Paul’s prayer for the Philippians has been running through my mind all week. It’s one of those passages that leaps out and demands to be examined more thoroughly. The more I chew on it, the more tangents I could go off on, but I’ll strive to keep in line with a single train of thought. (Those who know me well know what a feat of constraint this is for me, the queen of rabbit-trails, but here goes!)
Let’s refresh ourselves on Paul’s prayer. I really like the way the Amplified Bible gives a bit more clarity on some of the concepts:
9 And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more [displaying itself in greater depth] in real knowledge and in practical insight, 10 so that you may learn to recognize and treasure what is excellent [identifying the best, and distinguishing moral differences], and that you may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ [actually living lives that lead others away from sin]; 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God [so that His glory may be both revealed and recognized].
(Philippians 1:9-11, AMP)
Jon Courson, in his commentary bible, has this to say regarding verses 9-10.
“How will our love grow? Not by fault-finding, not by ‘sin-sniffing’, but by ‘excellence approving’. That is, we grow by saying, “I can glean from that ministry, book, teacher, parent—from anyone who models any aspect of the nature of Christ, imperfect though they may be.”
I love this because we humans have a disturbing tendency to witch-hunt, to root out those whose doctrines are ‘wrong’, to destroy a person’s ministry if they dare to hang out with the wrong people or say something that might conflict with the current prevailing denominational party-line. Instead of burning folks on a stake, these days we create websites that point out every perceived flaw in one’s ministry, warning the masses to steer clear. **
I have yet to find one of these sites where the love of Christ is seen.
In fact, using the criteria some of these ‘whistleblowers’ use, we would have to throw out every psalm that the adulterous murderer David wrote. We could disqualify Paul for also being a killer, Peter for leading people into false doctrine (Galatians 2:11-14), and even Jesus for hanging out with all those awful sinful people.
Sounds like Pharisaical shenanigans to me.
Abounding love enables us to recognize the excellence in our brothers and sisters, even those we don’t particularly like or those with whom we disagree on certain points. Excellence approving requires a humility that acknowledges the fact that none of us have every jot and tittle of Christian doctrine correct and that all of us are learning and growing.
Love offers the benefit of a doubt to the brother who differs from us on some doctrinal point and finds what is good and excellent in his reasoning or his character, even as we disagree. Love enables fellowship with the sister who holds different views because we recognize the Holy Spirit is in her as He is in us. This humility is what leads us to be “pure and blameless”, another way of saying spiritually mature, and creates an environment of unity in the body of Christ, even in the face of vast differences.
Now it may seem as though I’m shifting my train of thought here, but bear with me.
Verse 11 begins with the words, “filled with the fruit of righteousness”. This phrase jumped out at me and I wondered, what exactly is this referring to? I looked up the words in the Literal Word app and found that the word fruit means works or deeds, which makes sense. But it was the word for righteousness that made me take note. It means, ‘in a broad sense, conformity to the Divine will in purpose, thought and action.’
So, taking it from the top, we see Paul’s earnest prayer is for the Philippians’ love to overflow, with real knowledge of God and the discernment to see and treasure what is good, thus growing in spiritual maturity so that their purpose, thoughts and actions will align with the Father’s will. Isn’t that beautiful? And it gets even better.
Verse 11 finishes out by telling us that this is all through Christ, not something we strive for on our own. This sort of love, and all that springs out of it: knowledge of God, discernment, recognizing spiritual excellence, maturity in Christ, it is all supernatural. It is a gift from Christ for the purpose of glorifying God.
When we really grasp the notion that all this goodness is not something we can drum up on our own, it’s humbling. It’s supposed to be. Because unity cannot happen without humility. And without unity, a non-believing world doesn’t see our Father’s heart as clearly as they could. We become poor reflections at best, and full-blown witch-hunting Pharisees at worst.
I don’t know about you, but I find this prayer deeply moving. I’m inspired to pray for both myself and others in this vein, that we will grow. That we will grow in His love and His likeness, that the storms of life will merely serve to bring this beautiful maturity about, and that we will be unified in purpose, finding the best in each other, for the glory of our Father. Amen?
Grace and peace,
**Please note that I am not talking about truly heretical teachings that undermine the essentials of Christianity. Those need to be addressed, in love, and be firmly rejected. However, I think we tend to forget what the essentials are. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are pretty succinct in summing up the non-negotiable tenets of our faith.
Photo by stokpic, courtesy of Pixabay.