13 December 2017

Roots: Paul’s Prayer for Progress

While it is true that Philippians is the joy letter, the epistle is also filled with expressions of love. As with any letter, three elements are important; the sender, the recipients and the content of the correspondence. We know that Paul is the sender, the Philippian Christians are the recipients and the content is laden with expressions of affection for this church.

As we read Paul’s opening salutation we are struck by his deep and personal feelings for all of them, “I have you in my thoughts… I have you in my prayers…I have you in my heart.” Paul’s close relationship with the Philippians was not interrupted or diminished by his imprisonment. His opening remarks manifest his love, heart-felt desires and earnest prayers for the church. We often speak of Paul’s prison letters. His prison prayers are also most revealing and inspiring. Here in Philippians 1:8-11 Paul opens the door of his prayer chamber and allows us to listen to him pray for the church. Praying transformed his prison into a sanctuary, his burdens into blessings, his pain into gain and his grief into glory. Paul not only expressed his love for the Philippians, he also prayed that their love for God and for each other would grow to maturity.

 

1Paul prayed that they might grow in abounding in love. “That your love may abound yet more and more.” (1:9). In our English language ‘love’ is a greatly overworked word. The Greeks had four words for love, whereas we only have one. Our word for love does not differentiate between the fifth marriage of a fourtimes divorced actress and a devoted mother who risks her life to rescue her infant child from a blazing inferno; the infatuation of a young man falling in love with a beautiful girl, or God’s love for us. No matter, we call it all ‘love’.

In Greek there are differing words for immoral passion, legitimate affection and fraternal love. However, the word which the Greek reserves for the highest form of love is ‘agape love’. God’s love for man is ‘agape love’. The Christian’s love for God is meant to be ‘agape love’ and the Christian’s love for other Christians should be ‘agape love’.

The greatest display of this ‘agape love’ was manifested by the Lord Jesus when He gave Himself for us. This same love should be displayed by the redeemed of the Lord being ready to sacrifice for each other because of the same love Christ showed for us.

  • (a) Paul prayed that their love might grow. “Love might abound yet more and more.” (1:9). Dr David Jeremiah says that this is the picture of a fountain where the cascading waters are reaching more and more people with more and more love. Picture a bucket placed under a giant waterfall. The water spills over all sides because the bucket cannot possibly contain the downpour. So with us, His love, shed abroad in our hearts, should overflow to enrich the church and touch the world around us.
  • (b) Paul prayed that love might be guided. This love is to be guided by “knowledge” and “judgment”. (1:9). True love needs knowledge and discernment to stay focused. Without knowledge, the Philippians would not know whom to love. Without discernment, they would not know how to love. True love is to be controlled by knowledge and discernment.

 

2 Paul prayed that they might be guided in approving that which is excellent. “That you may approve the things that are excellent.” (1:10). It does not take much wisdom to choose the good instead of the bad; but we need discernment to choose between the better and the best. As we grow in grace we learn to prove “what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In doing so we will soon discard those habits, practices and values that we once approved.

 

3Paul prayed that they might be genuine by avoiding that which is wrong. “That you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” (1:10). There is nothing as odious as hypocrisy. Sincerity is an absence of hypocrisy. Paul prayed that the believers in Philippi would be genuine in their lives and real in their walk with the Lord. Just a few verses later, he speaks of some who were preaching Christ “not sincerely.” (1:16). He was praying that these believers would be genuine and sincere. He wanted them to be what they were, all the way through to the core. Sincere means to be “sem cera” – without wax, free from pretence and hypocrisy. No covering up of our flaws.

Someone has said that we are four people in one: (1) I am the person the world sees. (2) I am the person my friends see. (3) I am the person I see. (4) I am the person God sees. Are you what you appear to be?

 

4Paul prayed they might be godly in appropriating the righteousness of Christ. Paul spoke of deportment on three levels; sincere in relation to ourselves, without offense in relation to others and “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (v1:11). Paul wanted the believers in Philippi to demonstrate their righteousness by righteous living. He prayed that their hearts and lives would produce a rich spiritual harvest.

When Lawrence of Arabia visited Paris after World War 1 with some of his Arab friends, he took time to show them the sights of the French capital. He was surprised to find that they showed little interest in these things.

What really interested them was the water tap in the bath of their hotel room. They turned the taps on and off. They thought it was wonderful for they could get all the water they wanted.

When they were ready to leave Paris Lawrence discovered his friends were trying to detach the taps. They explained, “It is very dry in Arabia. What we need are taps, then we will have all the water we want.”

Lawrence had to explain that the taps did not have water in themselves, but in the great water system to which they were attached.

Christ is the reservoir and fountain of love and life. Pray that His life and love may fill and overflow our lives and then cascade more and more to the world around us.

Victor Maxwell