Paul's Prayer for the Philippians - Part 1

February 26, 2017
Philippians 1:3-4, 9-11
Abraham Hong


Newlyweds often spend their time dreaming about and talking about their future children. “If we had a boy, I wish he would be tall enough to be able to dunk on a basketball rim.” “If we had a girl, I wish she would be able to smart and beautiful and able to speak French, Russian, Japanese, Portugese and Navajo - and tall enough to be able to not dunk on a basketball rim but just touch the net.” But then pregnancy happens. And as couples who are not really newlyweds anymore begin to visit the doctor, officially settle on a name, and brace for the decimation of their budget, their wishes change. Now all they really say is, “If we have a boy or a girl, I wish he or she would just be healthy.”

It’s easy for us as a church to pray for things such as more members, better preaching, or nicer facilities. These are not bad things in and of themselves. It is okay to pray for such things. But at the end of the day, what kind of church do you really want Highland to be? What should be our greatest wish here? I hope that what we wish for our church is what Paul prays for here in Philippians 1. I hope that we have seen enough in our lives to be able to say “The only thing I wish for is that my church turns out to be a loving church, a wise church, a pure church, a righteous church.” 

This morning, we will look at love and wisdom. Next week, we will look at purity and righteousness.

Paul prays that the church’s love may abound more and more. What a magnificent request. Abundant and steadfast love that grows and endures.

Love is the greatest spiritual gift and asset that a believer can have. Love is one of the chief characteristics of God himself. If we abound in other things but have not love, then we are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If we do not abound more and more in love, then we are nothing… and we gain nothing.

Let us confess and repent of our lack of love here at Highland. And in the newness of life that we have in Jesus Christ, let us love one another more and more. Love your spouse more. Love your family members more. Love church members that you don’t know to well more. Love strangers more. Love your enemies more. And let us put away our abundance of bad things. Selfishness. Pride. Gossip. Conflict. Sin.

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…”

Like a pile of gifts of all colors and sizes under the Christmas tree, let us abound in friendship and hospitality. Like a fantasy stat line stuffed with points and rebounds and assists, let us abound in sacrifice and care for others. Like a never-ending procession of meat after meat at a Brazilian BBQ, let us abound in patience and endurance.

But make no mistake, abounding in love is not merely a numbers game. Please do not come ready for snacktime with 948 donuts. That’s abounding in calories. But I don’t know if that’s really abounding in love. Love is often expressed in small ways. Love is often found in the details. When Naomi asked Ruth how her visit with Boaz went, Ruth told her all that Boaz did for her. And Ruth showed her the barley that Boaz gave to her. “He said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” What a beautiful story of a love that abounds beyond numbers.

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…”

Paul prays for the church to have knowledge and discernment. When Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was ill, Jesus did not immediately go to heal him. In fact, Jesus stayed where he was for an extra two days before going to see Lazarus. And when he did get there, Lazarus was dead. Jesus literally let him die.

This did not look like love at all. Mary cried at Jesus’ feet, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And the Jews who watched this all unfold sarcastically declared, “See how Jesus loved Lazarus!” The most loving thing that Jesus could have done was to get to Lazarus quickly and heal him, right?

Wrong. According to John 11:5, Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He loved all three of them in a way that they could not understand. And with knowledge and discernment, Jesus slowed everything down and allowed Lazarus to die. Why? In verses 14-15, Jesus said, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” In the eyes of everyone else, love meant a temporary comfort and a help for illness. But in the eyes of Jesus Christ, love meant an eternal comfort and a help for death. With knowledge and discernment, Jesus let Lazarus die so that they would know his majestic glory and his resurrection power.

Had there not been knowledge and discernment, Martha would have never said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died.” Had there not been knowledge and discernment, Jesus would have never said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life….” Had there not been knowledge and discernment, Martha would have never confessed such excellent words to her Lord and Savior, “Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ….”

Brothers and sisters, it is this same kind of powerful knowledge and discernment that Paul prays for the Philippian church to have as their own. And it goes hand in hand with the first prayer request for abounding and steadfast love. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we need wisdom if we want to love people. It is not easy to love others. We often don’t know what to say to someone who is distressed. We often don’t know what to do when someone is going through trials. We often struggle to strike a healthy balance between truth and love. We often struggle to know what’s best and most excellent. Parents regret the mistakes they’ve made in raising their children. Deacons wrestle with how their church can help the poor. Graduates struggle to keep up with good fellowship apart from the nest of college Christianity. Sunday school teachers look at each other and ask, “Good cop? Bad cop?” Husbands realize that there’s more to love than flowers or food or the five love languages. Love is not easy.

But thanks be to God that we have his written word. We have the bible. And it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that we may be complete, equipped for the good work that we call love.

And thanks be to God that we have his living word. We are united with Christ. And we possess the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. His affection becomes our affection. He’s changing us. Our precious Jesus. We’re not the same people that we used to be. Sometimes it’s slow going. But there’s a knowing. That someday more loving we will be. Little by little everyday. Little by little in every way. My Jesus is changing me. Since I made that turn about face. I’ve been growing in his grace. My Jesus is changing me.

Brothers and sisters, please pray for our church like this. Please pray as Paul does for the Philippian church. Pray that Highland would be a people and a place of abundant and steadfast love that grows and endures. And pray that Highland would have knowledge and discernment as we love one another.