Intro: “Please pray for me?” This is a frequent request among God’s people. Even those who do not know God or serve Him request others to pray for them. This is often in response to some physical problem, a sickness, or trouble in a relationship. There are several “intercessory” prayers recorded in scripture – one person praying in behalf of another. What can we learn? What do you want me to pray for in your behalf?
Our theme text for the year is Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi. Specifically, this month we will consider Paul’s admonition in Phil. 1:27 – “let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ”. The apostle was concerned about the conduct (behavior) of the Christians at Philippi. He speaks to that concern several times in this letter – (not be anxious; live blameless; be gentle toward others; give generously to others; holdfast to the word, etc.) But there may be no better place to view Paul’s desire for the church at Philippi than in his prayer in their behalf. Paul mentions in 1:4 that he was always joyfully remembering them in his prayers. Then beginning in v. 9 he tells then what he was praying concerning them.
Consider Paul’s intercessory prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 – And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Note: As always Paul’s prayer focused on the spiritual, not the physical. Not because he did not think it was important or even essential to pray for God’s physical blessings, but he understood what mattered the most. The Holman Christian Standard translation of 1:27 read this way… “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” . Paul was praying for this result. The elements involved:
I. “The Day of Christ” –I want us to first notice the direction of Paul’s prayer. He is looking forward to the “day of Christ”. Twice in these early statements to the Philippian Christians Paul mentions the coming of the “day of Christ”. Phil 1:6 – 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; v. 10 – 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.
A. Spiritual growth has a destination – a target date, so to speak. The Lord is returning and the time to prepare is now. In fact, His return is the reason why we must continue to grow. Every Christian should live with this day before them.
• 2 Peter 3:10-12 – But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?
1. Peter says we must “look for” it. And then again in vs. 14 he says we should “look forward to these things” and be diligent to be found by Him without spot and blameless.
B. Phil. 1:6 – Paul was certain that God would finish (complete) the good work He had begun in the Philippians. What is this “good work”?
1. I think we easily view this as their salvation. We can trace the beginning of this work in Acts 16 beginning with the conversion of Lydia at the riverside, the healing on the demon-possessed girl, and subsequent arrest of Paul and Silas. Even from the walls of the jail, God’s work continued with the conversion of the jailor and his family. Certainly the work of salvation was being accomplished, and God could be counted on to finish the work. He would not abandon them.
2. But the more specific work in the mind of Paul might be the spiritual growth and renewal of the Christians at Philippi. With the preaching of the truth, God had begun to create a sanctified people (Paul calls them “saints” in vs. 1). This process would continue until Jesus returned, when it would be finished, or made complete. The original word that is translated “complete” (epiteleo) in v. 6 is also rendered as accomplish, perform, or do in other places in the NT. This identifies God as the One who worked among them, just as he does in us. Justification and sanctification are the work of the Spirit of God. He s alone can complete the work.
a. But we might also note that the same word (epiteleo) is used to describe what the Christian does in connection with spiritual growth. 2 Cor 7:1 – …let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (making our sanctification complete- HCSB) The scriptures do not teach that we cleanse ourselves of sin. But they also do not teach that once a person is cleansed, they have no further responsibility toward the completion of their salvation. Later in this letter, Paul writes… Phil 1:29 – …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; Phil 2:16 – holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. We should pray that He will complete His “good work” among us. What are the particular elements of this spiritual work that we need to pray about?
II. “That your love may abound…” The Greek word for love here is agape. It denotes affection but is best understood in the action of benevolence. This love seeks what is best for another and stands as the opposite of selfishness. This love (agape) is certainly not the sappy, involuntary emotion that often masquerades for love today.
A. Love is Primary. How important is love? Listen to Jesus and the apostles on the subject:
• Matt 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him,”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
• Rom 13:8-10 – Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
• 1 Cor. 16:14 – “Let all things that you do be done with love
• 1 Pet 4:8 – And above all things have fervent love for one another…
• 1 Jn 4:8 – He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
• 1 Jn 4:16 – …God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
1. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul addresses the centrality of love as an attitude and motivation for every deed. Read 1 Cor. 13:1-3 – Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
a. The loveless person is of no value (I am nothing)
b. he produces nothing of value (clanging brass)
c. and he receives nothing of value (it profits me nothing)
d. In v. 7 Paul says love encompasses both faith and hope (advances love above both faith and hope because love “believes all things [and] hopes all things” (v. 7); Then later in v. 13 he says loves is greater than faith and hope.
