To Increase and Abound in Love
© C. O. Bishop
1st Thessalonians 3:11-13
11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
Last week we saw that the passion of the Shepherds, including that of the Great Shepherd Jesus, is for the people of God to thrive, spiritually, and to become strong and healthy, as believers, and to consistently reflect the priorities and compassion of Jesus.
Our “prime directive” from Jesus is quite different than that of the television series, Star Trek, where the characters insist that their “Prime Directive” is that they must not disturb any other culture’s pattern of thinking, or way of life. Jesus stated our Prime directive: “Love one another as I have loved You.” That is an utterly different direction, and it has entirely different results.
It is OK to talk about the Bad News!
Notice that Jesus did not hesitate to “disturb our way of thinking,” nor to warn us of impending doom. In fact, He spent more time warning of the coming Judgment than He did elaborating on the joys of Heaven.
Jesus came specifically to turn us away from our old way of life. He did not say that “whatever we are doing is fine,” or that “all ways were equally good.” Quite the opposite: He cut across the grain of every culture in the world, by stating that Sin is what stands between us and God, and that the result will be eternal condemnation, apart from God’s intervention. But God has intervened!
How did God intervene?
God intervened through an act of selfless Love…Agapé Love. Jesus summed it up in His famous statement, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It literally says, “in this manner, God loved the World…” This is HOW God intervened. And, most importantly, His intervention included the whole world.
But Jesus cut across the smug self-righteousness of the Pharisees and Priests, and He also cut across the pompous worldly-wise self-confidence of the Gentile philosophers. He offered the absolute truth of God to Man, enclosed in Human flesh.
The One and Only:
He clearly stated His unique position as the only begotten Son. The Greek word is “monogene.” It means the “Crown Prince; the “Heir to the Throne.” He is not “one of many ways,” but the Way. Jesus the Messiah is not “one of many truths,” but the Truth. He is not “one of many sources of Life,” but the Life! His own “prime directive” was to satisfy the righteous demands of God’s Holiness on behalf of the entire human race. He fulfilled that directive by a perfect life and a perfect sacrifice at the Cross. He bought the whole World by the shedding of His Blood.
And Jesus gave us our prime directive, in John 13:34, 35. He said that we are to exhibit that same Agapé Love toward one another. We are to “intervene” by Love. We are not to allow other believers to just “slide off” into unfruitfulness and to become the wreckage Satan desires for each of us, but rather to intervene and encourage one another to press on, and walk in obedience to Christ. Remember that the command “Love one another” comes in the context of the foot-washing lesson, in John 13.
Galatians 6:1 clearly states that we are to help one another in the spiritual battle, and to restore one another to fellowship, as needed. This is all part of our “prime directive.”
What About the World?
Paul reiterates that “prime directive” of Agapé Love in 1st Thessalonians 3:12. He expands upon it to point out that the command includes extending that Agapé love toward all people: not just other believers. We are not directed to “allow people to just go their own way,” but rather, we are to warn them that judgment is coming, and offer them the gift of God.
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death” (There is the judgment!) “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (There is the gift we are sent to offer!) This is how we are to love the world as Jesus did! It is by taking the necessary risks of rejection and possible persecution, and going ahead with the job of evangelism.
In verse 12, Paul also concludes that they could take his and the other evangelists as a working model of how to apply this concept. Paul, Silas, and Timothy had taken the necessary risks to bring the Good News of Jesus to Thessalonica. They endured the danger there, just as they had done in Philippi, though in Thessalonica, they escaped further injury.
Remember, we read in Acts 17, that they had gone to the synagogue, in Thessalonica, probably still bleeding from the wounds received in Philippi. They accepted the calculated risk that the Jewish leaders might resent the message that Jesus was their true Messiah. The evangelists (missionaries,) showed all of the people in the synagogue (from the Jew’s own scriptures,) that the Messiah was expected to suffer death at their hands. They showed that Jesus had, in fact, fulfilled their scripture by subjecting Himself to the abuse, torture and crucifixion He had endured at Jerusalem.
Some of the Jews believed the message. Many Gentile proselytes believed. And the result was quite literally, a riot. It has often been observed that, wherever Paul went there resulted a revival, or a riot, or both. In this case, it was both. And yet, he said that the Thessalonian believers could take him and his fellow laborers as examples of how to live.
What Effect Did Paul Expect in Their Lives?
In verse 13, Paul said that if they committed themselves to that “Prime Directive,” the expected result should be that they would find their hearts increasingly established and strengthened in a practical Holiness, so that at the Lord’s return they would stand blameless before Him.
