Abounding in Love: Part 1

November 5, 2017 / No. 3905

Dear Radio Friends,
The members of the church of Jesus Christ are the hope, joy, and glory of a preacher. God’s people themselves personally are the hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing of the minister of the gospel. This is true because in the day of days they will be standing side by side with the preacher of the gospel as the fruit of his labors. They will be a testimony to God of the saving grace God Himself bestowed upon them through the preaching! That is what gives the minister in this life great joy and contentment in his labors: he will be standing among the saints of God with whom he so intimately and lovingly labored.
Such is the instruction we were left with by God’s Word in our last broadcast. Paul had expressed his deep love for this church and his desire to see the saints there. He had preached there without deceit or guile. He did not use flattering words, nor did he come in a cloak of covetousness. He had preached the sharp line of the gospel, exposing sin and calling to repentance and sorrow over sin. God’s saints received the Word of God preached to them, not as the word of a man, but as the Word of God Himself. The Word had worked effectually in their hearts and now they believed.
In chapter three of this epistle we learn that, though Paul himself could not make it to Thessalonica, he had sent Timothy there. Paul was worried about the new faith of these saints, since it was being severely tried by persecution. So, when Timothy returned with the good news that these saints had persevered and were active in their faith he was comforted. In the last three verses of I Thessalonians 3 Paul expresses his great desire for this church. We read verses 11-13: “Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” This warm desire of the apostle here is also the desire and goal of the labors of every faithful pastor and elder in the church. Just as the preacher loves the church, so also is there no greater joy than when he finds the saints loving each other.
I. The Meaning
Notice: God does not through Paul give the church a command in these verses. He is only expressing what must be the chief desire of every pastor and teacher that labors in the church: that the church of Christ increase and abound in love. The minister of the gospel labors toward that end because he knows that love is the essence of the Christian life.
In that connection, we ought to note that Paul does not express the wish that the church increase in numbers or wealth or prestige in the world. We have mentioned it before, we mention it again. It is always encouraging to see the church grow numerically, there is no doubt about that. But it is not the numerical growth or the name of the church in this world in which God is, nor His church must be, interested. It is that the church may increase and abound in love!
At the same time, it is also striking that Paul does not express the desire that the church grow in faith or hope. It may seem as if it would have been more profitable for Paul to have desired this for the church, that is, to grow in faith. Only when we grow in our personal knowledge and confidence in Christ as Savior and God as our heavenly Father does it seem that love will abound. But Paul does not express this. It is not as if, of course, he does not desire this for the church too. But Paul purposefully goes to the heart of the Christian life when he states here: “the Lord make you to increase and abound in love!”
Love is the heart of the Christian life. “Now abideth faith, hope, charity (or love), these three,” God’s Word tells us in I Corinthians 13:13, “but the greatest of these is charity.” Love is the greatest of the three. Why? Because God’s law for you and me is summarized in one word, dear listeners: love! God’s law is fulfilled in this: “love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The question here is, then, what is this love that this Word of God addresses? What is the love in which God desires that we increase and abound? Love is a bond. It is a bond that unites and fuses two or more together. When a husband says he loves his wife he is expressing that feeling, that emotion, that desire he has toward his wife that draws him to her. Love is that which longs after, strongly desires, and is satisfied with nothing less than, close and intimate fellowship with another. Love is that which gives one’s life and longing toward another that as a result one devotes his heart, soul, mind, and strength toward satisfying another. As such, love certainly involves the emotions and the feelings of a person. And it is usually there that the wicked in their definition of love stop. Love, to the wicked man and woman, is nothing more than a feeling. And it is oftentimes limited solely to the physical attraction a man and woman may have for each other. To the wicked, love is purely sensual, and nothing more.
But true love goes far beyond mere emotions and feelings. True love is moored in, anchored in, knowledge. The Greek word used here in God’s Word for “love” draws our attention to that too. All love that is pure and wholesome and good is rooted in the knowledge we have of the one we love. We learn to know that person intimately: their personality, their qualities, their gifts—as well as, on the other hand, their weaknesses and sins. And that knowledge becomes the guide for our emotions and feelings. In other words, though we might be angry with him or her, this does not mean we suddenly turn our back on that person, though our feelings tell us at the moment we should. If all of a sudden our feelings are influenced by our sinful nature to lust after another person, our knowledge tells us that these feelings are misguided and wrong. We know that we cannot follow that feeling because it would lead only to heartache and pain—and especially alienation from God. So true love is rooted in knowledge.
