An Increase and Overflow of Love
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” –1 Thessalonians 3:12
During Christmas break, I saw the movie Klaus with my children. One thing that caught my attention was what Klaus tells the postman who had been sent to Smearingsberg, the land of unhappiness: “We need to show people that a true selfless act always sparks another.”
The flame of love cannot survive without being constantly fanned with acts of love. True love, demonstrated with the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do, must be the engine that moves us forward in our Christian journey. When we neglect this vital element, the rhythm of our walk is adversely affected, hindering our progress.
Hindering obstacles to loving action may be laziness, selfishness, indifference, insecurity, lack of compassion, quarrels, dissensions, anger, infidelity, lack of forgiveness, selfishness, gossip, contention, jealousy, envy, and the list goes on.
Paul recognizes something supremely important for the church in Thessalonica and for us—God Himself is the One who makes us grow and overflow in love for one another and all people. And Paul expresses the importance of reciprocal love. Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus demonstrated love as leaders towards the church in Thessalonica. This abounding in love should be both growing and flowing.
God is the One who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6). God is a God of abundance and apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Therefore, we must maintain our dependence on the One who generates and nurtures all good things to fulfill His perfect will. With the love that God supplies, we must continue to fan love without hypocrisy. The hallmark of the true disciple is love, John:13:15 says: “In this way everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Our world, increasingly broken and in labor pains due to sin, awaits redemption with groans. We live in a crucial and expectant time in which the Church must be strengthened, not only in her faith, but also in the only thing God has promised will counteract the advance of sin: LOVE. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “And above all, have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.”
If we, as His disciples, continually pursue the growth and abounding of God’s love for one another, we will be a contributing factor that prevents the love of many from growing cold. Sinners will turn to the Lord, affected by this sincere love that God has poured out into their hearts through His Church.
Let us continue to increase and abound in love!
The Continuing Debt
Years ago, when my husband, Dave, and I were ministering in Rochester, New York, we had a snowbird in our church named Ed Pfaff. Ed lived in Florida most of the year but would come up to visit his old church friends for a month when the leaves were on the trees and the snow was just a memory. Ed was a kind soul and a serious Bible student. He gave Dave several of his personal sets of commentaries.
Folks in the church spoke of Ed in legendary tones. His dear wife, who had long gone to be with Jesus, had suffered the sorrowful decline of dementia. For Ed, that meant that his beloved, of more than half a century, gradually slipped away before his eyes. Ed would faithfully bring her to church week after week and sit in the back where she would not disturb others. And I can only imagine what it meant for Ed to be the sole caregiver for his dear one, whom he never stopped loving.
But later, I saw my own father do the same thing with my mom—loving care given to one who, after a while, wasn’t sure if he was her husband or her father. And then I saw Dave’s mom do the same thing with his dad, who slipped away over a period of 15 years to the point that he could no longer operate the television remote.
All three individuals did heroic, merciful deeds of daily love as hearty believers. I never heard any of them say that they did what they did as an act of faith, but it could not have been otherwise. And surely there must also have been the thought, My spouse gave me everything. How can I not give everything in return?
The Apostle Paul articulated this radical power of steady, unceasing love in his letter to the Romans: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom.13:8). This is a debt that can never be paid off. There will never be a completion letter from the love mortgage company or a bunch of zeros on the love credit card statement. And because it is never ending, it is impossible for you and me to do.
But we have a good Father who not only sets the example for steadfast compassion, who not only issues us a command to follow that example, but who also grants us the grace to do it: “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NASB). His love fuels our love.
The significance of this provision stretches far beyond our earthly families. Love is the debt that makes the body of Christ authentic. It’s why we want to be there. Love is the glue of belonging. Love is what makes room for others. Love is the perpetual welcome for new ones in the Body. Love is why there is still room and why there will always be.
