“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men…” (1Thess.3:12); “But as touching brotherly love…we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.” (4:9-10)
There is a physical training principle that says, “Placing increasing amounts or stress on the body causes adaptations that improve fitness.” In other words, by gradually asking more of our bodies than we’re comfortable with, we can extend our “comfort zone.” This is called the “Progressive Overload Principle.” Which would seem to be a nice way of saying we’re being asked to do more than we can! But in reality, the outcome should be that we end up being able to do more than we could, or rather, more than we thought we could.
Paul taught this same principle, not only in the cited verses, but also in others, as when he acknowledged to the Christians of Philippi that his prayer for them was that their love might “abound yet more and more” (1:9). Love was never meant to be static, showing little or no change. I was meant to be dynamic, characterized by change and especially, progression. In other words, love should never be allowed to stagnate.
My husband and I discussed this idea once as he was pondering 2 Corinthians 12:15: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” The problem with these people was not that they loved Paul less, my husband pointed out, but that as Paul’s love grew, theirs remained stagnant. While Paul was willingly spending his life for them, (“I will gladly spend”), they were selfishly taking it (“and be spent”).
Did I forget to mention that one of the by-products of progressive overload in physical training is temporary pain? That’s when you know you have begun to “overload” a muscle, asking more than that with which it’s comfortable. And again, when it’s hard—when it hurts—that’s when we know we have pushed love into overload. Now we have the opportunity to stretch it even beyond its present capacity, to make it “increase more and more.” If we do this, however, we must realize, as Paul did, that progressive love is a choice, and not all Christians, or people, choose it. Therefore, there will always be occasions of disproportionate love. But our sentiment should be that of this favorite little verse of mine:
If equal loving cannot be,
Then let the greater love be me.