By Chris Martin
In 2015, as my wife and I made our way home to Nashville from spending Thanksgiving with our families in Indiana, we hydroplaned on I-65. We hit a concrete barrier in the middle of the highway and flipped back into the southbound lanes of traffic, landing on the roof of our Toyota Camry. It was the most terrifying experience of both of our lives. We crawled out of the car with minor physical injuries but lasting emotional ones.
That horrifying event dramatically changed how I relate to my wife and how I love other people. You don’t walk away from a traumatic accident like that unchanged, even if physically unscathed.
Toward the end of his first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul encourages his readers by transcribing his prayer for them. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12, he prays, “May the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you.”
As he says earlier in the chapter, Paul is anxious about the Christians at Thessalonica (vv.1–5). He fears that Satan has tempted these new believers to abandon the gospel because of the difficulty and persecution they’ve had to endure as a result of their faith in Jesus. But in today’s reading, as Paul finishes up his letter to his brothers and sisters in the faith, he feels the need to encourage them to continue to grow. If they are going to endure current hardships and afflictions, as well as troubles yet to come, they will need one another. They must learn to love each other in a way that cannot be quelled, no matter the circumstances they face. Their love must be strengthened in the face of persecution, not eroded by it.
Paul’s prayer was for the Christians of Thessalonica to understand the depth of God’s love for them, trusting that from that understanding, their love for others would overflow. He also prayed that the Lord would “make [their] hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father” (1Thessalonians 3:13). Learning to love and live this way comes not from our own strength, but out of the abundant, overflowing love of the God who loved us first (John 4:19).
That terrible car crash drew my wife and I closer together, radically changing our relationship and how we love each other. It changed us. In the same way, we must learn to love one another in times of hardship with a love that is bolstered by difficulty, not defeated by it. And because of Jesus Christ, we can boast in our affliction, trusting that it will produce endurance, strengthen our faith, and grow our love for God and others (Romans 5:3–5). May the trials and difficulties we encounter serve to strengthen, not weaken, our love for His Church.