September 13, 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.
How can we grow in love for others? There are many answers to this question, of course. The Bible shows us that God helps us to “increase and abound” in love for people. Often this happens as the Spirit points us to someone in need of love and helps us to know how best to love that person.
In the final verses of 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write what is sometimes called a “wish prayer.” Rather than praying directly, saying “Lord, direct our way to the Thessalonians,” the writers say, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you” (3:11). They begin by asking in prayer for what they just mentioned in the letter, namely, the opportunity to be face-to-face with the Thessalonian Christians (see 3:10).
After this first request, they add two more: “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” (3:11–12). Basically, the letter writers pray that the Thessalonians will grow in love and be strengthened in holiness. In today’s devotion I want to begin to focus on the first of these requests. Tomorrow I’ll work a little more on this request before moving on to the third.
By asking the Lord to make the Thessalonians “increase and abound in love for one another and for all,” Paul and his colleagues assume that the Thessalonians are already loving each other and their neighbors. They don’t need to start loving; they need to grow in love. This assumption is made specific in the next chapter, where the writers say, “[I]ndeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). The believers in Thessalonica are not deficient when it comes to love. But they do have the opportunity to grow in love.
How does this happen? How do we increase and abound in love? Verse 12 helps us answer this question. First of all, notice that the letter writers ask the Lord to make the Thessalonians grow in love. This isn’t something we can do all on our own, though our effort matters. Growth in love is something God does in us and through us. In 1 Thessalonians 4, we will learn that the new converts “have been taught by God to love one another” (4:9).
How, we might wonder, does God teach us to love? It’s important to remember that, in the Bible, love isn’t mainly a matter of emotions, though love can certainly have feelings attached to it—as we have seen in chapters 2 and 3 of 1 Thessalonians. In Scripture, love is mainly a matter of action. It is actively doing what is best for others, often at a considerable cost to yourself. So, when we think of God helping us to grow in love, we should focus not so much on developing warm feelings for others as on choosing to act in a loving way toward them. God will help us to do this if we ask and if we respond to the guidance of the spirit. If you want to grow in love today, ask the Lord to show you whom to love and what to do. Then do it! Often, feelings of love follow from actions of love.
Loving others can sometimes require costly and sacrificial action. We might think, for example, of Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) and her years of loving people who were dying of things like leprosy, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. But, for most of us most of the time, love is expressed in relatively modest, small ways. For example, as I was working on this devotion, I asked the Lord how I might grow in love today. I had a strong impression that I needed to reach out to a friend who is going through a difficult time. It was too early in the day to call, so I sent him a quick “check-in” text. I’m pretty sure he’ll be glad to get the text, and I expect it will be a catalyst for further communication.
This experience makes me wonder how my life would be different if each morning as part of my devotional routine I were to ask the Lord, “Whom should I love today? How should I do it?” In response to my wondering, I’m going to add that prayer to my daily practice. Down the road a piece I’ll let you know how it’s going. Perhaps you’d like to join me in this experiment.
As you reflect on your life, what helps you to grow in love for others?
Have you ever sensed that the Lord was guiding you to reach out in love to someone in a particular way? If so, what happened?
Are you willing to grow in love for others? Are you eager to do so? If so, why? If not, why not?
Ask the Lord whom you should love today and how. Then do as God leads.
If it seems right to you, join me in the experiment of praying this way each day.
Gracious God, thank you for the prayer of Paul and his colleagues. Thank you for the reminder that love isn’t something static, something we achieve and move on. Rather, love is something in which we should be growing each day.
Help me, Lord, to increase and abound in love. Guide me, by your Spirit, to know when, whom, and how to love. Bring to mind people I can love today and help me to act on your guidance.
As I pray for myself, I also pray for my church. Help us, Lord, to grow in love for each other and our neighbors. Amen.
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: Spiritual Futurists: Love Abounders
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.