Fuller

An Unexpected Result of Loving

September 18, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (NRSV)

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Focus

How can we become more like God? There are many answers to this question, of course. But 1 Thessalonians 3 shows that one way we become more like God is by becoming more loving to others. As God makes us increase and abound in love, our hearts become more and more like the heart of God.

This devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

As we saw last week, in the final verses of 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write a “wish prayer.” In our translation they appear to make three main requests: 1) May God direct our way to you; 2) May the Lord make you increase and abound in love; 3) May God strengthen your hearts in holiness.

Today I’d like to focus on that apparent third request. I say “apparent” because the original Greek of 1 Thessalonians reads a little differently from what the NRSV represents. Whereas this translation has two separate requests – May you increase in love AND may God strength your hearts – the original combines them into one complex request. It might be translated very literally in this way: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you, in order to [eis to] strengthen your hearts in holiness so that you may be blameless . . . .”

This passage shows us that having your heart strengthen in holiness is not something separate from increasing in love, but rather the result of such growth in love. To put it simply, if you want your heart to be strong in holiness, then let God help you to abound in love for other people. The more you love others with God’s help, the more you will become holy in your inner being.

I find this quite striking, even surprising. Why? Well, for one thing, holiness is often seen as limiting or even contrary to love. Christians sometimes cut themselves off from “sinners,” failing to love them, because they want to be holy. Jesus, of course, exercised his holiness by hanging out with sinners. Yet for many of his followers, holiness is understood to require keeping away from the people they label as sinful. No room for love here!

According to the wish prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3, however, God will strengthen our hearts in holiness by helping us increase and abound in love. Notice that this love is both “for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:11). It is for those within the church and those who are outside. It’s for both saints and sinners.

In Scripture, holiness is being like God. This is clear in Leviticus 19:2, a classic biblical passage on holiness. Here God instructs Moses to say to the Israelites, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Several verses later, as Leviticus 19 reveals what holiness involves, we find this: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). In this passage, love is one aspect of holiness. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, however, love provides a path to holiness. The more we love, the more we will be like God. This is a wonderful, though unexpected, result of loving.

As you go about your day today, ask the Lord to make you increase and abound in love for people. Do so because loving is a good thing. Do so because it honors the Lord. Do so because loving others can give you joy. And do so in order that your heart may become more and more like the heart of God.

Reflect

Can you think of a time when God helped you to love someone you were struggling to love? If so, what happened? What happened to your heart in this experience?

How can we show love in tangible ways to people who are resistant to God and God’s ways?

What helps you to love other people more genuinely and actively?

Act

Ask God to help you love someone today. Then, be attentive to how the Spirit moves you to love that person.

Pray

Gracious God, once again I ask you to help me increase and abound in love. Yes, I ask that my heart would be filled with love for others. But I am asking mainly that you help me to love in action, to love others with the love you have given me through Christ.
As I grow in love, may I become more like you, Lord. May I think like you do, feel like you do, act like you do. Most of all, may I love like you do, no matter where I am or who I’m with. Teach me, help me, empower me to love so that I might be like you.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Anticipating Reunion (1 Thessalonians 3:10).


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