Abounding in Love: Part 2

November 12, 2017 / No. 3906

Dear Radio Friends,
“The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another.” That is the chief desire of every pastor and elder for the members of the church in which he labors. It is not that the church increase and abound in numbers or in fame in this world. It is that the church grow and flourish in her love for God and for the saints. This is true because love is the very heart, the very essence, of the Christian life. I began our consideration of this Word of God in our last broadcast. Today I intend to conclude it.
The verses under consideration are I Thessalonians 3:11-13. These verses read: “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.”
In our last broadcast we considered together the desire that Paul expresses that the saints in Thessalonica increase and abound in their love toward one another. We discovered that love is not simply an emotion or a feeling (though love certainly affects our emotions and feelings). But love is rooted in the knowledge of God, of sin, and of salvation in Jesus Christ. Love, then—at least true love, true and lasting love—is found only in those who are saved in the blood of Christ. This is true because God is love, and He through Christ has shed His love abroad in our hearts. Love, then, is a bond that unites two who are made perfect in Christ. As such, our love can be shown toward other things and other people. We love God, we love Christ, we love God’s Word, we love the church. In our text Paul teaches us that the love that we have—this bond that unites—must be shown toward one another as fellow saints in the church. In fact, we are called upon to increase and abound in that love. So much ought our love for our fellow saints to grow in our hearts that it is constantly spilling over into our lives. It is constantly overflowing out of our hearts and into our actions toward our fellow believers. This love will result in holy living. That is what we wish to consider today: a holy life.
But before we do, we must consider the second of two examples of love Paul gives in this Word of God we consider. I mentioned this at the close of our last broadcast. The first example of the love we as God’s people must show to one another we considered already. It was the example of the missionaries, who themselves labored in Thessalonica. So much did these men love the saints that Paul attempted repeatedly to return to Thessalonica. In his care for this church Paul had sent Timothy to establish and comfort the saints there in their faith. Paul expresses in our text his strong desire to return to see these saints. This was how much Paul loved God’s people. This was the bond He had with them. That is the first example.
Today, we consider a second example of love that incites us to love one another. That example is God Himself and His Son Jesus Christ, in the love they showed to the church in the death of our Savior. God—our Father—and our Savior Jesus Christ are mentioned twice in our text. Let us examine the love that they have shown us in order that we might know how to love each other.
I. The Meaning
Surely, we ought not overlook the emphasis our text places on the fact that God is our Father. Paul writes in verse 11, “now God Himself and our Father.” In verse 13 the emphasis on God as our Father is even more evident. We read, “to the end he may establish your hearts in holiness, before God [now notice] even our Father.” That term “father” in these verses serves to emphasize God’s great and profound love toward His children. How? Well, we must understand, first of all, that not every person may call God his or her Father. An unbeliever walking in sin may not call God his Father. You and I, too, while lost in sin, did not have the right to claim God as our Father. Prior to regeneration we walked in hatred and envy against God. We in pride despised God’s statutes. Sin and unbelief alienates a sinner from God. God is angry with the wicked and hates the workers of iniquity. Prior to salvation we were strangers from God’s fellowship and love. But it was in this that God revealed to us His great love towards us.
From eternity God chose a people unto Himself. By His grace alone, out of no merit of their own, God chose that people unto salvation! It was in this great work of salvation that God’s love toward us, while we were yet enemies, was shown. God sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into this world. The divine Son of God assumed our sinful flesh in order that He might pay the price of our sin. So much did God love us that He was willing to heap the guilt of all our sins on His natural born Son, who was in the bosom of His Father from all eternity. Christ became sin for us. Then God in His great love for you and me (wretched sinners though we are) poured out the fury of His wrath on His beloved Son. While on the cross, Christ burned under God’s wrath against us. So much did God love us! By means of this atonement, God’s anger against us for our sin was appeased and we were brought back to God.
