1 Thessalonians 3:12
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:…
I. THE INCREASE OF LOVE IS THE FIRST ESSENTIAL OF CHRISTIAN PROGRESS. St. Paul sets it first and by itself as the root and secret of the blameless holiness before God which he regards as the great consummation of perfection. The Church has too often disregarded this primary note of progress, preferring growth in knowledge, enlarged activity, and more extended influence in the world. But it needs to be seen that the one measure of spiritual prosperity is the degree in which love abounds. The reasons for this honoring of Christian love are apparent.
1. Love is the most like God of all human experiences. We are nearest to God when we love one another most.
2. Love is the most fruitful grace. It does most good to the world and inspires the best service of God.
3. Love is the foundation of all other graces. It opens the eyes of knowledge, and kindles the ardor of zeal, and inspires the life of faith, and breathes holiness into the soul.
II. THIS INCREASE OF LOVE MUST BE IN EXTENT AS WELL AS IN INTENSITY. It is not enough that we have a very warm, passionate devotion if this is confined to a narrow circle. One of the most important features of Christian love, in contradistinction to the natural kindness of persons of an affectionate disposition, is its breadth. It is not led by fancy and confined to the arbitrary selection of a merely human love.
1. It begins with Christ. Though St. Paul does not here express this truth, he implies it. For he is writing to a Christian Church, not to a mixed crowd of men of the world. He assumes devotion to Christ, and seeks for the fruits of it. Now, it is part of the glory of Christianity that it reveals man in his most attractive character when it shows Christ to us. Thus the enthusiasm of humanity is possible, because, first seeing man in Christ, we afterwards learn to see Christ in every man.
2. It expands into love for all Christians. The special characteristic of the brotherly love, so much enforced in the New Testament, is that it flows out to Christians as such, irrespective of personal attractiveness or the reverse. Of course we must have our natural affinities and special friendships. Christ had as much. But we must not confine Christian love to such cases. Indeed, the specially Christian character of love is not seen until this love is bestowed upon those who would not have received it had they not been united to us through Christ.
3. It must extend to all men. Christian love is not confined to the Christian community. The disciple of Christ is the true philanthropist. It is not simply that in the spirit of Christian universalism we are to endeavor to draw all men within the fold of Christ; we are also to love them while they remain outside it. We are to love them as men. From this we may infer that religious exclusiveness is a sin, that Christian people should take interest in all things human - in the science, art, business, politics, and social and domestic affairs of the world. The progress of our Christian life may be measured by the cheerful sympathy, breadth, and generosity of our humanity.
III. THE INCREASE OF LOVE IS A FRUIT OF DIVINE GRACE. St. Paul prays that the Lord may make the Thessalonians increase and abound in love.
1. Love is only possible where the hard heart of selfishness has been softened. It is the work of God's Spirit within us to make this change. God also casts out the impurities which deaden genuine love and the aversions which limit it.
2. Love springs up in us by contact with the Divine love. That love must be revealed and "shed abroad in our hearts" in order that our love may be stimulated.
3. Nevertheless human influences help the development of Christian love. The apostle referred to his own example: "Even as we do towards you." Christian love is contagious. The study of the lives of men of large-hearted charity is helpful in the overthrowing of our narrow prejudices and the arousing of a broad, strong spirit of loving-kindness. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: