“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.” –1 Thessalonians 3:12
It was one of those childhood battles that, at the time, I was certain would determine the fate of the world.
Actually, it was just another argument between my sister and I. However, it had escalated in intensity and volume to the point where my father heard us while seated elsewhere in the house. Above the fray of battle we heard the voluminous call of our names — all three names — first, middle and last. That’s when you know judgment day has arrived.
We quickly and sheepishly ran to our father. The case was reviewed. I was determined to be the perpetrator of the crime. And, now, I was to receive sentencing. I was stunned by my father’s words. My sentence was threefold: First, I had to apologize. Second, I was to tell her that I loved her. Third, I was to give her a hug!
I hung my head, consigned myself to my fate, apologized, less-than-sincerely told her I loved her, and hugged her. In all honesty, I meant none of it at that moment, but the deed was done and I was free to go my way.
I don’t think that my father’s methodology produced his desired result. Why? Because you can’t make someone love. Making involves commanding and demanding. Love comes as a result of freewill.
When the apostle Paul wrote the words above, what was he thinking? He knew that God never compelled love. In fact, the whole purpose of Jesus coming, living and dying for us is an exclamation point in history proclaiming this fact. Jesus declared this in John 3:16:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
No, Paul is not saying that God requires a compelled love. The answer to what he is saying is revealed in the last phrase of our text: “…just as our love for you overflows.” How do we love each other? It comes from realizing the love of God. It comes from experiencing this pure and total love in our lives. After being filled to the full, this love overflows from our lives through our hearts and out of our actions and interactions with those we encounter each day.
• Fact #1: You can’t overflow when your heart is empty.
• Fact #2: You have to be open and willing to let God fill you.
• Fact #3: You need times of stillness in your life to be filled.
• Fact #4: God longs to and will fill you if you let Him.
At Loma Linda University Health we have a mission "to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ." We have a motto “To make man whole.“ We proclaim our “Many Strengths. One Mission.”
These are good words. Yet, they will only come to fruition when we, the individuals who uphold them and proclaim them, are filled with the love of God and loving others through the overflow of this love.
Take a moment and check your “gauge.” Where is the needle pointing, to empty or full? All you have to do is receive so you can live and give.
—Terry Swenson, DMin, is chaplain of Loma Linda University.