In fact, not only did God restore us to fellowship with Him, but—and here is the great revelation of His love—He made us into His very own children. We have been adopted into God’s family to stand side by side with Jesus as heirs to eternal life! That is love! That is love! Who would show such mercy and grace toward such horrible sinners as we are? We who deserved nothing from God, nothing but death, have been adopted into God’s family! And we can call the almighty God and Creator who holds all creatures in His hand and determines all things, we can call Him our Father! Imagine that! Imagine the love the Father has for all His children dear! That is the love that our text is speaking about when it admonishes us to increase and abound in our love for one another. Our love must be merciful and kind, even toward those who would oppose themselves to us. Our love must be longsuffering and gentle! Never speaking a harsh word! That is the love God has shown toward us! O perfect love!
Neither may we omit from this example the great love that Christ Jesus has shown us. He willingly left His glory on high to obey the will of His Father. He became the suffering servant of Jehovah, who spent a lifetime of suffering on our behalf. Christ suffered the utter torment of hell on the cross, humbling Himself even unto death for our sakes. The amazing part of it all is that He did this while we were yet enemies! “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die,” Romans 5:7 tells us. But while we were yet sinners, Christ laid down His life for us! He died for us! That is love, members of the church of Jesus Christ! Such love we must have toward one another! Look upon the faces of your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Think about the one that aggravates you the most! Think about the one that is perhaps the least easy to love! Would you lay down your life for your brother or sister? Are you willing to elevate them above you? Are you willing to esteem them higher than yourself? Then the love of Christ is in you. And it is that love in which we are enjoined to abound! Grow in it, using God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ as examples to follow in our love toward one another and toward all men!
II. The Result
The result of such love is obvious: holiness, pure living. The end of all love is holiness. This is why Paul desires that believers increase and abound in their love for each other. This is clear from verse 13. Notice: “The Lord make you to increase in love one toward another, to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness.” Holiness: this word, it seems, is foreign to our modern society. Do you know what holiness is? Young men and women, do you know what it is to be holy? To be holy is to be morally and ethically pure, clean, free from the filth and impurity of sin. That is the meaning of holiness—free from sin—purity. And involved in the meaning of this word is the idea of being set apart. The person characterized by love is one whom God has set apart for Himself. He is one whom God has chosen unto pure and holy service. It is one whom God has cleansed in the sanctifying blood of Jesus Christ, that as a result he is separated from all uncleanness and filth, and set apart by God Himself for holy duty. That is the idea of being holy. Do you know what holiness is? And do you live as one who is holy?
Let me emphasize this! The end of love for God and the neighbor is holiness! We cannot say we love God and the neighbor without being holy. That is true exactly because love is the heart of the law. We keep the law only by loving God and the neighbor! There is no other way. So it is, that we cannot say we love God and the neighbor without walking in a way of holiness—in a way of conformity to the laws of God.
This is why Paul desires that we be made to increase in our love—it is the only way to live a holy life. If we walk together with the world in its uncleanness and sin, then there is no love of God in us! None. When we love God, then we will honor Him and serve Him alone. We will hallow His name and keep the Lord’s day holy. When we love the neighbor, then we will not kill him but will encourage him and support him. We will not commit adultery with him but will keep ourselves clean and chaste. We will not steal our neighbor’s goods, but we will avoid all covetousness and envy. We will not bear false witness, but we will say only the good, only that which will build up our neighbor. When we do all these things we are living a life of holiness! Do we do that? Do we flee the world and its uncleanness? Are we set apart from the wicked and their lusts? Do we flee fornication, drunkenness, partying, surfeiting, and strife? And, positively, do we strive to live a godly life? Does pursuing the truth: Bible study, establishing good families and homes, attending church and other spiritual activities take up the greatest share of our lives? Are we consumed in these activities? Are they our priorities in life? Then we walk holily before God and we are increasing and abounding in love!
Neither is this holiness merely an outward activity. Paul expresses the desire that our hearts be established in this holiness. Holiness is indeed the inner attitude of the heart! God does not look on the outside, to see what our actions say. He looks upon the heart. There is no putting on a false show, a fake front, before God. We may fool men into thinking we are living a holy life. But there is no fooling God. We may live one way when we are out to impress people, but when we are on our own, away from the scrutinizing eyes of others, we can live another way.
