May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.
1 Thessalonians 3.12
In John 21.12, Jesus tells us people will know we’re His followers if we love each other. Our Christian claim, good works, worship, scriptural knowledge, church attendance, holiness, and everything else so many of us assume to bear witness of discipleship are secondary at best. To use an awkward analogy, they’re window dressing, no more than appealing, valuable things we display. Love is our brand. More specifically, love for one another is the thing Christ expects us to be known for. When people observe how fully and unconditionally we love each other, their desire to experience such love—in the giving and receiving—becomes irresistible.
Why aren’t people lined up around the block to come into the faith and knowledge of Christ? We don’t live up to our brand. Shiny gewgaws we showcase may spark attention. Yet many non-believers look past the displays to see a shop in disarray. Taking the metaphor to its extreme, when they see us tearing one another down, no wonder so many say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” There’s an easy answer to this, although it calls for a most difficult thing. We must love our brothers and sisters in Christ without prejudice. Their beliefs and behaviors may bear no resemblance to ours. They may directly oppose us, doubt our faith, and despise us for even thinking we can claim Calvary’s inheritance. We may feel likewise about them. But their opinions (and ours) are irrelevant. It’s not our task to dispute, correct, or condemn them. Our job is to love them.
Wow. That’s asking a lot. (If you’re the slightest bit clairvoyant, you may be picking up certain thoughts about a certain minister and invocation at a certain upcoming ceremony.) Yet Christians must love each other for this reason. If we can’t love one another, the love Christ commands us to show for all holds no credibility. And His law to love our neighbors as ourselves contains no qualifiers. We love indiscriminately, straight from the heart without a detour through the mind to consider why this person or that “deserves” our love. We love friends and enemies, allies and foes, lovers and haters equally. That’s a lot of love, more than it’s humanly possible to possess or give. Nonetheless, it can be done.
Increase and Overflow
Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians holds the key. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow,” he writes. Needing more love than we can naturally produce leaves us no option other than asking God to provide an unnatural quantity of love, increasing it until it exceeds our human capacity and spills out of us before we know it. It’s no longer a matter of who merits our love, because it’s no longer “our” love. It’s God’s love pouring into us, through us, and running over. There’s nothing neat or tidy about His great love. It flows unrestrained and seeps into otherwise impossible-to-reach crevices. As 1 Peter 4.8 says, love covers a multitude of sins. Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as neighbors who don’t believe, hides their sins from sight so we see them without judgment.
What we display in our windows matters little if our shop is in disarray.