Lesson 8: For Their Continued Growth: Page 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Thess.)
by John Lowe
Lesson 8: For Their Continued Growth (1Th 3:11-3:13)
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (NIV)
11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (NIV)
11 Now may our11-1 God and Father himself and our11-1 Lord Jesus clear11-2 the way for us to come to you.
Up till then the way to Thessalonica had been impassable and firmly blocked. The brethren there were as eager to welcome Paul as he was to be present with them; but Satan had denied his access by interjecting many obstacles. Nevertheless, if God would give the signal all impediments from man or devils would vanish. The road would immediately become accessible and clear. What do you think the Apostle Paul did about this situation? He prayed to God to open a way for him to come to Thessalonica. It was to God that he turned for guidance in navigating the ordinary day to day problems of life. One of the greatest mistakes men make in life is to turn to God only in the overpowering emergencies and the shattering crisis.
God should be recognized in even the simplest affairs of life―didn’t the Apostle Paul instruct believers to, “Pray about everything”? It was never God’s intention for man to direct his own steps; and only those journeys where God is the pilot are truly prosperous. There are crisis in life where everything depends on being guided in the right way—for instance, selecting a school or college, pursuing a religious life, starting a business, considering marriage, or changing residence. In these and all other matters acknowledge God, and He shall direct thy paths. But remember, our prayer for guidance must always be in submission to the divine will.
I must confess to you that all too often I am guilty of leaving God out of my decisions, of trying to do it on my own, of assuming that it doesn’t matter what I do, or calling on God only if everything else fails. Is this your problem too? In ordinary things we disregard Him, thinking that we can manage well enough by ourselves; in the emergency we clutch at Him, knowing that we cannot get through without Him. It was not like that with Paul. Even in an ordinary routine thing like a journey from Athens to Thessalonica he looked to God for guidance. We use Him to try to achieve a God-rescued life; Paul, however, takes Him as a companion to achieve a God-directed life.
The apostle’s prayer was not answered immediately; five years elapsed before he again visited Macedonia. The safest and best path is the one at which God’s finger points.
Note 11.1 (our) Both Paul and his friends had entered the heavenly family by faith. Thus he can make use of “our” when he speaks of the Father.
Note 11-2 (clear the way) The imagery appears to be that of preparing a road so that all unevenness is removed and travel facilitated. Paul looks to God to remove the obstacles that until this time had prevented him from paying the longed-for visit to the Thessalonians.
12 May the Lord make your love12-1 increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you
Paul could desire earnestly to be with his friends and impart to them some spiritual gift. But he recognizes that their spiritual growth was in the Lord’s hands, not his. So his prayer moves on from his own desire to see them again to the more important matter of their growth in the faith. Theoretically “the Lord” could refer to either of the persons just mentioned, the Father or the Son, but it is Paul’s habit to refer to Jesus by this title. The probability, then, is that it is the Lord Jesus that he has in mind here. There are several passages in these epistles where the father and the son are linked very closely. It is evident that Paul did not separate them very decisively in his thought. The importance here is that Paul does not make a distinction between the two.”
Paul prays to God that He will enable the Thessalonians to fulfill the law of love in their daily lives. He refers to a work of God’s grace that produces His kind of love in the sanctified believer. God’s love for us shows us how he wants us to love. We often wonder why the Christian life is so difficult, especially in the ordinary everyday relationships. The answer may very well be that we are trying to live it by ourselves. The man who goes out in the morning without prayer is, in effect, saying, “I can quite well tackle today on my own.” The man who lays down to rest without speaking to God, is, in effect, saying, “I can bear on my own whatever consequences today has brought.” Someone described an atheist as “a man who has no invisible means of support.” It may well be that our failure to live the Christian life well is due to our trying to live it without God’s help—which cannot be done.
Christian love is progressive and mutual. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” The apostle had previously commended their labor of love, and Timothy had brought good tidings of their continuing love. Now he prays that their love may “increase” and excel more and more. Love is the essential badge of the genuine Christian. He cannot have too much of it—the more the better. It grows with all other graces, and causes them to grow. The only limit to its expansion is our finiteness lack of faith and trust in God.. But love must be mutual in its exercise—“one toward another.” “For this is the message,” says St. John, “that ye heard from the beginning, that ye should love one another;” and, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit unto heartfelt love of the brethren, see that ye love one another,” urges St Peter, “with a pure heart fervently.” Paul looked for Christians to abound in love just as the grace of God abounds in them. Christians should have a special regard for one another within the family of God. This is so important―it is doubtful whether the infant church could have survived without it.
Christian love is unselfish—and “for each other and for everyone else (for all men).” The old Levitical law declared, “Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And the New Testament reiterates the truth, that charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of genuine faith is the fulfilling of the royal law.
Here we have Christian love, which is practical and displayed—“just as ours does for you.” Paul and his co-laborers had given unmistakable evidence of their sincere love for the Thessalonian converts in their self-denying labor, uncomplaining suffering, and unceasing anxiety on their behalf (2:8, 9, 13; 3:3-5). Love is the soul of self-sacrifice, encourages men to labor, braves all suffering, and persists in doing good to others, even to those who least appreciate and most violently oppose the best endeavors. Ministers should display in their own lives what they prescribe to others. Someone may ask, “But why should Paul and his companions make themselves the model, why not Christ and his supreme love, which is the model for all of us: “just as the lord loves you”? Because the Lord is presented here as the source of our love, and because the Thessalonians have seen the love of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, actual examples of the love produced by the Lord in the hearts of His true followers. If the Lord filled these three with such love, the Thessalonians will see that the Lord can do the same for them.
When the miracle (the new birth) takes place and someone passes from death to life, when someone becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus, then that person comes to see people, to some extent, as God sees them. He comes to love them selflessly. Paul has already recognized that the Thessalonians exercise this quality and his prayer at this point is that they may increase in this divine activity. The believer, filled with the Holy Spirit, enters the life of holiness in which God provides a love that is more than enough, in excess of what is expected. Going beyond love that increases, he shall have an overflowing love that is richly supplied, over and above, surplus. God gives you a love for others that is like a river at flood-stage, more than enough for every situation and person. You will overflow with the perfecting love of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brings God’s love to greater maturity in the sanctified believer. The Bible says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). Nothing but hypocrisy can be found in a holiness without a deep, caring compassion for others. The old spiritual says it well: “Makes me love everybody.”
In fact, Jesus said it in one incredible sentence that keeps stretching serious disciples: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).
Note 12-1 (love) Love is the Greek word “agape.” In this epistle love is seen only in action—“love increase and overflow.” It is not affection, but an active seeking of the welfare of another.