“For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. 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 1:8-11
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” Remember he was in prison in the former Soviet Union for many years. He knew hardship. He paid a great price but he injected the Soviet Union with notions of democracy. He took his place independent of outside influences.
In computers we use a device called “formatting.” We format the margins, page numbering and size of page. Formatting gives definition to the kind of document we want to produce. Most of us do not live formatted lives. We live without boundaries. There is little definition to our lives. We live for no ultimate purpose. How can we live for that which is most important if we do not know what it is? By formatting our lives we can put priority on the things of greatest value. If we do not format our lives we will write aimlessly over the pages of life.
A life active with ultimate purpose demands priorities; it is an issue of first things first. In Atlanta there was a couple who heard My Fair Lady was running on Broadway in New York. They attempted to procure tickets but could not secure reservations for 10 months. They planned their whole vacation around going to the play. After ten long months they finally arrived in New York. Their seats were seven rows from the orchestra. The place was packed except for the seat right next to the husband. A lady sat two seats over. He could not imagine why anyone would not occupy that seat since the tickets were so hard to come by. At the intermission he asked the lady why no one occupied the seat between them, “Since it is so difficult to obtain a seat for this show, why is this seat empty?” She said, “Well, this is my husband’s seat but he died.” The man said, “I am sorry to hear that but since these tickets are so scarce, why didn’t you bring a friend?” She answered, “They are all at the funeral!!!” My Fair Lady was her priority!
If you were to map out the remaining five years of this century for your life, what would it look like? How would you give priority to your life?
Philippians 1:8-11 shows us how to formulate a life’s purpose:
“For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. 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 1:8-11).
Ten years and 800 miles distance did not diminish Paul’s appreciation for the Philippians. Passage of time did not lessen his love, “For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ” (1:8). He demonstrated his love for them by a powerful prayer for priority. This prayer runs from verses 9 to 11. He was in prison at the writing of this epistle. Hardships made him better, not bitter. Difficulties always do one or the other to the child of God.
The Priority of Biblical Love
He prays that they would put priority on three things. First, he prays that they would demonstrate a biblical love (1:9).
We can detect the deficiencies of the saints in the prayers of Paul. To put it another way, we see his concern for the Philippians to live proper priorities. Paul’s prayers are never perfunctory but always pertinent to the situation. This prayer has the very exhale of heaven. It is a high water mark of spirituality. We ought to be at our best in prayer.
The first petition was for a special kind of love. He does not pray for an ordinary love; he prays that their love would display two features: knowledge and discernment.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment” (1:9).
This is far more than a prayer for simple love. He prays that their love will engage “knowledge.” Genuine love requires content. A flighty, romantic, impulse love is not the point here. The more we know about people the better we can love them. An arm’s distance love is inadequate biblical love. Genuine spiritual knowledge (epignosis) of God and others enables us to love God and others better. Sentimental love cannot consummate that kind of love. Greeting everyone with the smile of a Cheshire cat and calling them “dearie” or “darling” is sentimental love.
How would you like some plumber to give you a prefrontal lobotomy? He obviously does not have the knowledge to perform delicate brain surgery. On the other hand, I would not want a brain surgeon to work on my plumbing either! Each has his field of specialty. Biblical love requires us to know people.
Ability to “discern” is the second characteristic of love for which Paul prays. Hippocrates, an ancient Greek medical writer, used this term in the sense of perception. This love is more delicate than any seismograph for recording earthquakes or any chemical apparatus for detecting affinities between atoms and electrons. This is fineness of spiritual perception in love. “Discern” calls for practical application of “knowledge” specialized to needs in particular people.
Paul prayed for more than insightful knowledge and discernment in love. He prayed that their knowledgeable and discerning love “may abound still more and more.” The word “abound” means “overflow.” It is not sufficient to love; love must overflow. Love that squirts a little here or there is not his point. Their love should overflow as a cup under a running faucet.
Again, that is not all God requires of love. Paul prays that their love would go beyond an overflowing love that is knowledgeable and discerning. He prays that their love will abound “still more and more.” “More and more” piles up adverbs. This is exuberant love, not anemic love. It is a dynamic, poignant, powerful love.
If there was anything Paul desired for the saints, it is that they would love with the sum total of all these qualities. Look back over the last year. Did you love with the love of this verse? Was your life filled with bitterness, resentment, hostility and implacability? Were you constantly hurt? Did you wear your feelings on your sleeve? Where you so concerned about how other people appreciated you that you could care less about them? Were you others oriented? Was your love overflowing? Was it constantly coming in like wave after wave? Did your love grow this past year? Will it grow this year? Will you format the love of 1:9 into your life this coming year?
On the other hand, are you going to wander aimlessly through the next five years as over a faceless terrain? If we do not intentionalize this kind of love, it will never become real. We can format this love if we give structure to it. We can make a purpose real in our lives by adding the word “by” to love. “I am going to be more loving between now and the end of the century by cherishing my wife more.” “I will change the direction of my life by respecting my husband more.” “I am going to love as Christ loved me.”
Jesus challenged us with a similar love, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This love is the hallmark of Christianity.
Another passage which speaks of an expanding love is I Thessalonians 3:12 “And may the LORD make you to increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you.” The Lord must make this happen. This kind of love is beyond our power. It is supernatural. The Lord can enable us to love, not only Christians, but “all” persons. Growing love catalyzes us to share our faith. The more we grow in grace the more we love. No one ever loves too much. Do we care enough about the eternal destiny of souls to share Christ? Will you format into your life such love of the lost that you will risk your comfort zone to love them?
