Have you ever driven (or ridden) in a vehicle behind a truck that was full of landscape waste? Even with careful securing of the cargo, leaves and sticks still occasionally float out as it goes down the road, in a simulated autumn. In the same way, boxes of school supplies or clothing may sit in an overstuffed box high on a closet shelf, spilling over when the box is retrieved or returned to its shelf.
Still, these containers always seem to produce spills based on what is inside of them. I’ve never followed a lawn-care vehicle and found currency floating out of it in the wind. It seems that bursting storage boxes in the closet never spill over with good ideas or gourmet food (although a spilled box of macaroni noodles may require some time spent in cleanup!).
No, when something is too full, its existing contents are what the people around it have to deal with. If it’s overflowing with marbles, running in the immediate vicinity is going to be a bad idea. If the driver of an armored truck happens to have left the door open, money may indeed be what falls out.
Take a look at what Paul writes to the Philippians in the following verse:
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.
Philippians 1:9 NLT
(It appears that the believers in Thessalonica needed to hear a similar message: see 1 Thessalonians 3:12.)
We may know that we are to love one another (see John 13:34-35, Romans 13:8, and 1 John 2:7-8). This isn’t just something that we do, though; it’s not just a checkbox to mark complete on our To-Do list. This love – the love that Paul’s audience in Philippi was supposed to have – needed to be so abundant that it exceeded their capacity to keep it in (not that we are to keep love to ourselves in the first place). Love would be flowing out of their lives, spilling out onto the world around them. That’s a good thing, since this broken world is thirsty for the love of God, and when this love is put into practice, lives can be changed for those who are willing.
Paul gives some associated instruction in this verse (and a lot more in this short letter to the Philippians), praying that his readers’ “knowledge and understanding” would grow. Certainly, as we learn more about God’s nature, especially as we see it shown to us in the life and teachings of Jesus, we find good examples of what pure, unselfish love looks like. While I don’t think that Paul is defining a specific cause-and-effect relationship between the two parts of his prayer here, what we learn can certainly help us to love others more (and more selflessly).
However, I fear that as long as we see the commands to love one another as “tasks” or just something that we need to do through force of effort, we will struggle. Forcing our behavior to submit to our will is sometimes necessary, but this “outside-in” approach takes a lot of work. (All of us – including me – who fight recurring temptations to be un-loving can relate to that.)
Jesus gives us a better way, though. While He made it clear that we should love our neighbor (both through His direct command, and by showing us what that looked like), He gave us the following truth:
A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.
Matthew 12:35 NLT
Jesus points out that our actions come from what is already in our heart. If we can get our heart right, our good actions become less forced, and more automatic. If we first invest in purging anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, and other hostility from our hearts, it becomes more natural for us to react kindly to other people. If we spend time learning about God and asking for His help (to clean us up from the inside), what spills out of us is more likely the kinds of behavior and attitudes that look like what God asks of us.
So, rather than trying to get candy from an overflowing box of old newspapers, or expecting to see kittens behind us as groceries fall out of our cart at the store (both of which are just weird), let us consider that what overflows from something is usually whatever it was filled up with. Then, may we take the time to fill ourselves up with the love of God, so that when we exceed our own capacity to hold God’s love to ourselves, it can’t help but flow out and bless others. Maybe they will find the joy of doing the same, and the love of God will be multiplied to the world through us.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.