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Love Abounding: an older sermon from Philippians 1:9-11

Preparing for this sermon was monumental in my life and led me down a path that eventually shaped my beliefs as a ‘Reformed Charismatic’. I pray it challenges you as it did me in preparing it…

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originally delivered on November 25, 2001@ University Church in Athens, GA

Dan, the teaching elder here at University Church, and I share a favorite book of the Bible. Though I have never translated the book of Philippians from the Greek as Dan has, God has continually drawn me back to it to encourage and challenge me in my faith. Today we’re going to look at a passage that I’ve been using in my personal devotions fairly regularly for at least the past two years.

Let us hear the word of God:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God. –– Philippians 1: 3-11

Now, we’ll be looking today particularly at verses 9-11 of this chapter, but I would first like to comment for just a moment on the rest of what we’ve read just to set the larger context.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Notice that Paul prays with joy and confidence for the Philippians believers. He was able to pray this way because, by their continued partnership with him in the work of the gospel “from the first day until now,” they had given evidence of the work of God among them. Paul had seen these people “make their election sure” (reference) not by a one-time profession of faith during an over-emotional alter-call (that is not to necessarily insult altar-calls, by the way — in fact, that is how I was actually converted), but rather by their LIVES that had been obviously gripped by God and which had continued in partnership with him in the work of the gospel from that day forward. Paul had good reason to believe that God was truly at work in the Philippian church because of their clear growth in grace. Also, Paul knew God. Paul knew that the God he worshipped — the one true God of Christian revelation — was the sort of God to continue what He had begun. Paul could therefore pray confidently and with great joy because he was sure that God would continue His work among the Philippians! Do you pray this way for your fellow believers in the faith, especially those you’ve known for a time and have seen clear evidence of God’s sanctifying work in their lives? Now, I’m NOT arguing that we pray with PRESUMPTION — ultimately we all must pray that God’s will be done, and sometimes His overarching plan is simply not that clear to us – but when we see evidence of God’s work in someone, or a group of individuals like a church or the larger body of Christ, we can pray with confidence and joy, because we see that God is at work there and will therefore do the things that He has said He will do. This enables us to approach His throne with joy and confidence in prayer! Paul is doing that here. Paul prayed the way he did because he knew the one in whom he believed. I pray that the same is true of us as individuals and as a body.

And this is Paul’s prayer:

Verse 9 reads, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…”

Notice first and foremost what is front and center of this prayer: love. It is easy sometimes within orthodox Evangelical Christianity, where the temptation is to focus upon believing all the right things above and beyond anything else — it is easy for us to forget the centrality of love to our Christian faith. Paul, however, begins with it as his ASSUMPTION — the Philippians to which he was writing were Christians, therefore, it stands that they had LOVE. The Scriptures have much to say about it; I John 4: 8 says that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” and Jesus summed up the entire law and the prophets as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In Galatians 5: 2, which Dan spoke on a few months ago, love is listed as one of the fruit of the Spirit and it is such an important fruit, and so central to a Christian’s spiritual life that, in I Corinthians 2, he goes so far as to say that all other spiritual gifts are useless without it. In his letter to the Colossians Paul says that love is the very thing that binds together all other Christian virtues, including but not limited to: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3: 14) Paul begins his prayer with the love of the Philippian church.And he prays that this “love may abound…”: the word “abound” here means “to overflow.” The image I have is of a small stream after a long rain — it is completely flooding and spilling over its banks. Paul is praying that their love might overflow — not just once, but continually overflowing: more and more. Long after the stream has flooded it’s banks the rain keeps falling.

What I find very interesting here, however, is that love isn’t abounding more and more with itself. He is not endorsing some sort of sappy sentimentalism. Rather, Paul prays that their love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight. The first time I noticed this, I remember feeling proud of myself — at the time I was even more of a bookworm than I am now. I thought to myself, “See — I’m right! Anti-intellectual Christians are falling short of the true faith.” But, though I still think that is to a degree true — that too many believers today are not striving to sanctify their minds — after studying this verse more closely I don’t believe I had, nor have, quite so much to take pride in.

First, “knowledge” — we often think of knowledge as simply information, but that is far from the Biblical view. In the Old Testament, to “know” one’s wife referred to marital intimacy, and in the whole of the Bible to “know” God is FAR beyond a simple detached academic knowledge of some distant other-worldly being. No – far from it! To know God is to imply a relationship.