But true love in reality is even deeper than this. This is why not many people in this world really discover true love. True love is rooted in a heart and soul that in faith is drawn to God and Jesus Christ. In other words, one cannot truly love in the real sense of the word unless the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells in him. This is true because God is love! In Him there is no sin and therefore no reason for hatred. In Him, that is, within the three persons of the Holy Trinity, exists a life of perfection. Where there is perfection, there is also perfect love. This is why Paul defines love as the bond of perfectness in Colossians 3:14. God revealed that love to His people in Christ, when He in perfect love for His people sent His only begotten Son to death for our sakes. John then informs us that through that work of Christ that same love is now shed abroad in our hearts. God dwells in us with His love, so that His love becomes our love, a perfect love that we in turn show to others. That love is truly a bond—it affects our emotions and feelings so that we long after God and desire Him. But it is rooted in the knowledge of faith, so that it becomes a solid, unwavering love—a love that is not easily deceived or led astray by our emotions. That is why when the child of God says to his husband or wife or children, or whomever, “I love you,” it is not the wishywashy, sensual, easy-come easy-go love of the world! It is a solid, steadfast, unchanging love that unites and binds together.
In that love God, and therefore every faithful pastor, wants his church, his congregation, to abound and increase. Now, that love, of course, can be directed toward many different people and things. We must abound and increase, for example, in our love toward God and Jesus Christ. We must also increase and abound in our love for the church. We must abound in our love for God’s Word and for His kingdom in this world. But the object of our love in this verse is first of all one another, and then, secondly, all men. In other words, we must love foremost and chiefly our fellow saints, our fellow members in the church of Jesus Christ. Then, in close connection with this, we must also show our love towards others outside of the church. We must increase and abound in our love toward these recipients.
God desires, members of the church of Jesus Christ, that we love each other. That we be united, bound together with one another; that we long after, strongly desire, and are satisfied with nothing less than intimate fellowship with one another. God requires of us that we give our life, our heart, mind, soul, and strength to satisfying one another in the church. That love must affect our emotions and feelings. It must truly be a longing after our fellow saints. It must be joying when they joy. Truly rejoicing with them. Not being jealous and envious of them. Love is sorrowing when others of our fellow saints suffer. We must hurt with them and be quick to rush to their side with words of encouragement and comfort. Our love toward one another must certainly affect our emotions and feelings.
But that love must go much deeper. We must love one another according to knowledge. In other words, it is a love that looks upon and acknowledges the strengths, the qualities, the gifts of the ones we love, as well as their weaknesses and sins. Our love toward each of our fellow saints does not change when perhaps at times our feelings and emotions would lead us astray. Loving, as we well know from our own family lives, from our own marriage relationships, is accepting the weakness and faults of others and loving one another unconditionally. Why? Because our love is rooted in knowledge.
But, more, our love for our fellow saints must be rooted in our love for God. When this love of God abides in us, we will look at ourselves first, before looking at others. We will then remember that we are sinners for whom Christ gave His life—sinners who are far worse than our fellow saints. Therefore, the love we have for one another is rooted in the knowledge we have of our own sin and unworthiness. It is a love that reaches out to our fellow saints and embraces them as members of that same body of Jesus Christ for whom Christ died. Ah, what a wonderful, glorious, pure love we ought to share with each other as fellow saints in the church where we are members! If that love dwelt in us richly, then we would lay aside all the envy, strife, bickering, slander, and backbiting that so easily beset us.
For this reason, it is the desire of God and of Paul, and of every faithful pastor and ruler in the church, that the members of the church might increase and abound in their love for one another. Those two terms, “increase” and “abound,” must be taken together. “Increase” means “to multiply or exist in abundance.” The result will be that love will “abound,” that is, overflow beyond all measure. In these two terms we are given colorful language describing Paul’s desire. May the Lord grant you so much love that it overflows—like a bucket of water with a constant stream of water running into it. So much love ought we to have for one another! Quite the desire, isn’t it? Sure makes me look as to whether that love is found in me! How about you?
