“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” -1Thessalonians 3:12-13
In the Scriptures of the New Testament, we find the English word “love” in about 184 verse and about 215 times. The expression of this word by Christ and His apostles most certainly covers our love for God and our love for one another. In fact, we find that our expression of love ought to be toward all men. In understanding this and understanding that both Christ and His apostles summed up the law of God for men in that we are to Love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we come to see that our gospel obedience is found in whom we love and to whom our love is expressed in this life.
The law of the gospel can most certainly be summed up even as the Lord Jesus Christ summed up the whole of the moral law of God. This is made clear when the Lord Jesus Christ followed up his summation of the law of God with, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Paul would go on to write these words in an epistle in which he defends the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. (Gal 5:14)."
The words of Paul in 1Thessalonians 3 are a prayer that he has written out to the benefit of the church. The active prayer of Paul to the churches is one that includes the petition before God that all the saints of God in Christ Jesus would grow in their love. His desire is that our love would superabound and overflow all bounds of measurement. And notice that he does not say just toward fellow followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, but to all. This is an incredibly important point that is not just found in our text above, but it is found elsewhere in Scripture as well:
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:10).”
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men (1Ti 2:1).”
We are expressly commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to love others, even our enemies:
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Mat 5:43-45).”
The love that we are commanded to have by the Lord and His Apostles is the gospel law of love, and the law of love can only be experienced, pursued, and obeyed by those for whom Christ came and those to whom the Holy Spirit has been given. We love God because He first loved us (1John 4:19). He first loved us in that while we were yet sinners, He gave His Son for us, and now one of the means of our faithful expression of this love toward the God of our salvation is our love expressed toward those around us.
Certainly, our love for God through Christ Jesus is a gift of grace. However, do we understand that our love toward others is also a gift of grace that is to be used and exercised by a grateful heart of submission and obedience to the Lord? Do we live as though we understand the importance of living a life of faithfully expressing the fruit of the Spirit? This should most certainly be understood as we consider the prayer of Paul for the church, that our love toward one another and toward all is a gift of God’s to us and this gift is His to grow within us.
It should also be understood that the expression of God’s gift toward us is one that we are responsible to pursue, go after, follow, and it is that in which we must engage. By Christ’s redemption of us we experience the love of the Father, and He makes it clear that by the love that we have for one another, the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35). So then, while we understand that this gospel command of love is one that cannot be obeyed outside of Christ and His salvation, after our hearts have been regenerated, we are to live a life of obedience to Christ Jesus because of our love for Him. This means that we are to love all men, especially those of the household of faith.
Our pursuit of obedience to the command of our Lord is expressed time and again by the writers of the New Testament:
“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (Rom 12:10)
“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:8, 10)”
“Let all that you do be done with love. (1Co 16:14)”
“with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:2-3)”
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. (2Pe 1:5-7)”
“And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1Jn 3:23-24)”
Thinking again back to the text with which we started, Paul says, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” The gospel law of love is one that comes with promise through Christ our Lord. In this life, as we pursue love for others, we can be sure that we will be ever more established in the gospel of our Lord Jesus as we seek to have his mind in us (Philippians 2:5). Added to this Christ likeness, we are assured a heart that is clear of that which so often pains our conscience in this world. This was certainly the promise of Christ Jesus to the disciples even after He instructed them to love their enemies:
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:48)”
A life lived in obedience gospel has as its prerequisite the work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the work of regeneration in the hearts of the lost. Then, and only then, can we ever hope to live in obedience to the gospel law of love. But with our obedience to this command comes blessed assurance, a faithful witness to the world around us, and a community of peace within the church. A more perfect life in the faith as we live these lives on this terrestrial ball can only be realized through obedience to the gospel command of love. So then, love God and love your neighbor.