“Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).
Paul closes this section of his letter with a prayer for the believers in Thessalonica. Not only does he pray that a way would be found for him to visit them, but also that they would continue to walk in holiness.
Paul is very specific about what he is praying for in these verses. We tend to pray around issues instead of getting to the problem itself. To pray specifically means to bring to God what lies heavy on our hearts. Praying in this fashion indicates that we are truly waiting upon the Lord for guidance and direction. Often our prayer meetings are made up of speeches instead of supplications, and telling God what He ought to do rather than seeking His will. We should not fear coming to God with our needs and desires, but we must be willing to accept His answer, even if it is not what we think is best for us. We might know best, but God knows better. “Prayer might not get us what we want, but it will teach us to want what we need” (Vance Havner).
Prayer for increased love
The word for love here is “agapē” in the Greek. It is a love that does not come naturally, so it is not within man’s ability to love on this level. Agapē is unattainable unless Christ is the Lord of our lives. This love is active, for it must be shared with our fellow believers and with those who do not yet know the Lord. Such love has no limits or borders, because abounding love is never bound. It is easy for persecuted people to withdraw into themselves and shut others out. Paul encourages them to keep clear from this snare and to reach out to others instead of becoming self-centred. True Christian love expands until it reaches even its enemies.
The Christians in Thessalonica had been commended for their love, “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3), but there is always room for improvement. This kind of love fulfils all of the laws requirements, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8) … “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well” (James 2:8).
Prayer for increased holiness
Holiness is not built upon duty or works, instead it is found firmly established on the foundation of love. Some see holiness as the goal of moral perfection, but it simply means to be set apart for God’s use. Holiness is not therefore an attainment but a lifestyle. We cannot aim at being blameless, but we can decide to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14) … “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8).
What is in view is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. How would we live if we knew the Lord was returning today? We would walk blameless in holiness all day long so that we would not miss the rapture. This is exactly what Paul is saying here. “Live your life as though the Lord was coming today.” Conduct and character cannot be separated, so how we live while we await the Lord’s return is important. We must be wholeheartedly committed to the Lord and separate ourselves from everything that offends Him. John confirms what Paul is saying here, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
It is interesting that Paul links selfless love, holiness and the Second Coming together in his prayer. It is reminiscent of Hebrews 12:14 where he writes “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” It is sad to think that many believers will be caught living sinful and lukewarm lives when Christ returns. “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).