Let’s just say that someone that you know came up and said that they knew me. How would you know? You could ask them to describe me. Let’s say that their answer was, “Shannon Lewis is a brown-eyed, 6’4”, 260 lbs albino, and last I checked he was Buddhist.” You would come to the conclusion, rather quickly I hope, that they were NOT talking about the same Shannon Lewis. However, what if they got the facts all correct — blue eyes, 5’10”, and etc — but when you asked them how I was doing, they said, “OH — we’ve never spoken before! I’ve only seen him from a distance and someone else told me his name.” Now, not that this is too likely to happen, but if it did, you would immediately questions whether or not this person is justified in claiming to “know” me. Likewise, the Biblical view of true knowledge of God is a combination of both information about God — his revealed nature, character, and divine attributes — and a relationship with God. Knowledge, in this sense, is both experiential and intellectual.

Next, Paul also prays that their love may abound in “depth of insight.” Here, I believe, is our encouragement from this passage to excel in the life of the mind. Thinking “Christianly” is indeed of great spiritual importance to the believer, however also know that “depth of insight” implies far more than just spiritual academics. Some versions translate this as “discernment,” drawing out the moral implications of this phrase, especially given it’s wider context within the verse. If I am correct in calling wisdom “applied knowledge,” then that is what this is — Godly wisdom. “Depth of insight” emphasizes moral perception and the practical application of Biblical knowledge to all of life’s circumstances — it is to attempt to live consistently within the your Christian worldview.

I believe John Piper gets at the heart of verse 9 in the following quote:“In the Christian life, emotions are crucial and thinking is crucial. God is not honored by either an unfeeling, joyless, loveless intellectualism or by an unthinking, uncritical emotionalism. Both are needed — minds that are gripped by the truth of God acquired through the serious and rigorous study of Scripture, and hearts that are on fire with intense emotions…” He sums up this idea as this: “The heart is crucial, through the head.”

Verse 10 then tells us WHY Paul desires this for the Philippian church.

“…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…”

Our love is to abound in knowledge and depth of insight in order that we may be discerning, so we may do what is BEST. The temptation in the Christian life for many is to see everything as cut and dry, but sometimes that is not how it is in the real world. Situations can be messy, and some things are not clearly good or bad — Paul does not pray that they will be able to tell good from bad or right from wrong, but rather that they may discern what is BEST. There may be any number of right decisions with varying degrees of benefit to others and yourself. In I Corinthians 10: 23 Paul writes “”Everything is permissible”– but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”– but not everything is constructive.” In verse 32 he adds, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God…” Discerning “what is best” is to use your mind to explore the possibilities before you and their likely outcomes to determine which would be most beneficial and constructive. We should not go through life making decision according to “what I can get away with”, but rather we should ask ourselves, “what choices would benefit others and myself the most?” Love abounding in knowledge and depth of insight enables us to have discernment, so we might be able to “test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12: 2) Now, I’ll be the first to admit it — sometimes having more information about a decision makes the right decision seem that much more unclear. However, to not attempt to see the bigger picture — to simply wander in ignorance and simplicity by our own choice seems to be nothing short of dishonest and lazy — neither of which are listed among the fruit of the Spirit.Closing out verse 10 is it’s practical application — that we may be pure and blameless, and the goal in view is the judgment seat of Christ Jesus where we will give an account for all our deeds (II Corinthians 5: 10). It is important to remind ourselves that we have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ so we might LIVE in that righteousness — that we were set apart — sanctified by him — so we might BE set apart — that we might be HOLY!

And lastly, verse 11:

“…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.”

The fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of righteousness are synonymous, and since we have heard them taught on fairly recently, and due to lack of time, I will not go into depth on them but to note one thing — they come through Jesus Christ. John 15: 4 says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” The fruit come through being part of the vine.And to what end does this all lead? To the Glory and praise of God. I love the writings of Puritan authors like Jonathan Edwards because they seem to do such a good job at sanctifying all of life and seeing EVERYTHING as done unto the glory and praise of God. To them, working hard at your job throughout the week, working in such a way to display the fruit of righteousness, was just as much worship of God as was singing and hearing the Word on Sunday at church. I think we’d all do well to carry that with us.

