And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9–11).
As the New Year draws near, millions of Americans will set goals and make commitments for 2015. Run your first 5k. Write your first book. Lose 10 lbs. The goals will vary, but we will zealously attack our resolutions when January rolls around.
Christians, likewise, will make many resolutions for the upcoming year. Read through the Bible in a year. Share the gospel with your neighbor. Actually wake up early enough to make it to church on Sundays. As you’re thinking through your New Year’s resolutions, I want to point you to a prayer that you may focus on in 2015. It is Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi recorded in Philippians 1:9–11.
The prayer focuses on how followers of Christ can grow in godliness. Men and women have sought spiritual growth through many means and methods. Some have looked for spiritual maturity out in the deserts, far removed from any secular culture or activities. They believe, then, that spiritual health increases as one’s connection with this earth and its fallen condition decreases. Others view spiritual growth much like we think of physical fitness; you just have to try harder and cut out the bad stuff in your life.
But the apostle Paul shows us the true core of spiritual growth. His prayer demonstrates that the vital components of a vibrant faith are love, knowledge, and discernment.
We love because we have been loved. God’s eternal love is the driving force in redemptive history. Paul can affirm that it was in love that the Lord predestined our salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4–5). Think about that. Before an atom had been formed, God had placed His love on His children. Before there was Mt. Everest to point to the grandeur of God’s creative genius or the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean to testify to God’s infinite power, He chose to adopt us as sons and daughters even though it would cost Him the life of His Son. That is a love no one can deny. Even the most moving examples of love we hear in the news or read about in magazines are feeble in comparison to the substance of God’s love for His people.
As His adopted children, we are called to reflect that all-consuming love. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was that their love for God and others would abound. In Christ, the love of the Father rushes like a flooding river into our lives, and the apostle’s prayer is that this rushing river would overflow into the lives of those we encounter.
It’s one thing to say that we’re going to read the Bible more or give more time (and money) to the church, but it’s quite another to have a goal of loving our brothers and sisters more. Love is an internal feeling with tangible expressions. Actions without the internal compulsion is not true love; a feeling without action is no love at all, either. God’s eternal love was put into action in the giving of the Son, and our abounding love for others should be put into service.
If love is not something that we can simply will or muster on our own strength, how can we grow in it? Well, Paul shows us the first step: pray. Prayer makes the supernatural possible, such as making sinners sacrificial and loving servants. Our prayers, then, must be marked by a plea that God would give us more loving hearts. Secondly, we become more loving creatures by meditating on the love shown to us and our spiritual family in Christ. Divine love is infectious, and dwelling on this love cultivates its fruit in our hearts.
Love is not abstract. It is rooted in God, and it is directed towards others. Paul does not pray for love in itself. He prays that the Philippians’ love would be accompanied and guided by knowledge. There is a tendency in some churches to place a sharp distinction between head and heart, between theology and love for God. This dichotomy is unbiblical.
Knowledge refers to knowing God and HIs will (Col. 1:9), and it gives our love substance. It is by studying God’s Word and gaining knowledge of Him that our love becomes deeper and more nuanced. For example, a man may tell a woman that he loves her after a couple of dates, but his love is shallow, not really love at all. The woman, on the other hand, who earnestly proclaims her love for the man she’s been married to for 30 years knows what true love is. Her knowledge of the man is intimate. It’s not based on some general concept of the husband, but a nuanced love that is built on years of communicating with and being around him.
Therefore, Christians are a people of the Word because the Scriptures reveal God and His will for us. Christian maturity is not a vague love based on our personal conception of God. It’s a concrete love of the God who revealed Himself in the Bible.
Discernment is the application of knowledgeable love. It’s the “So what?” of our knowledge of God. This goes back to love in action. Discernment is wisdom in how to apply our love to the regular routines of life. Those who argue that a deep theology is impractical miss the point of theological study, and the same can be said for those who study doctrine without allowing it to shape their life. The Bible is full of instruction about the importance of wisdom.
The Proverbs highlight the fact that wisdom comes from knowing and loving God, and it guides our steps, keeping us from sin (Prov. 2:1–15). Therefore, we should fervently seek wisdom, and James gives us the easy method for obtaining wisdom: ask God for it (Jas. 1:5). Are you seeking wisdom as a precious jewel, as a means to live for God in a world full of temptations and potential pitfalls.
Paul prayed that the Philippians would have a rich, knowledgeable love that had hands and feet. As we approach 2015, would you adopt this as your personal prayer and the prayer for your brothers and sisters around you? In times when love for God is misapplied and misunderstood, but intensely needed, the Church should pray for and pursue a holistic love, one that matches the love of Christ.