May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
Notice the objects of the love that our Lord says is to overflow from your heart: the first object of your love is to be your family of faith, but it does not end there. Your love is also to overflow into the lives of “everyone else”—that is, those who do not share your Christian faith.
The first level of love is directed to the Lord’s people. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and we are to love first His family of faith. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord, and we declare this truth to the watching world by the way we love each other. Jesus made this crystal clear when He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). The first century church was known for the love its members showed one another, and the 21st century church is to be known by its love for each other too.
But our love is not to be focused solely on the family of faith. Our second level of love is to be directed to “everyone else.” This includes those who are lovable and those who are unlovable. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus said, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Our Lord continued, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:44-47).
The Bible makes it clear that we are to love even those who treat us badly, remembering that “While we were still sinners [enemies of God], Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Love is the differentiating mark of the true disciple of Christ, and it is love that makes the greatest difference in this life. Paul wrote, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
If we are to be effective in putting the Gospel on display for all the world to see, we must do it with both our lips and our lives. “Lips only” love is no love at all. Yes, we are to speak the gracious words of Jesus, but we must also do the works of Jesus. We are to be His hands and feet in a world that desperately needs His love.
But remember this too: We must not reduce love to merely a verb (an action word). To be sure, we are not to neglect this aspect of love, but if we diminish love to only a behavior, we miss the supernatural source of that love itself: Jesus Christ. As John Piper says, “Making love only a verb will likely make us Pharisees.” To know love, we must know the God of love (1 John 4:8). And to know the God of love is to know the cross of Christ. Jesus poured out His love from that cross upon all mankind, and it is this love that we are to direct to everyone else.
Our love to others is simply the overflow of God’s love to us. We are not to be cul-de-sacs of His selfless, cosmic love; rather, we are to be conduits that allow His unconditional love to flow through us to pour out on all those we come in contact with. Remember, because God is love, we increase His exposure to those who are objects of our own overflowing love.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!