Now, please follow me down what may seem to some of you as a strange road at this point in my sermon. There has been much-to-do about the Prayer of Jabez over the past year or so, and I imagine individual opinions on the book vary greatly even in our own congregation. Now, I don’t think the book is perfect — far from it (I think, partially that has to do with the prayer being poorly translated in the NIV) — yet as I read it I was greatly encouraged. You see, Jabez’ prayer in I Chronicles chapter 4 is just one example from the Scripture of someone praying the sort of prayer that God desires to answer. There is absolutely nothing in the prayer of Jabez that isn’t already promised elsewhere in the Old Testament to God’s covenant people. Jabez prayed for the very thing God willed to do. Jabez prayed for God’s general will for His people and God answered him. Likewise, in the New Testament Jesus taught his disciples to pray, and we can trust in God that he will answer that prayer. We may pray expectantly, along with Jabez, that God will expand our sphere of influence for Him, that we will recognize our dependence on God’s strength in all that we do, and that we will not bring others great pain, as he did his mother in childbirth. We may pray with joy, along with the apostles, as Jesus taught them, that we would see God’s perfect will done on earth, that He would enable us to forgive, and that he would provide for our every need, for we know that God is our Father, and he does not give his children a stone when we ask for bread. Well, here in Philippians 1: 9-11 we have recorded for us the inspired prayer of an Apostle for the church in Philippi. And the content of the prayer is basically this: growth in grace, or sanctification. He prayed these things for them with joy because he was confident — he was expectant — that God would answer this prayer for His people! Again, this is no magical incantation written to be prayed word-for-word over a believer thus obligating God to do His part (if it was, we all better get to learning Greek so we can recite it properly). Yet, the content of this prayer is that which we can readily pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, for we know it is the sort of prayer that God DESIRES to answer — as Paul says earlier in this chapter, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” — the content of this prayer is the work that God is doing in every believers life which He began and He can be TRUSTED to continue.

Can I trust that you will pray for me, that my love for God will grow to the point of overflowing…in my devotional time with God, in my knowledge of God gained from the revealed Word of God, in my wise application of that Word to life’s sometimes confusing circumstances…so I might live wisely — in a way that is beneficial to myself, God, and others, causing no one to stumble, growing in Christ-like-ness, displaying the fruit of His Holy Spirit, and ultimately, that my life might abound more and more to the glory of God. Will you pray that for me, as I for you? This is my prayer: “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.”

Application:

There is a LOT to be taken away from these verses, which I hope keeps you all, like myself, coming back to them again and again in the future. I would like to emphasize three specific things, other than simply praying for one another, that I think we would do well to devote ourselves to.

1. Let us begin with love — love for God and love for our neighbor — but let us not slip into sappy sentimentalism. How can each of you take steps to love your neighbor as God has loved you? What things might you do to encourage them? I believe that this passage challenges us to submit our hearts to the governance of the knowledge of God, which is both intellectual and experiential. “The heart is crucial, through the head.” — John Piper2. Secondly, let us strive to sanctify our minds, but keeping in mind that it is for something much greater than us merely being intelligent. J. I. Packer put it best in his book KNOWING GOD: We need to ask ourselves: what is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it? For the fact that we have to face is this: that if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christian because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate, and dismiss them as very poor specimens. For, as Paul told the conceited Corinthians, ‘knowledge puffeth up…if any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know.’ To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive that a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.”

3. And lastly, let us strive for purity and blamelessness in our Christian lives. How many of us have, due to lack of sleep or simply an act of will, chosen to regularly put ourselves in the face of known temptation? What are your weaknesses? It is wise to know them. What effort can you exert to keep yourself out of situations that you know are struggle-points for you? Don’t doubt it — Christ Jesus died for those sins, every one, but we are not saved in order to sin, but we were bought at a price and for a purpose — our sanctification, for His glory. Let us, as Paul states later on in the book of Philippians, “…continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” We are HOLY GROUND, for God’s Spirit resides in us and is at work — live like you know this is true.

Again, I ask — will you echo Paul’s prayer for me, as I do likewise for you…let us pray.

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Filed under: Doctrine, Knowing God, Sermon, Theology

3 Responses

  1. Doug says:

    I enjoyed the sermon you posted, thank you for making it available. I was wondering how exactly your preparation for this sermon shaped you reformed charismatic beliefs (I assume the charismatic side). Did it made you think more about the importance of seeking God with your heart in addition to your mind?

  2. heatlight says:

    Wow, Doug – you hit the nail on the head. It also led me to begin reading more of John Piper’s work, who is both Reformed, and open the the on-going gifts of the Spirit. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Doug says:

    I have heard a couple of Piper’s sermons and I thought they were good. I also have recently been thinking a about my need to engage my heart more in my relationship with God. Did your journey to becoming a “charismatic” help you to do this?

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