How can we overflow with love for everyone? “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you.” (1 Thess 3:12) On our own, it’s impossible because in our humanness, our love naturally flows to those who love and show their love to us.
Jesus said the greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40) We have heard this over and over again, but how do we practically apply it?
First, we need to understand what our Lord is saying. These commandments summarize all the laws and commands in Scripture. The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 deal with our relationship with God and then our relationship with other people. One naturally flows out of the other. Without a right relationship with God, we will be unable to have right relationships with others. We can’t love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not first love God with all our heart, mind, and soul.
Our only hope to love others as Jesus commands is through Him, and His work in our lives. God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). God’s law and our failure to keep it “brings about wrath” (Romans 4:15), but “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The first commandment is about seeking a relationship with the Lord; and from that relationship, He is more than able to give us love for one another. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)
As I meditated on His ability to provide all things for us out of His abundance, which includes increasing our capacity to love everyone, I thought about His miracle in feeding 5,000 men as well as women and children (which is thought to be 15,000-20,000 people) from one small lunch of bread and fish. What the boy gladly shared was only enough for himself, and yet Jesus multiplied it so that tens of thousands “ate and were satisfied” (Matt. 14:20). Christ did not just meet the need; He lavished them with so much food that there were “twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish” left over (Mark 6:43).
If we understand the miracle of Jesus providing an abundance of food for a crowd, how can we doubt His ability to increase everything we bring to Him, even our ability to love? Jesus gave us the example of how He wants us to love others.
Jesus, being God, is love (1 John 4:8); His love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8); His love seeks to serve, rather than be served (Matt 20:28); His love seeks to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and lavishes the returning prodigal with grace (Luke 15:11–32). His love is patient and kind; it’s not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. His love is not irritable or resentful, does not insist on its own selfish way, rejoices only in the truth, and bears all things (1 Cor 13:4–7). The love of Christ transcends every other virtue; it is the most excellent way to live (1 Cor 12:31; 13:13).
And Jesus said this kind of love would be the distinguishing mark of His followers, the most remarkable thing about them (John 13:35); because they would love like He loved, they would be His love-ambassadors on earth (2 Cor 5:20). As Christians we are to be the most love-focused, love-pursuing, love-dispensing people on the face of the earth, without a thought for if we receive love from others in return, or even if they treat us well.
We have no higher priorities in life than loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, as well as loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27). We should not waste one more day allowing anything to impede our pursuit of those two loves. But we know that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). We must abide in Him because we desperately need Him for everything, including the fruit of loving one another.
Jesus did not command us to love one another relatively well. He commanded us to love one another divinely well — to love as He loved. It does not matter that this is impossible for fallen human beings, for we have a God for whom all things are possible (Mark 10:27). “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you.” (1 Thess 3:12)
And since the Father promises to give His Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13), let us ask boldly (Heb 4:16) and persistently (Luke 11:5–8): Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my capacity to love until I love you with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love my neighbor as I love myself.