1 Thessalonians 3:12 “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
You can’t read Paul’s letters to the churches he founded, like this letter to the Thessalonians, and miss the passion this pastor felt for his people. He genuinely cared. But the love he wanted to see increase and overflow is more than warm feelings.
Our world’s idea of love often has less to do with what is good for someone else, and more to do with possessing the person or thing that I desire for myself. It is a selfish and self-serving thing to which we may become addicted, and it often moves us to take complete leave of our senses.
Paul prayed that the Lord would make a genuine Christian love increase and overflow among these people, but what does that look like? How is it different? A quick walk through the New Testament gives us a rather lovely picture of it. Jesus’ example of washing his disciples’ feet shows us that it does not balk at performing some of the most menial tasks for others. Later that evening he tells us that it lays down its life for a friend. Among other things Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 13 reveals that it is not self-seeking. It carries each other’s burdens he writes the Galatians. According to John, it will give up material possessions to help a brother in need. It is in every way epitomized by the sacrifice God has made for us in Christ.
Such a love grows only where faith grows. In fact, you can’t separate them. Luther’s rather famous description of faith in his preface to the book of Romans jumps quickly to the way faith reveals itself in love: “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.”
And such faith and love grow only where the gospel feeds them. “We love because he first loved us.” “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God’s love in sending his Son and offering him for my sins doesn’t shame me into a more loving life. It changes me. Again, Luther on the difference faith makes: “It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God; it kills the Old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers.”
A prayer to increase our love is at the same time a prayer for our Lord to flood us with his grace. When Christ comes to us in his word and sacrament, faith increases, and so will our love.