Positionally, believers have already been declared “holy” by God. Positionally, we already stand blameless before Him. (See Ephesians 1:4) Our position in Him, our salvation, is a gift. Nothing can alter that position. But, in terms of reward, all the results are very much conditioned upon responding to Him consistently in obedience.
Compare Two Ministries
Several times I have compared the ministries of Jeremiah and Jonah: Jonah got great “results,” but he had begun in complete rebellion, and even in the face of a major revival, he was bitter toward God for saving the enemies of Israel. God had to remind him that those people were precious to Him, too.
In contrast, Jeremiah poured himself out for the souls of the people to whom he was sent, though they abused him. He prayed and wept for them, seeking their repentance. But, as far as we know for sure, only two of his audience responded in faith.
We do have a choice How we serve!
Given a choice, I would rather be like Jeremiah than to be like Jonah! Consider how Jeremiah exhibited Agapé Love. Then compare Jonah. Jonah hated the people to whom he was sent, and was hoping to see them destroyed! He was bitterly resentful toward God for saving them, and said, in effect, “I knew you were going to do this! That is why I ran away to begin with!”
Yes, God rewards obedience, but He also rewards obedience from the heart: not just “outward compliance.” God knows our hearts. He honors His Word, simply because it is His Word! But he honors us for willingly joining with Him in the double harness of service that He offers.
Service is a Privilege.
First, it is a privilege reserved for those who have been born again, into His family. Secondly, it is reserved for those believers who willingly respond to the call of God.
In Isaiah 6:1-8, the prophet Isaiah heard that call: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” (We might call that a “rhetorical question,” as the call was being directed to Isaiah!) But Isaiah responded as though he were a volunteer, saying, “Here am I, Lord! Send me!” He was eager to join Jesus in the Work of the Gospel.
What about Counterfeits?
Do some people imitate the service of God? And are they possibly even earnestly coveting His favor and reward? Absolutely they do, and that may be their earnest hope. But if you circumvent the Cross, refusing to deal with your sins, then you are impersonating a child of God. As a lost person attempts to serve God without His approval, they are similar to the people we sometimes hear about who impersonate police officers. Some of them even buy uniforms, and paint their cars to look official, and then go out and attempt to arrest “bad guys.”
The problem, of course, is that it is a crime to impersonate a police officer. Thus, even if what they are doing while wearing that counterfeit uniform is technically a “good thing,” they will not be rewarded for their supposed “good deeds.” They will be punished for the crime of impersonating an officer of the law.
Jesus knows the Difference!
Jesus said that there will be people under judgment, who protest that they are the “good guys!” They will say, “But we did all these great things in your name!” And He said that His response will be “…but I never knew you! Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!”
He will not say that to any of His “born ones.” (By the way, the Greek word translated as “children,” in reference to those reborn into the family of God, is “teknoi,” meaning “Born Ones.”) He will not reject you for wrongdoing, though your rebellion or neglect may cost you much of the reward you had hoped to earn.
Practice, Exercise, and Growth
As with everything else in life, this new life in Christ takes practice to gain any stability. It is not something “natural” we are attempting, any more than it was “natural” for Peter to walk on the water with Jesus. It was impossible unless Jesus enabled him, and even then, the moment he shifted his focus to the surroundings, he began to sink. The same holds true for us!
It requires practice and exercise to gain experience and stability in a walk with Jesus. And it requires spiritual food to grow strong and healthy. In 1st Peter 2:2, we are told, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.” If we are not feeding on God’s Word, and practicing the application of His Word in our lives, then we cannot hope to grow strong and stable as believers. And we certainly cannot hope to become proficient at walking with Him if we do not consistently practice doing so.
Learning to Walk
When you were physically learning to walk, as a baby, success meant always getting up one more time than you fell down. As we are learning to walk with God, we often find that we have stumbled and fallen into sin. We confess it to God: (That is how we get up!) He forgives us, and we again set out to walk with Him.
Paul says that as we continue to practice exercising the Agapé Love in our relationships with others, including our outreach to unbelievers, we will become stronger, more effective, and more fruitful in our walk with Him. That growth and experience gives us great confidence as we go to meet Him, or, even just on a day-by-day basis, as we anticipate His return.
Perhaps this phrase seems small and unimportant, in the context of the things in the coming chapters, but since the Lord’s primary command is in view, we need to take it seriously, and consider how to apply it in our lives.
Lord Jesus, please open our eyes to the state of the World around us, and help us to see the people of the world as You see them: rather than seeing them as servants of the enemy, let us see them as victims of the enemy. Give us a heart of compassion to reach out to the lost around us, and to encourage one another as we see Your return approaching.