There is no doubt that we can pull the wool over people’s eyes, acting holy when we are around them; but God does not look on the outward appearances. God looks on the heart. It is there that we must love one another, and it is there that we must be established in holiness. And established we must be too. We must not be tossed too and fro by the lusts of the flesh or by the whims of this wicked world. We may not find ourselves following after their desires and sins, but we must be established, that is, firmly founded, steadfast, fixed, and therefore stable in the Word of God and holiness. That steadfastness must be found in our hearts too! We must be characterized by holiness at all times, seeking it with all our hearts! When our hearts are established with holiness, because of our love for God and one another, then we will also stand unblameable before God and Christ in the day of Christ’s coming.
Ah! The coming of Christ is mentioned again in these verses. Only twice before has Paul mentioned this in this epistle, yet it will be the main topic of the last two chapters of this letter. The second coming of Christ will also be the theme of the second letter. So we have a little taste again of the doctrine of Christ’s second coming. Again we are taught, in verse 13, that with Christ’s coming also comes judgment! All will stand before Christ to be judged according to the deeds they have done in this life.
A question may arise when reading the last part of verse 13. Paul seems to say that Christ will come with all His saints at the end of time. Is that what will happen at the end of time? Will Christ come to this earth with a multitude of saints with Him? To answer this concern we need to change the word order of this verse a bit. What we would read then is this: “To the end that Christ may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God together with all his saints at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse, then, expresses the idea that we will stand unblameable with all the saints when Christ comes in judgment. This is the sequence of events that will take place at the end of time: when the end of all things draws near, and God’s purpose is about to be accomplished, Christ will return from heaven. He will come with His angels and will gather God’s people, the elect, together from all times and from all places in the earth. Together all of God’s saints will be gathered at the right hand of Christ in judgment. The wicked will also be brought into judgment and will stand at the left hand of Christ. In that day of judgment God through Christ will judge all men. The elect will be judged worthy of eternal life and glory because of their connection to Jesus Christ. Their deeds will show that they abounded in love and walked in holiness and therefore were cleansed in the blood of Christ. On the other hand, the wicked will be judged worthy of damnation because of their sin and unbelief. Their deeds will reveal that they had no love for God or the neighbor in their hearts and therefore walked contrary to God’s law and precepts. These will be cast into eternal damnation and destruction.
It is the chief desire, therefore, of the apostle Paul in our text that the Thessalonian believers might stand together in the judgment day with the saints unblameable in holiness. Unblameable, free from sin, not guilty before Christ in that day—since they were cleansed in His blood. Yet, we cannot help but follow the way that God’s saints stand in judgment unblameable. Yes, they are cleansed in the blood of Christ. But having cleansed His people, God sheds His love abroad in their hearts. They, in turn, abound and increase in their love toward one another and all men. This love results in a life of holiness both in the heart and in deeds. In that holiness the saints stand unblameable before Christ in that great day of His coming! So we have the way of salvation. A way that ends in all the saints, that is, all of God’s holy ones, standing together in the day of Christ’s coming, being viewed as unblameable and given the joy and glory of heaven.
III. The Possibility
But is all this possible for us, saints of God? Are we truly those who are made holy? Do we abound in love for one another? Do we walk in heart, soul, mind, and strength in all holiness? When we look at ourselves, how far, far short we fall from the ideal expressed in this text. So far that sometimes we are apt to think that there is no use in trying to love one another as this Word of God prescribes. When discouraged we ought to look once again at the words of verse 11 of our text. Christ is our Lord and Savior. He is Jesus, who has delivered us from the bondage of sin. He as Christ works in us, anointing us with His Spirit so that we are prophets, priests, and kings in Him. We are redeemed and sanctified! Christ lives in us!
This Christ is our Lord. That means He rules us. He rules in us! We are His servants to do His will. In Him dwells the possibility to abound and increase in love. We simply must be found in prayer before His cross. When we pray and seek to be more Christ-like in our lives, then love for our neighbor is given us by our Lord. We ought, then, to ask for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then what Paul teaches us in verse 12 takes place: the Lord makes us to increase and abound in love. He makes us fit vessels to do His will, and we follow. What an amazing work Christ has performed in His people. May you and I abound in that love. May we be established in holiness before God, even our Father!