1 Thessalonians 3:12

Sermon preached on October 26, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Almost everyone pays tribute to love. On June 25, 1967, "Our World" was the first live, international, satellite television production. Performers from 19 nations were invited to participate and represent their countries. It was broadcast to 26 countries and watched by something like 400 million people. Participants included opera singer Maria Callas and artist Pablo Picasso. The BBC had commissioned the Beatles to write a song for the UK's contribution. The song they wrote and performed for the event was, "All You Need Is Love".

"All you need is love. Love is all you need."

They paid tribute to love.

A very famous person of the 20
th century kept a daily diary. He began it with these words,

"May this book help me to be clearer in spirit, simpler in thought, greater in love."

That's a pretty good opening. But those words were written by Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich, one of the most diabolical figures of Nazi Germany.

Almost everyone pays tribute to love. But if you look at how people live—even us Christians—it's often quite different than their words about love. John Lennon, who wrote, "All You Need is Love", abandoned his wife and young child. Joseph Goebbels supported the Nazi war machine which was involved in mass genocide with unbearable cruelty. Nazi Germany was also responsible for the holocaust, the murder of about 6 million Jews. Goebbels paid tribute to love, but most people rightly consider him a monster who knew nothing about love.

But of course I don't want us to focus primarily on others—I want each of you to consider the love that you have for others. A lot of people deceive themselves about the love that they have for others and we can do that too. Yet I think if any of us truly ponders the words of our Savior in John 13:34, they will see how far short they fall. Jesus said,

"A new command I give you:
Love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you must love one another."

In our text we have a command like that, only it tells us some additional things about love. This morning we're going to look at the apostle Paul's words to the Thessalonian Christians. He wrote, (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."

This is one of those texts that if we understood it correctly and applied it—it would dramatically change our lives.

The main thing we see from our text is that

the love that you have for others should be increasing and overflowing.

The love that you have for others, no matter how great it is—ought to be growing dramatically.

This is a remarkable teaching. This is an exhortation to love—to great love, to love that is to be increasing and abounding. You are to be growing in love.

But before we get to that part, we need to look at what love really is. So this morning we're going to lay the foundation, and next week, we're going to focus on the command that our love is to be increasing and overflowing.

What is love? What is love like?

We need to be clear on this. The ideas of love that our society puts forth, like my two opening illustrations, show that in a very real sense they don't have a clue what real love is.

Some will tell you that love is a feeling, an emotion. And that is certainly an ingredient in love. But love is not merely a feeling. It's more than that. I remember seeing a movie years ago where a mother was having an affair and she decided to leave her husband and her two little boys and go off and live with the man she was committing adultery with. When she packed up her things and was leaving the apartment, she knelt down with her boys, hugged them and said to them something to the effect.

"I love you. Mommy loves you so much."

But her actions were not about love. What she was showing those boys was not love. What she was doing was the exact opposite of love. I have no doubt that she felt an emotion as she said good-bye to her boys, but love does not merely consist of an emotion.

Emotions are funny things. We can have emotions and think we love—but we could be totally deceiving ourselves. I think it was the Charlie Brown cartoon that described it perfectly. In the cartoon Charlie Brown said,

"I love humanity. It's people I can't stand."

Doesn't that describe it perfectly? You can have this emotion about humanity in general—and yet despise the people around you.

And like that woman in the movie, you can have a great emotional feeling for someone you really care about—you can say, "I love you," as many times as you want, but that doesn't make it so. That woman who left her children did not love them with real love. She was not willing to sacrifice herself for them. Her actions showed hatred and not love.

The Greek word for love that is used here is 'agape'. In his book, Testaments of Love, Leon Morris says that one of the best ways of grasping the meaning of this word is to contrast it with the Greek word 'eros', which refers to romantic love. The two principle characteristics of eros is that,

"it is a love of the worthy and it is a love that desires to possess. Agape is in contrast at both points: it is not a love of the worthy, and it is not a love that desires to possess. On the contrary, it is a love given quite irrespective of merit, and it is a love that seeks to give."

Morris goes on to describe agape love as the love that God displayed on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a love that that pays the price, even the supreme sacrifice. It is self-sacrificing love. As Galatians 2:20 says about Jesus, the Son of God, that He,

"loved me and gave himself for me."

In Ephesians 5 Paul told husbands to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.

It's difficult to fathom the depths of love that we are supposed to have.

That's what true love is. That's the kind of love that we are to practice. But do we do it? Many Christians, and I include myself in that number, know very little of what real love is.

Let me give you an example. R.C. Sproul once said that if a fellow Christian comes to you and says,

"I'm going to tell you something in love."

R.C. said that if you ever hear that, run away as fast as you can because you can be sure that what they are going to tell you won't be in love. He's right. It's amazing how we Christians can deceive ourselves and think that we are treat other Christians according to love when we are doing the exact opposite. James described what some of the Christians of his day were like. He wrote about their speech, (James 3:9–10)

"With the tongue we praise our Lord
and Father, and with it we curse men,
who have been made in God's likeness.
Out of the same mouth
come praise and cursing.
My brothers, this should not be."

We think we love when we don't. We have received such love from God—yet rather than loving others—we sometimes do them great harm. How little do we put into practice what Jesus said in Matthew 7:12,

"So in everything, do to others what
you would have them do to you, for
this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

One of the things we should note about love is that

love is multifaceted.

