There are times reading the Bible when particular words, phrases, and sentences penetrate my heart and mind in ways others don't. Recently, I spent a few weeks meditating on a prayer written by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13. It is a prayer I probably read a dozen times and did not see the profound nature of its content.
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Paul is pleading for two specific actions God would do in the life of this church:
1. Increase in love. 2. Abound in love.
Love for who? Love for God is assumed ... but, it is a prayer to love the church family ("one another") and our neighbors ("for all"). Paul has been modeling this prayer for them, "as we do for you", it seems on a regular basis.
Why is this prayer important? What does this prayer assume?
The words "increase" and "abound" are similar words. They mean to exponentially grow, overflow, and become part of reality. Paul is assuming there is room for our capacity to love God, our church family, and neighbor. There is an assumption we don't love as we should. There is an assumption the problems, conflicts, and division in the church and world are predicated on love or lack thereof.
Instead of arguing someone down into submission what if we prayed for a greater capacity to love them? What if embracing the difficulty of loving our neighbor at work, in our neighborhood, and even our own families we began praying for God to increase ... abound ... our ability to love?
Instead of blaming our church for "not meeting your needs" we prayed for a greater capacity to love our brothers and sisters, pastors, and God himself? When someone wrongs you in the church ... what if we prayed for the ability to forgive and love them as Christ has loved us?
When we see people living in sin, folly, and shipwrecking their lives ... what if we prayed for a greater capacity to love them right in the midst of the mess, sin, and pain instead of walking away?
This is a dangerous prayer. This is a dangerous prayer because God might actually change our hearts and give us what we naturally don't want. We might be confronted with the reality our love for people in our church and world is weak at best. Even more haunting, is when we think about love in the Bible and realize, by our lack of love for people proves our lack of love for God.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
Here is the good news. Notice how the prayer ends in verse 13 ..."so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints."
God is the "he" in this verse. This means the love, which is also connected to holiness, will be produced in us by the Holy Spirit as God's people. God is the acting agent in giving us a greater capacity to love Him, the church, and the world. We are not left to mere willpower and desire. God wants to create a holy people with the ability to love Him, the church, and world.
Will you begin praying this prayer with me? Let's pray this becomes true for us in our lives, church, and world.