world. They would spend their lives spreading the good news about Jesus to anyone and everyone who would listen. But they would also grow in their love for one another.
And that was Paul’s prayer for all believers – that they increase and abound in Christ-like love for each other. And that should be our prayer today. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). It is our love that sets us apart or makes us holy. It is our capacity to love like Jesus loved that marks us as His followers. The kind of love Paul has in mind is a jaw-dropping, eye-popping love that is inexplicable and impossible to replicate. It comes from God. The apostle John wrote, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 ESV). Obviously, everyone loves. But not in the way that God demands. And if our brand of love is not the love of God, then we don’t really know God. I find it interesting that the disciples once asked of Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” But you never read of the asking Jesus to teach them to love. Why? Because I believe that, in their minds, prayer was a ticket to getting things from God. Like many of us, they viewed prayer as a kind of resource that would allow them to tap into God’s power and put them on the receiving end of His blessings. But they had no desire to learn to love. Partly because they probably thought they already knew how. But also because love, even on a purely human level, requires giving. Love in its very essence is an act of giving. You give yourself away. And you don’t always get something in return. To love and not be loved in return can hurt. To have your love refused can be devastating. But that is the very kind of love Jesus and Paul were talking about. The love of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).
But what’s goal of this kind of love? Well, God’s love results in eternal life. He gave His Son so that those who believe in Him might receive forgiveness of sin and salvation from condemnation and death. God’s kind of love produces holiness. Which is why Paul prayed, “so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness.” As we love as God loves, it transforms us. It changes us from the inside out. We learn to become less self-obsessed and more selfless. We discover the joy of giving without the nagging need to get something in return. We experience the life-transforming joy of loving another person for the sole purpose of seeing them come to know the love of God. Again, the apostle John puts this thought in very simple terms: “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12 NLT). God’s love is made complete, it comes full circle, when it flows from Him to us and on to others. God’s love was not intended to stop at us, backing up within us like a stagnant pool. It was intended to be shared and to flow from us like a life-giving stream, refreshing all those to whom it touches. So our prayer should be that our love increase and abound. We should desire to see God produce in us a love that is beyond measure and imagination.