And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-10 (ESV)
Paul has said much in these opening paragraphs of his letter to the church in Philippi concerning prayer. He wants them to know that prayer, communication with the Father, is of vital importance to him, and it should be to them as well. In this short prayer, Paul gives us several things he prays for his readers and several reasons why he prays the way he does.
- Paul prays that their love may abound more and more.
We have already discussed love in this study, but I would encourage you to go back and see what Paul has to say about love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. This is a very familiar passage, one that we often gloss over and consider as something to be read at weddings. But really stop over each phrase and consider how your “love life” is concerning each of these areas.
Danny Akin preached on this passage at the 20/20 Conference this past weekend at school, and he gave us a very challenging and convicting exercise to do with the chapter. In verses 4-8, every time you see the word love, replace it with the name Jesus. It works perfectly, right? Jesus is the only person who has ever loved perfectly. Now, replace the word love with your own name. I know I stumbled over more than one of them. How about you? We know the standard of how we are to treat one another, but we also know that it is a standard we will not be able to meet perfectly. That can be frustrating and cause us to want to give up altogether. But don’t give up quite yet! Now, replace the word love with the phrase “Jesus in me.” Works much better! See, we were never meant to fulfill the mandates of Scripture on our own. In fact, it’s an impossible task. We can only love, serve, and obey with the help of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in our lives. There are people in our lives who are difficult to love, but Jesus loves them. And He will love them through us if we allow Him to do so.
But how do we allow Him to do that? Look at the end of verse 9: “with all knowledge and discernment.” In order to be able to love, we have to know how Jesus loved others. The exercise above is a good way to begin growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Continuing in Bible studies is another way. We are to be imitators of Christ. Think for a moment about entertainers who make a living impersonating famous people. How did they become good at their impersonation? By studying for hours and hours the one that they are going to impersonate! No one wakes up one day and decides to impersonate someone they’ve never seen or heard of before. If they do, they probably won’t do a very good job. In order to be like someone, you have to study them, practice their mannerisms, their vocal inflections, their clothing.
It is the same way with Christ! If we are to be like Him, we must get to know Him. Paul prays that their love may abound, but he knows this will not happen through a passive working of spiritual magic. Their love will abound when they choose to grow in knowledge and discernment. Love is an action verb– not a warm and fuzzy feeling that may come and go depending on our mood and the behavior of others– and growing in love requires action as well.
- Paul prays that they may approve what is excellent.
If you spend any time around small children, you know that there is no need to teach them to do wrong things. Selfishness is not learned; it just comes naturally. You don’t have to force your children to practice temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. Lying is not an acquired skill. If you ever need proof of the idea that we are all born with a fallen, sinful nature, spend a Sunday in the nursery with 18-24 month old toddlers! There you will find a room full of “me monkeys”—each out for his or her own best interest, and willing to bite, scratch, kick and scream to get it.
The sad thing is that many adults are still like this because we have failed to grow in love and learn to approve what is excellent. What are the excellent things that we should approve of? How do we begin to develop those things in our own lives?
- Paul prays that they may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ
This is a thought that we do not consider often, but it should be the focus of our lives. When we become saved, it is not for the express purpose of going to heaven. Were that the case, I believe God would just take us to heaven immediately upon our conversion. So there is a purpose to our being here on this planet beyond just living an arbitrary life until we die or He returns for His church. What are we supposed to be doing? Paul gives us nothing short of the meaning of life in this one phrase. We are here to prepare ourselves for the wedding supper of the Lamb!
The day of Christ is the day that He returns to this earth to rule and reign as Lord of all creation. Paul is talking about end times here. What we do each and every day determines how well prepared we are for eternity. I have had several friends get married the last few years. To date, not a single one of them has received a ring from their boyfriends and thought, “Well now that’s taken care of! I can really let myself go now!” No, usually when a woman gets engaged, it’s a mad rush countdown of getting really in shape so that they can be presented to their groom looking as good as possible on their wedding day. Think of our salvation as a promise of marriage and the time we spend on this planet as our engagement. We are referred to as the bride of Christ; how are you preparing yourself to be the bride?
Read Revelation 19:6-10. It is John’s description of the marriage supper of the Lamb. The multitude of people in heaven is singing a song at the wedding reception. Their song tells us about the appearance of the bride. “’…for his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
Paul prays that we will be pure and blameless on the day of Christ. John declares that he sees the bride prepared for meeting her bridegroom. And the bride in John’s vision is dressed in her righteous deeds. Now, here’s the question: when it comes time for us to be presented to our groom, how will you be dressed? Are you spending your days preparing yourself to be the beautiful bride of Christ? Or do you take it for granted that you’ve been chosen and are laying back and waiting for that day? This is a painfully hard way to look at yourself, but it is a gut check for our Christian lives.
I loved the part about Paul encouraging to approve “what is excellent”.
It’s funny because it seems like, okay, parents aren’t supposed to teach their children how to sin. But in a way I think they do… I’ll be in the clothing store and hear a mom curse in front of her two-year-old about dropping a pen, then when the kid yells “NO!” The mom turns around and tells her to “shutup”. Messed up? I think so.
And then there’s the ones that don’t even tell their children “no”. It seems that’s the way the world’s going. Scary.
I don’t have kids, but I have a feeling I’m not going to get in line at Barnes & Noble for a child-training book. I’ve got a Book with instructions starting from the creation of the world and are still oh-so-relevant today.