Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
– 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –
In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another. First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.
In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another.
First, love for one another may increase, should increase, and must increase.
There is nothing static about love. Without care and attention, our love—emotions and actions—will cease. As fallen creatures, we don’t drift into love. Therefore, we must labor to love (1 Thess 1:3; cf. 2:9; 3:5). Paul prays for their love to increase because love, for it to endure, must increase. As God is love and God is infinite, so the love he gives is not a half-hearted, puny passion. It is a love that has the capacity to increase. And because of sin and the emotional drag that all relationships suffer, it is a love that needs to increase.
Second, for love to abound it must be empowered by prayer.
Love without prayer will not abound. Increased love is a direct result of petitions for fresh grace. As Paul writes in Ephesians 3:14–19,
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Love requires spiritual strength (read: strength from the Spirit) in order to know God’s love and share God’s love. Without prayer, love will not increase and abound. Therefore, let us learn to pray with Paul and plead for love to increase and abound. And then let us have confidence that he will answer that prayer. As 2 Thessalonians 1:3 indicates, Paul praises God for the growing faith and increasing love that is abounding among the Thessalonians.
Third, love for one another propels love for all people.
Paul first prays that the church would love “one another.” This was Jesus command in John 13:34–35. The locus for loving one another is in the local gathering of new covenant believers—i.e., the church. But such love is never to be exclusive, narrow, or hemmed in.
Jesus commands us to love one another, so that as Paul prays, we would love all people. The goal of loving one another is to see the covenant love of the church expand to include all kinds of people, and as many as the Lord will bring to himself.
In truth, love in the church is directly related to love for those outside the church. The former generates power and perspective for the latter. And for that reason Paul says that we who love one another must also love all people.
Fourth, love will not be perfected until Christ returns.
The purpose of increased love is that the hearts of the Thessalonians would be established in holiness. In other words, it is love that secures our standing before God and proves that we are part of his holy nation. However, such love and holiness will remain far from perfect until Christ returns. Paul’s prayer for increased love is a reminder that until Christ returns, we will fall short of the love we have received from our Savior. For that reason, Paul prays for an immediate increase in love.
Still he realizes that such an outpouring will not be completed until we stand in his presence. His prayer is tempered by reality. In calling for increased love, we must never be surprised when Christians—ourselves included—are not loving.
Remembering this eschatological reality will protect us from becoming jaded when love is lacking. It will also motivate us to keep laboring at love, so that our prays for love might be met with renewed zeal for loving one another and all people. Until Christ return, love for one another and love for others is the mark that we are growing in holiness.
May we not lose heart when love is lacking. Rather, let us be diligent in prayer and steadfast in love. May God be pleased to make his love superabound in our hearts and in our church, that he might strengthen our confidence in his grace, thus securing our sense of assurance.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
 For an excellent analysis of these prayers see D. A. Carson, Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).