1 Thessalonians 3:12 (ESV) … “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you…”
Whether or not Paul was permitted by God to return to Thessalonica, he nevertheless expresses his desire for them. He not only wants them to grow in the grace of love for other Christians, for non-believers, and even for their persecutors, but he wants that love to ‘overflow’. They should be so full of love for others that they cannot contain it. It must seep out of every part of their lives and be touching those with whom they come into contact.
Love in action is the outward evidence and expression of a living faith. James asks, ‘What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
‘But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
‘Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’ (James 2:14–18).
Jesus made it abundantly clear that we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. In our own strength such commands are impossible to obey, but Paul and his colleagues knew that the Lord is the source of love, which is why they pointed to themselves as a demonstration of divine love. The Thessalonians had seen the love that the Lord produces in action in the lives of the three missionaries, and therefore they had personal examples to follow.
Many years ago the Princess Alice collided with another boat in dense fog on the River Thames and about 600 people drowned in the dark waters. Nearby two ferrymen were mooring their boats for the night. Both heard the noise of the collision and the screams of the stranded but they reacted differently. The first ferryman said to himself, ‘I am tired after a long hard day and I am going home; no one will see me in the fog. It will be an impossible task to save anyone.’ At the coroner’s inquest the ferryman was asked, ‘Did you hear the cries?’
‘What did you do?’
‘Are you an Englishman? Aren’t you ashamed?’
‘Sir, the shame will never leave me till I die.’
The second ferryman, as soon as he heard the cries for help, jumped back into his boat and rowed as hard as he could towards the wreck. He found numerous survivors floundering in the water, and crammed as many women and children as he could into his boat. When it became too dangerous for him to take anyone else he rowed to shore with the cry, ‘O God, for a bigger boat!’
Are we more like the first or second ferryman? When we hear cries for help, do we make excuses as to why we cannot assist, or do we jump into our boat and row to the rescue? Love is very practical, and yet it is so easy to find reasons not to exercise practical love when others are in need.