1 Thessalonians 3:12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. (NIV)

Yesterday, I was teaching a Sunday school class on the third chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. We had quite a good discussion on what Paul wrote long ago, especially when his deep concerns about the young Macedonian church were diminished when he received word from Timothy that the congregation’s faith was firm and flourishing. It was a wonderful moment of joy and relief for Paul who was worried about the spiritual strength of the church folks.

As he exalted in their faithfulness, Paul also gave them a special blessing by writing, May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.’

It’s a beautiful word of encouragement because Paul was asking God to increase their love for one another which would effectively build up the congregation, but then he added something greater: he asked the Lord to let their love overflow ‘for everyone else.’ In other words, Paul hoped that the church people would not just keep the love of God to themselves, but that they would love everyone else with no exclusions. What a wonderful blessing for any church!

Sadly, some Christians in our current communities have forgotten this. They love their own people exclusively and treat others around them disdainfully. They wound minority groups with words that sting and marginalize others by condemning their lifestyle choices. They earnestly believe that they are faithfully fulfilling Christ’s mission with hateful rhetoric and brutal attacks. They hide behind their bibles and flags in order to protect themselves from being swayed from their strict beliefs. Their words are venomous, and their hatred is vile. They really represent themselves and totally misrepresent Christ. They have forgotten or have never accepted Christ’s command to love one another, or even Paul’s words to let their love overflow for everyone else. It’s a great shame because they undermine God’s work to make this world a better place and instead end up creating a bitter planet.

If we want to change this counterfeit Christianity, it has to begin with us personally and individually. God’s love is not just for ourselves, our church, or our faith – as Paul stated, it’s for everyone else. And if all of Christ’s congregations could practice this faithfully, what a wonderful way to be church in the world!

Point to ponder: How would loving everyone else challenge and change my faith? Am I willing to follow Christ and share Him in a loving way?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You loved the whole world so much that You died for everyone, not just for some. You loved Your people and everyone else, so encourage us to do the same. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. You can check out what’s happening at the church by clicking this link: www.erinpres.org