Wednesday, August 15, 2012

That Your Love May Abound

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
Paul spoke earlier of praying with thanks and joy for the Jesus believers at Philippi. Now he reveals the substance and purpose of those prayers:

  • That your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.
  • That you may approve the things that are excellent.
  • That you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.
This is not just about their love for God or for Paul, though those would certainly be included. But more than that, it is about their love for each other — and for everyone. The Greek word for “love” here is agape, a love that keeps on giving. “God so loved [agape] the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16).

We need to keep growing in love, but not in a sentimental or abstract way. Love has a purpose, a focus and a tangible expression. It is not a feeling, but a willful commitment to the welfare of another. We need to know how best to do that, however, so Paul prays for a love that acts according to “knowledge and all discernment.” This is not about the love of knowledge but the knowledge of love. In its richest form, it is the knowledge of God Himself, for He is love.

The word Paul uses for “knowledge” here is epignosis. It is not theoretical or about gaining information. It is a fullness of knowledge, an experiential, personal knowledge. It is not merely knowing about God but knowing God Himself. In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, Paul prayed that God would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that they may “know” (epignosis) God more and more (Ephesians 1:17). This can come only because God reveals Himself to us in Jesus the Messiah and by the Holy Spirit.

Discernment is the exercise of good judgment, moral perception and wise understanding. Love has a value system. To love well, we must discern between good and bad, true and false, wise and foolish. This requires a depth of insight that helps us “approve what is excellent,” that is, to choose what is the best way. In his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). The word for “prove” there is the same as the word for “approve” here. This transformation is not our own work but comes about by the renewing of our minds. Even that is not our own work but comes from God. Our part is to let Him do the work in us.

Love must be “sincere and without offense,” which means that we must be “sincere and without offense.” To be “sincere” means to be genuine, without hidden motives or evil intent. To be “without offense” means that we are not to become a stumbling block that causes others to falter or fall. Some may be offended because of the truth of the gospel but we must be careful that we cause no one to stumble because we have failed to live in honesty and love.

The “day of Christ” is the day King Jesus comes again to judge the world and set things right, so Paul’s prayer is that believers be filled with the “fruits of righteousness.” In a different context, he speaks of the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). That would not be much different from what he has in mind here. This fruit manifests the love of God and the righteousness of the Lord Jesus.

When we show excellence in our love, and do not give offense, we demonstrate the goodness of God and bring praise to His name. And that is the ultimate purpose of this prayer — that God may be glorified in the life of every believer.

Focus Questions
  1. How does knowing God more help our love abound for others?
  2. How does the example of the Lord Jesus help our love abound for others?
  3. How does being filled with the Holy Spirit help our love abound for others?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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