So, when the immensity and challenge of the debt of love seems overwhelming, let us draw by faith on the well of grace that can never run dry. No one said it would be easy. I cannot imagine that Ed Pfaff, my dad, or Dave’s mom found it easy to pay the debt of love every day and every night. But that sometimes heart-breaking challenge is where joy and meaning can be found like nowhere else on earth.
Love Must Resist Hate
It can be very difficult to find a way to love and forgive those who hate us or those who have done us wrong. All of us, at some point in our lives, have faced betrayal, been let down, or perhaps have been left with a broken heart. It is natural to either retaliate or feel resentment against those who do us wrong.
Social media does not help us; it has encouraged a culture of hate. I see it every day. Hate has prompted an increase in violence towards people who are different from us in their ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, and social statuses. This is exactly what the enemy wants us to do; he delights when we do the opposite of what Jesus taught us to do: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
Jesus calls us to love our enemies. He instructs us to go beyond our selfish selves and love others because He first loved us. Jesus sets the perfect example of how to love those who hate us. As Jon Tyson states in his book Beautiful Resistance, “God loved us even when we were His enemies. Jesus died for us while we were enemies of God.” We must love like Jesus does. We must be known as people who love because that’s how the world will know we are followers of Christ (John 13:35).
Jesus had all the reasons in the world to dismiss humanity because He was hated by many. Instead, He did the opposite—rescuing humanity when He died on the cross, carrying with Him the sins of the world, including the sins of those who hated Him.
Hate can take us hostage and overwhelm us with negative emotions such as envy, bitterness, dishonesty, pride, and even a desire for revenge. When this happens, our hearts have no room to allow the Holy Spirit to empower us to forgive and to love.
Let us pour out any feelings of resentment at the foot of the cross, releasing any burden of hate in our hearts and allowing His love to transform us.
One Thing Remains
The month of March has taken on new significance for me this year.
On March 8, I will commemorate the one-year anniversary of a snowmobiling accident near Backus, Minnesota. When I regained consciousness, I found EMT personnel placing me on a backboard and loading me into a waiting ambulance.
I was admitted into a local hospital—the same hospital I was born in, ironically—where I was informed that I had sustained four rib fractures and a couple of lung punctures. This was not what I had planned for that day!
In northern climates like Minnesota’s, March is known for its erratic weather. (When I was in elementary school, I learned the March adage, “In like a lion, out like a lamb.”) We brace ourselves for the worst and hope for the best.
Yet even if you don’t experience March weather like this, I imagine you have had a similar experience with the unpredictable nature of life. From one day to the next, we can expect the unexpected.
How can we successfully navigate uncertain days? With the truth found in this song lyric: “Constant through the trial and the change, one thing remains . . . Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.”*
Only one thing is constant throughout change—our Savior’s love. One thing is constant in our failures and successes—God’s unchanging love.
Throughout this month—and for the rest of my life—I will celebrate God’s loving protection during that moment of impact in March 2019, His loving provision in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances, and His loving pursuit in my healing journey.
If you’re unfamiliar with this chapter of my story, let me share the briefest of summaries.
God’s loving protection is obvious. I survived the crash.
His loving provision was personal and unique. God lovingly provided capable help at the scene of the accident and a friend to help with logistics and moral support to my husband. The Lord provided me a travel companion, chosen months prior to our travels, who had medical expertise. If you didn’t know, I was on a plane to Germany about 36 hours after being released from the hospital.
Finally, God was relentless in His loving pursuit of my complete healing. Within less than 24 hours after I landed on German soil, a medical exam of my rib cage confirmed I no longer had rib fractures!
Even better, because of this accident, God lovingly—and relentlessly—offered a path to relational healing that has truly set me free. It will be my privilege to share this story more fully with you as God allows.
So, come what may this month—whether it be a violent, unsettling roar from the March lion or a gentle, restorative blessing from the March lamb—I am secure in the love of my heavenly Father, “who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17b).
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord (see Romans 8:38-39).
Constant through the trial and change, one thing remains: the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord—praise be to God!
*“One Thing Remains,” by Jesus Culture