Real love is has many dimensions to it. It is multisided. One way of thinking about it is to compare it to a cut diamond. You turn it a little and its reflection changes. It reflects light differently. The color can change, the intensity of the color can change. It's when you turn it that you get to see it's full beauty.

Our love must be like that. It is certainly true that

part of love consists of actions.

But actions alone do not constitute the whole of love. Actions in themselves are not enough. Love does not merely consist of doing things for other people.

I still remember the confusion in my mind when I first heard the beginning verses of 1 Corinthians 13. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)

"If I speak in the tongues of
men and of angels,
but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong
or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and
can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and
surrender my body to the flames,
but have not love, I gain nothing."

When I first heard that it puzzled me. How could someone give everything they had to the poor or die for someone if they didn't have love for them? It didn't make sense to me. If you gave the poor all your money you had to love them, right?

But that's not necessarily so. One can do things like that for other people out of pride. They're not really doing it for other people—they're doing it for themselves, that they would be well thought of. But as verses 4 and 5 of 1 Corinthians 13 says, love,

"it does not boast, it is not proud…
it is not self-seeking…"

They can give money to other people and at the same time look down on them. They can give their goods to other people

What we must always remember is that love has to do with the heart and from the love in the heart actions arise. John Calvin writes, (Institutes, 1541 ed. Banner of Truth, p. 796)

"Now if the good we do is to be kindly done with pity and tenderness, the Lord demands more of us than a happy, cheerful face. Christians must first feel burdened for the person who is in need of help: they should pity his misfortune as if they themselves were suffering and experiencing it; they should be moved to aid him by the same feeling of compassion which they would have for themselves."

The second thing we see in our text is that the love that we are to have, the love that is to be increasing and overflowing—

this love is to be directed to other Christians and those who are not Christians.

Joseph Goebbels had it completely wrong. His love was directed at the Aryan race, those he thought were racially superior. His love was confined to them. The Polish people, the Ukrainians, the Russians—he considered them subhuman. They were to be exterminated. Was Joseph Goebbels a man of love? No. Emphatically no. He knew nothing about love. Leon Morris writes that the world today, (Testaments of Love, p. 278)

"understands love in its own self-centered way. Like the men of Qumran, modern man loves those he conceives to be 'the sons of light' (i.e., those of whom he approves) and hates 'the men of the pit (those of whom he disapproves). His live is selective, and it centers on himself."

But the love we are to display is radically different. In Matthew 5:43–48 Jesus said,

"You have heard that it was said,
'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you: Love your enemies and
pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons
of your Father in heaven.
He causes his sun to rise
on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous
and the unrighteous.
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?
Be perfect, therefore,
as your heavenly Father is perfect."

We are to love all others—even our enemies. John Calvin teaches that the parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that the word 'neighbor' includes, (Calvin, p. 164)

"all who are most foreign to us… we must not restrict the duty of love to those who have some connection or affinity with us… we must embrace in the spirit of love all men generally, without excepting anyone, without discriminating between Greek and barbarian, and without worrying whether they are worthy or unworthy, friend or foe. For we have to think of them not as they are in themselves, but as they are in God."

Even in churches there can be cliques. Christians in the church associate with those who share similar interests. Every week they only visit with them after church. That's all wrong. If you truly love others on some weeks you'll seek out the people you don't know, or people that aren't like you and talk to them a little. You should even seek out children and pay a little attention to them.

Here's how Ephesians 4:16 describes how the body of Christ is to grow.

"From him the whole body,
joined and held together
by every supporting ligament,
grows and builds itself up in love,
as each part does its work."

But returning to unbelievers. We are to love them.

"May the Lord make your love
increase and overflow
for each other and for everyone else,"

John Calvin writes, (Institutes, p. 795)

"What if we say that the man is worthless and beneath contempt? The Lord replies that he has honored him by causing his own image to shine within him. What if we say we owe him nothing? The Lord tells us that he has put him as a substitute in his own place: we are to think of him as the one for whose sake God has bestowed blessings on us. What if we think he is not worth lifting a finger for? We should hazard our lives and goods on account of God's image which we are meant to see in him. Even supposing the man deserved nothing from us, but instead had grossly abused and injured us, that would not be sufficient reason to stop loving him or doing him a favor."

Jesus said,

"Love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you must love one another."

What a calling we have. Think of what Jesus did for you. In yourself you're a vile sinner. In yourself, you were a rebel deserving of nothing but His wrath. But God loved us and saved us. Why? In 2 Timothy 1:9 the apostle Paul says that God,

"who has saved us and called us
to a holy life—not because of anything
we have done but because
of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus
before the beginning of time,"

What love! The Father sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus died in our place. What love! Christians, love one another. Christians, love the lost.

Lastly, for those who are not Christians: I don't know what you think of Christianity. Perhaps you don't have a favorable opinion because how Christians have treated you. The sad fact is that we Christians don't love as we should. That's to our shame. But don't judge Christianity only by us—judge it mostly by Jesus Christ. If you judge it by Him, by His love, by His work, by His offer of the gospel to you—there is absolutely no reason for you to reject Christ. You will find such love nowhere else. If you want love, if you want to know what love is—you will find it only in God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Go to Jesus today.