1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:…
This is the first of St. Paul's formal prayers. Note:
I. THE OBJECT TO WHOM IT IS PRESENTED.
1. Our Lord is expressly addressed: not as the Mediator only, by whom petitions are made acceptable, but as Himself, the Hearer and Answerer of prayer. Here the Saviour is asked first for a temporal and lower gift, for the prosperous direction of the apostle's course and therefore the highest blessing that man can receive.
2. Our Lord is invoked in the unity of the Father, for "God Himself our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ," two persons, are yet one in the verb "direct." The very grammar expresses their unsearchable Oneness not only in counsel and act, but in nature and dignity.
3. Here at the outset there is more than a latent reference to the mediatorial Trinity. Who is that Lord who shall stablish the saints before God? It is the Holy Ghost, in the unity of the Father and the Son, but also in His own administrative function as having our holiness in charge.
II. THE PRAYER ITSELF.
1. Paul's first invocation is for charity, that gift of God and grace in man which always has the preeminence. It is the ruling emotion of the regenerate which, assured by its very life of the love of God, goes back directly to Him in devotion, and indirectly in deeds of charity to man. In love, as in an element, the apostle prays that they may grow.
(1) Here at the very threshold of His theology, Paul establishes the true character of love as it rests especially on the fellow elect and as it embraces all men. This distinction bears close analogy to the particular and catholic love of God. But the distinction, however important, belongs to a lower sphere, and has significance only for a season. The two are one in "the bond of perfectness"; and when the prayer asks for its largest aboundings it leaves all limitation behind: "and toward all men."(2) The specific increase will be seen if we consider the vehement language in which Paul describes it, and the standard he sets up in his own example.
(a) "Increase and abound" might be interpreted as a compound expression including all that is possible to the heart's capacity. But more closely examined the former signifies the growth of the soul in the sphere of charity, and the latter its aboundings in outward manifestation. Elsewhere love is regarded as growing in us; here, we grow in love, which, like faith, is not only a grace within but an element around the soul. "Increase in love" means that we may become more and more enlarged in heart as our love is enlarged, growing with its growth. The other term makes the sentiment more intense, and asks that the evidence of our increase may day by day overflow. Not, however, to man only. In the next chapter (ver. 9), when the apostle speaks of love to our fellow Christians as "taught of God," he calls it "philadelphia," a branch of charity never separable from that other love that belongs to God; so here it is regarded as springing from the large effusion of the love of God.
(b) Paul presents his own example as at once a standard, guide, and incentive. He felt himself to be expanding in the habit and exercise of that love which "pufieth not up," but "edifieth." This is the first instance of a practice of his with which we soon become familiar — the commendation of his own example. Nowhere is his love more vividly exhibited than here. 'The collective strength of the previous expressions present to us a perfect description of self-forgetting charity. It begins in ver. 5. There is more than human sympathy here. Having had "much forgiven," the apostle "loved much." But while we are pondering the exhibition, we hear his intercession diverting us from himself: "the Lord make you," etc.
2. The connection between this abounding love and unblamable holiness is one of the most important topics in experimental theology.
(1) Love, whether regarded in its unity, or divided into devotion and charity, is the energy of all holiness. We are released from sin by love as the instrument of the Spirit in expelling every impure affection. The soul in which the Divine love is shed abroad in its fullness can give no place to evil desires. By it also we are strengthened into complete obedience: for "love is the fulfilling of the law." There is no limit to the increase of this love. St. Paul has chosen two terms that spurn restriction; which teaches us on the one hand that a love perfected in the sense of having reached an impassable limit there cannot be: the love of God can never be spent, nor can man's return of love to God. But it teaches also that there is nothing in the heart that shall resist it. Hence holiness is a state in which man's heart, i.e., man himself, is already established by the power of God.
(2) The idea of confirmation in unblamable holiness before God carries the view forward to that day which is the vanishing point of all the lines of the apostle's theology and hope. It is supposed to be brought under the more direct scrutiny of God; it is not created by His coming: neither does death destroy the body of sin, nor the appearing of Christ perfect the love of the saints; but then the eye of Supreme Justice will regard the perfect in love as unblamable in holiness.
(3) The construction of the sentence suggests that at and by the coming of Christ we shall be confirmed in our unchangeable condition of holiness before God. This is not the establishment of an uncertain character; the abounding of love has accomplished that. It is not the establishment in brotherly love; that is a grace which may be supposed to end with time. But it is the establishment of the unblamable holiness of perfect love.
(a) The holiness of perfect love is the permanent character of the saved. Love abideth; and without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Holiness is the consummation of all that religion has to accomplish, and love is the law of heaven as well as of earth. Faith will cease by finding its object; and hope will never be conscious of an object waited for.
(b) This establishment implies the end of probation. Probation vanishes to the individual in death; but to the Church, and man's history generally, only at the coming of Christ. Not till then, but assuredly then, all that belongs to the warfare, suspense and growing victory of religion shall cease. Rest in God shall be the law of heaven; and that rest shall be movement in an orbit around the throne which shall never be purturbed.
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)
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: