Choices, choices, choices. We are inundated by so many choices. From television programs, to food choices, to books, to music. We have so many choices to make every day and what we need is insight into how to make the right choices, choices that will help us live lives that bring us greatest joy, greatest joy in God—because that is the greatest joy.
Some people don’t take the choices they make very seriously.
And that reminds me, a very important man died about a decade ago. His name was Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote the song “Hokey Pokey.” He died peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in…and then the trouble started!
Well, here’s the serious question, “What if “hokey pokey” was what life was all about?”
Yet, I think that is the way some people live, as if life didn’t have a purpose, didn’t have any real meaning, so you can just “do the hokey pokey” through life.
In our text here in Philippians 1, vv. 3-11 is all one paragraph. In this paragraph Paul first explains that he prays for the Philippians with thanksgiving and joy because of his gratefulness for their participation with him in the gospel ministry.
In vv. 9-11 he tells them what he prayed for them.
Sometimes we tell people that we’re going to pray for them, but then we don’t. Perhaps we forget, or are too busy, or just don’t really pray that much, or maybe we don’t really know what to pray.
This prayer of Paul, as well as prayers such as Ephesians 1:15-18 and 3:14-19 and Colossians 1:9-12 are great prayers for you and me to pray for one another. These prayers also give us keys to the spiritual formation of God’s people.
Listen to Paul’s prayer here in Philippians 1:9-11:
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
In this prayer Paul focuses on two strategic things that the Philippians needed in their lives—a love that was abounding (1:9-10a) and a life that was authentic (1:10b-11), with the ultimate purpose that God would be glorified. That, of course, that God be glorified, is the primary purpose of our lives and therefore the highest purpose of our prayers.
Both of the clauses in these three verse begins with the Greek conjunction hina, which introduces the content of Paul’s prayers. It almost functions like a quotation mark, introducing what Paul actually prayed.
In other words, if you were to ask, “Paul, what are you praying for the Philippians?” he would identify these two objectives—abounding love and authentic lives.
Now, it is also quite likely that the second objective is built off the first. In other words, we can only live authentically when our lives are guided by love that is abounding.
So first notice that Paul is praying that their love might be increasing, then notice that he wants their love to be intelligent.
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment
The first characteristic of the love Paul is praying for is that it is super-abundant. It exceeds any attempt to measure it. It overflows in our lives. It goes beyond expectation or capacity. It’s like trying to pour the ocean into a Big Gulp cup.
When he says “your” love he is addressing everyone at the church in Philippi. He is praying that everyone’s heart would be filled to overflowing with love for one another. He knows that when love is expressed it is most normally reciprocated. Thus, your love affects my love and my love affects your love.
Another thing to notice is that Paul is speaking about agape love. I don’t know if you noticed the New York Life ad in the Super Bowl last week which explained the four Greek words for love—philia, storge, eros and agape.
“The fourth kind of love is different. It’s the most admirable. It’s called ‘Agape’ – love as an action,” the ad continues. “It takes courage. Sacrifice. Strength.”
Agape love is the willingness to do whatever it takes to serve the needs of someone else, even if they don’t deserve it and even if it costs you dearly. It is a choice to put another’s needs above your own and to expend yourself—your energy, your time, your concern, your finances, your life—in order to help them.
It is, of course, the type of love Jesus showed to us by sacrificing Himself on the cross. He demonstrated His love by dying for people like you and me who were “still sinners.” We weren’t good people; we didn’t deserve it in any way, but Jesus sacrificed His life to save ours.
Now, Paul is not scolding them, as if they weren’t loving. He’s not pointing out a deficiency in their lives, but rather challenging them to raise the bar and love even more.
It’s like when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes so much that not only did everyone have enough, but 12 baskets were left over. It was to prove to the disciples that Jesus always had more than enough to provide for their needs.
Many things we need in moderation. Many things in excess can kill us. But this is one thing we can never get enough of.
Now, Paul does not ask them to direct their love at anything specifically, although informed by the Old Testament, Paul was probably thinking of love for God first and then love for others.
He is praying for them that they would overflow in love in all directions.
The fire in the apostle never says, “That’s good enough.” There must be move love, more love, more love, a ceaseless overflowing of love.
When a person is overflowing with love, it will affect others, just like when a bathtub overflows you can’t fix it without getting wet. Abounding love is contagious love.
Our love should be like a geyser shooting up to God and like a flood spreading out to others.
Paul further emphasizes this by adding the words “more and more.”
Don’t let your love be under-developed. It needs to experience compounding growth.
Growing love, always growing, never plateauing—is a key mark of the Christian life and a key indication of spiritual growth in our lives. When we stop growing in love we stop growing in maturity.