2. Ungers’ Bible Dictionary says… The whole law is summed up in love, not in the sense of rendering all other requirements as inconsequential, but in the sense that love is fundamental, expresses the spirit of all others, and with enlightenment will lead to the observance of all others
3. Love is the foundation of the gospel message. 1 John 4:9-10 – 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
a. John is telling us that genuine love has its origin in God. It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us. The love God has for us is antecedent to our love for Him. Therefore His love is not reciprocal. But our love for Him is… we love Him BECAUSE He first loved us.
b. John mentions the propitiation as the supreme evidence of love. “and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins”– the gospel message – proves God’s love unequivocally.
c. The gospel message is the product of God’s love. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” – John 3:16; But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) – Eph. 2:4-5; Grace itself is the product of God’s love.
d. Thus, our love is the product of God’s love for us. He loved us, so that we could learn to love each other. Paul prays that this love will abound.
B. Love is Learned: As the source of love, He teaches His children how to love. Godly love is produced only by the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who belong to Him. “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5).
1. It is the first and foremost of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Believers are taught by God Himself to love. “Now as to the love of the brethren,” Paul explained, “you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more” (1 Thess 4:9-10). Notice Paul encourages them to love more…
C. Love is Dynamic. It has the capability to abound. There will always be a need for growth in love. We can never have too much love. This is true of our love for God, for Christ, and for one another.
1. “Abound” (perisseue) does not mean sufficiency, but superfluity and beyond measure. It is striving beyond what is perceived as a bare minimum requirement. 2 Corinthians 9:8 – And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. 1 Corinthians 15:58 – Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. Plummer says that “more and more” in conjunction with the special verb “abound” (in the present tense) “conveys the idea of extreme and continually increasing abundance” (14). Not only must there be an overflowing amount of love, but it must also continually be making progress.
D. Love is Intelligent. Paul prays that their love might abound in knowledge. Love is not mere excitement or sentimental emotion. Love is not blind. Love is directed by spiritual knowledge (epignosei – precise knowledge) that God provides. As knowledge without love is useless (1 Cor. 13) so love that is not based on knowledge (truth) is mere sentimentality. I cannot truly love my child unless I learn what is best for him. I can do things in the name of love that will hurt him.
1. Real knowledge is much more than mere factual information about God’s Word, or even the acknowledgment of it as. Real knowledge produces holiness through sincere devotion and obedience. Virtue is inseparably linked to the real (true) knowledge of God’s truth. Paul wrote to Rome and said… I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another” (Rom 15:14). Are you growing in your knowledge of God’s word?
E. Love is Discerning. Knowledge is to be intelligently applied to life, so Paul adds the word judgment (KJV) to the word knowledge. Most translators use the English word discernment. Vincent says this compound word means to “select, classify, and apply what is furnished by knowledge” (Vincent 3:4).
1. As love matures through knowledge, the Christian is able to make important distinctions. What is right and what is wrong. The writer of Hebrews uses the same word in Hebrews 5:14 – 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 1 Cor. 13 tells us that love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (doing things that are not right) but rejoices in the truth. This indicates a distinction or discernment that is part of loving.
2. Some today believe that it is unloving to tell someone that they are wrong or to judge another’s conduct as sinful. But true love cannot exist apart from judgment. We will consider this call; to be discerning more fully as we look at v. 10 in part 2 of this lesson.
Conclusion: What should I pray for in behalf of this church? What do we need? We need to abound in love.
John 13:34-35 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will people know I am a Christian? (“I have fish on the bumper of my car”, “I have a certificate of baptism”, “I go to church every time the door is open”.) Jesus said your credentials are sitting in the pew next to you. You validate your Christianity when you treat another Christian with love. Or if you fail to love your brother?
Love is only true intention of sacrificial living. Jesus was not the first or only person to die on a cross. But He was the only one who did it intentionally for me. He did because He loved me. If I aspire to live for Him, I must learn to love. Gal 2:20– I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
In the next two verses the Holy Spirit tells us why abounding in love is so important. We will look closer at this in part 2.