This love in which we must increase and abound is also a love that must be shown to all men in general. That is the obvious meaning of verse 12: “The Lord make you increase and abound in love toward all, even as we do toward you.” This perfect love that binds we must show toward everyone in this world—even (as Christ tells us in Matt. 5) toward our enemies who curse us and despitefully use us.
The question is, can I show love toward the wicked—or even, may I show my love toward the wicked? That surely is a good question too! Obviously, this is what the saints in Thessalonica were doing: showing their love toward others outside of the church there. They were a faithful witness, even to those who persecuted them. We must be too—and that by showing our love for others outside of the church. That love, however, will show itself in a different way. First of all, the love we show toward others outside of the church is not one which draws us to them in their sin. Our love, remember, is the love of God in us and, as such, is a love that binds two or more together in perfectness. Our love for those outside of the sphere of the church is not a love that seeks the friendship and fellowship of the wicked. Nor does it love the sin of the wicked. We are commanded not to love the lusts and pride of this world, but to hate this. Neither does our love for others lead to compromise of the truth. Definitely not. Never do we compromise the truth and water it down to sound appealing to others. The love we show to others is a love that seeks the welfare of the souls of those who are yet lost in sin. After all, we too were at one time enemies of God. We too were lost in the blindness of unbelief and sin. We were those outside the commonwealth of the church. And God showed His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. That same love that God has shown us we must show to those outside of the church, even to our enemies. We do not know, after all, if God has chosen them but has not yet brought them to conversion.
So we must abound and increase in our love towards others too. We are not a closed, exclusive body of elite people who snub our noses at others, thinking that we in some way deserve what we have. We must learn that, through our kindness, through our admonition, through our example of patient perseverance in the faith, others are brought to Christ. The love we show to others, therefore, is the love of Christ that dwells in us, a love that reproves the world of her sin, yet also is more than willing to show to that same world the way of salvation in the blood of Jesus Christ. Surely we must learn to increase and abound more and more in that love towards others as well.
Now, the word of God before us today gives us also an example of such abounding love. That example is meant to incite us as God’s people to increase in our love toward one another and toward others. That example is first of all the missionaries themselves. Look at what we read at the very end of verse 12: “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love, even as we do toward you!” Paul is careful to point out his great love for God’s saints—for these saints in Thessalonica in particular. We mention it again: the joy, the reward of a minister of the gospel, of every faithful pastor, is the church and the individual saints who are committed members in the church! There is no greater love a minister of the gospel has than for God’s people! They are the fruit of his labors. This is what Paul points out to the Thessalonian church! You see how much Silas, Timothy, and I love you! Show that same love for each other without partiality! It was the great love that Paul had for this church that compelled him time and time again to attempt to visit this church in her need. Paul desired nothing more, it seems, than to have God providentially control the events of his life to bring him once again to the church there. It was that love that made him send Timothy to visit the church and report to him how she was faring. It was that love that was the reason for the writing of this letter. You see my love for you, church of Christ, Paul writes, now increase and abound in that same love for one another!
Do you see the love that your minister and elders in the church have for you? Oh, I know, such love is not perfect. Ministers and elders have their own weaknesses and flaws too. But they do love the members of their church. Do you witness that love? That is the same love you must have for one another in the church. Such love must govern the life of the congregation! It is that important! Because, you see, that in turn will determine whether you and I walk a life of holiness as well.
That is the point of verse 13 of our text, “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God.” Holiness is a result of increasing and abounding in our love for one another! But before considering that, there is one more example that ought to incite the church to abound in her love. That is not the example of man. It goes far beyond the example that these missionaries to Thessalonica had left for the saints. The example is God Himself and our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul points us to this example a couple of times in the verses we are considering. In our next broadcast we are going to consider the example that God and our Savior leave us. Afterwards, we will need to explain as well the whole idea of living a holy life.
Yet, what a wonderful way to leave this Word of God today. The example of our God to us. Surely here is something to think about before listening to the next broadcast. The mighty God of heaven and earth, who is all glorious and far removed from all creatures, has allowed us to call Him “our Father!” Think of God’s abounding love toward His people in Christ. Then let us increase and abound in our love for one another, and toward all men!