Step one in developing the kind of abounding love is to recognize the gap between your ability to love and God’s ability to love. Transformation in our lives begins by immersing ourselves in the amazing, extravagant, passionate, unending, unquenchable love of God for us.
Just listen to these verses:
Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
God doesn’t just love you; He likes you. He rejoices over you and delights in you. He is your troubadour, singing love songs over you.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
John, the apostle of love, is astounded at the “kind of love” that calls former rebellious enemies children. The Greek is literally “Take notice of the out-of-this-world love the Father has given to us…”
There are passages which call us the “beloved” of God just as Jesus was called the “my beloved Son” at His baptism. And in the last verse of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, notice the words of Jesus…
26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus prayed that we would experience the same amount and kind of love from the Father as the Father had been showing His Son throughout eternity! The Father loves me as much as He loves His Son Jesus Christ!
Let this wash over you, flood over you as Romans 5:5 says.
So our love should flood out to more and more people with greater and greater sacrifice precisely because that is the way we are loved.
Let’s not be like the priest and Levite, whose love was at best a trickle when they ignored the wounded man beside the road. And let’s not voice the pious “be warmed and be filled” mantra when we have the means to help someone…even if it costs us.
By the way, you will notice that Paul is not commanding the Philippians to increase in their love. He could have, as he does the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4:9. He is praying for them because He knows that this kind of love is not natural. It doesn’t come from trying harder to love. It comes from being filled with the Spirit and basking in the Father’s love for us and meditating on Jesus’ love for us.
So Paul prays that this will be the result of their cooperation with God’s working in their hearts.
Second, not only should our love be increasing more and more, but it should be intelligent.
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment
This is the only limit Paul places on their love. Yes, it is to be boundless, but it must have boundaries.
Some of you remember the 60’s when “all you need is love” and you know what that has led us to!
We know that Paul is not talking about sappy or sloppy sentimentalism because he used the word agape. But he doesn’t want a sloppy agape either! He wants our love to be discerning, to be based upon knowledge.
The Greek word for knowledge here is epignosis, a compound from gnosis (to know) and the preposition epi– which serves to strengthen it. The general consensus is that it means something like “full knowledge” or “exact knowledge.”
It is the kind of knowledge that comes not only from careful study or experience, but from revelation. It is a deep and personal, intimate knowing.
Of course, God wants to be known like that (as He knows us). And it is in knowing God more and more that our love for him grows. Likewise, our love for others grows because of our willingness to get to know them on a deeper and deeper level.
Tim Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage shows why these two facets are both important:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
But notice that Paul is not talking about being known and loved as the recipient, but rather knowing and loving as the active agent. Like God took the initiative with us, so we are to take that initiative with others.
The other discipline which must guide our love is “discernment.” This is the only time this word shows up in the New Testament but in the Septuagint in occurs 22x in the book of Proverbs. It has the idea of “moral discrimination” or “ethical judgment.”
In Proverbs discernment is the skill that allows us to navigate between life’s question marks. People slumbering through life have no ability to distinguish between right and wrong, truth from error, good from bad.
“Discernment” is what allows us to make the best choice, the right choice, out of many options.
Discernment is developed by having our senses honed through consistent study of God’s Word. The author of Hebrews says…
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Paul knew the danger of an undiscerning love. He rebuked the Corinthian church that seemed to glory in their “love” and “openness” which lacked any sense of knowledge and discernment (1 Corinthians 5:1-7).
The Corinthians apparently thought it was the loving thing to allow this man to continue in sin. Paul says that they should deliver this man to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5b)
Paul was making a judgment that the kind of love they were showing this man was the wrong kind of love. Love also rebukes and disciplines.
But notice that even in this dire case, Paul’s ultimate goal for this man was loving—despite the potential that his life may end, he wanted his “spirit…saved.”
What our culture touts as the highest virtue today is tolerance. Of course, what is meant by this word is “you must turn a blind eye to anything wrong in me [you can’t even call it “wrong”], but I can hate you without remorse.”
Paul says that our love must be discerning. We can be socially tolerant in that we can treat people with respect and honor, even if we disagree with them or even if they are living in sin, but we cannot be rationally tolerant of what goes against truth.
The mood today is that if you are critical of anyone’s doctrine or personal life, no matter how unbiblical it may be, you are not loving and you are arrogant to judge this person. Jesus’ words, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1) are wrenched out of context and misapplied. If people would just keep reading, Jesus goes on to say, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6). How can you determine if someone is a dog or swine if you don’t make discerning judgments?
A few verses later He warns us to beware of false prophets who come as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). It takes a discerning sheep to see that this isn’t a fellow-sheep whom we need to embrace, but a ravenous wolf we need to avoid!
The kind of love Paul is praying for is both increasing and intelligent. It is boundless, but discernment guides its expression so that the outcome is for the genuine best of the other person and not necessarily what feels good.
May our love grow and be smart!