Read 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13.
Have you ever missed someone badly and wanted to see them again? Over these long, seemingly endless months of the pandemic, there are many loved ones we’ve been unable to see, greet, and hug in person. Zoom and FaceTime simply don’t cut it. We desire to be in the same space, same room, same place. We long to see them face to face.
The Apostle Paul also yearned to see the Thessalonian believers in person. He is overjoyed at Timothy’s report of confidence that they were embodying the gospel, living it in action, by “standing firm in the Lord” (3:8). He desires to visit in person and yet this letter must suffice for now. What is his message to them? That the Good News must be lived out in person until we see Jesus face to face. What does this look like? The same Good News of Jesus’ love is to “increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (v. 12).
This type of love is not easy to embody in our divided world. Many today have allowed worldly values to creep in and supplant Christian love and gospel witness. We may be more divided as a church than ever before.
This timely reminder from Paul to increase and overflow in love for others is not something we can achieve on our own. Rather, Paul says, “May the Lord make your love increase” (v. 12).
The implications of the gospel are lived out through our Christ-like love, particularly for those we consider to be in the “everyone else” category. We cannot claim that we eagerly wait to see Jesus at the Second Coming—the consummation of the gospel story—when we can’t stand the sight of our brothers and sisters in the Lord today!
As we await Jesus’ return, Paul urges believers to “be blameless and holy” (v. 13) in a society that celebrates compromise and sin. Our hopeful anticipation of the Second Coming challenges us to always pursue holy lives to the glory of God. This includes bearing with one another and being patient with those with whom we disagree, relying on God’s power to do so.
Paul urged the Thessalonians to live this way in light of Jesus’ return: to let their present discipleship be shaped by their future hope. Like them, we long to see Jesus face to face. Advent reminds us that one day we will. May we strive to be people of love and holiness in the meantime. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Matthew D. Kim is the George F. Bennett Professor of Preaching and Practical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the author of Preaching to People in Pain.
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