All people do not appeal to us equally. Some are more difficult than others. Their disposition, dress, character or ways of doing things may not appeal to us. Compatibility of personality is irrelevant to this kind of love. We do not love them for their sake or their personality but rather for Jesus’ sake. We love the unlovely. An abounding, increasing knowledgeable, discerning love has greater capacity to love a wider range of people.
The first earmark of a growing, dynamic Christian is unconditional love. Immature Christians behave like youngsters. They engender anger at the drop of a hat. They detonate quickly. They are irritated and exasperated with people who do not seem to appreciate them. As we grow in love these things become inconsequential. Petty things are too tawdry to deflect the child of God from this kind of love. When we let people get into our hair or under our skin, this is a sign of spiritual immaturity. When teens take on “baby fat” we say, “They will outgrow it.” We, as well, will outgrow spiritual baby fat if love abounds “still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.”
The Greek word for “love” here means divine, self-sacrificing, one-way love that is free to relate. It is divine because God must produce it; we cannot produce it. “I cannot love this jerk.” No, but God will enable us to love him. It is self-sacrificing in that I am not looking for something for myself, in fact, “I may have to pay a price to love this person.” It is one-way in that my love does not depend on the reciprocity of that person to love me back. It makes no difference whether that person appreciates me or whether they understand what I have done for them. One-way love means that I love them on the basis of my character, not on the basis of my feeling. I love on the bedrock of what God has done for me. It does not make any difference what they are, who they are or what they have done, I can still love them because of what God has done for me. My love is also free to relate. It makes no difference if they violate me. I am free from soul kinks of bitterness, sour grapes, jealousy, resentment, implacability, hostility, anger.
This kind of love needs formatting. It will not come automatically. That is priority number one for which Paul prayed.
The Priority of a Value System
“That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”
If we were to give the Greek nuances of this verse, we could paraphrase it like this: “That you may test with a view of approving by a standard the things of highest value.” This puts priority on the things of greatest value. If I were to ask you face to face what is your highest priority in life, what would you tell me? Would you tell me of a priority that transcends the mundane, the day-to-day, the here-and-now? Would it reach beyond the end of your nose? What is the highest value of your life?
Do you format your life to the things of greatest value? Do you live with a construct or structure and definition in your life? On the other hand, do you wander through life?
In this verse Paul prays that the Philippians will sense what really matters. His prayer is that they will put priority on the things of greatest value.
He prays that they will sense two things in this verse, one near and one far. First, he prays that they would be able to discern the greatest priorities for the present time:
“That you may approve the things that are excellent” (1:10a).
The Greek word “approve” means test for approval. It is a testing with a view to approving. The word was used for assaying metals and coins. The assaying process determines whether the metal satisfies specified standards. In Detroit Michigan automobile companies test their cars on “proving grounds.” If a shock absorber does not meet their regulations they keep changing it until they correct the problem.
A thinking person must have criteria to prove life’s priorities. God’s Word gives us those criteria for life. If we use criteria for business, education and every other field of life, why not employ it in our spiritual life?
In order to test something we must have a standard, a measure or criterion. If someone comes to us with a business deal we will not accept it unless it meets our standards. Principles of business knowledge determine whether it is a good deal or not. The second purpose, therefore, is to resolve a set of difficulties and problems with biblical priorities.
Is making money your greatest value? “The security of money in the bank is the highest value to me. I’m going to retire one day. Inflation is on the rise. I may end in poverty if I do not pack it away.” The Bible does not assail a savings plan. It does vilify making money an idol. Biblically, money is a means, not an end.
The word “excellent” means a sense of what is vital. It is the ability to distinguish between the things that differ. It is the discernment to distinguish between chaff and wheat, dross and gold, the genuine and the superficial. Some people lack discernment to the degree that they cannot tell the difference between the Bible and the Koran. The Bible is the touchstone whereby we determine whether a thing is true or not.
Here “excellent” means to operate by a scale of values. The phrase “the things that are excellent” can translate “the things of greater value.” We should be able to test for approval what is most valuable in life. No one operates adequately in life without a scale of values. Where there is no scale of values there is utter and total confusion. We would live in daze without a sense of what is important. Imagine trying to live in a world where everything is equally important!
Why does Paul pray for such priority? We are here on earth for such a short time. Paul is in prison. He may face death shortly after he writes this book. In this very dangerous plight he must know what is important.
The field of sociology presents two types of values: terminal and instrumental values. An instrumental value is something we use. A terminal value is one of six or so core beliefs. We treasure these tenets above all else. Money should remain an instrumental value, not a terminal value. We should employ it only for the glory of God. If that means meeting the needs of my family, then it is a biblical value. God is glorified by my doing so. Utilizing money for “us four and no more” converts money into a terminal value. Money then applies exclusively for the mundane.
Another example of instrumental values is in the field of relationships: “Oh, I need a man. I am not married. I am almost 30 years of age. Any port in the storm will do.” Or, “I need a gal. She must be tall, tanned and terrific.” Is her soul important? Are his passions something to consider? Reaching for the short instrumental values will end in great problems.
Putting priority on the greatest values means we must manage our lives carefully. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil”
Opportunities slip by. We squander and waste many advantages. We could have touched someone with the gospel. We could have won someone to Jesus Christ. We did not seize the moment because we were spiritual navel gazers. We are more concerned about our problems–”Me, myself and I”–than other people. We need to come out of ourselves and see the world of opportunities around us.
“Only one life, twill soon be passed, only what is done for Christ will last.” Living for Christ is to keep eternal values in view. Do we live with eternal values in view? Do we exist primarily for going down to the beach? This is not to say that going to the beach as a lesser priority is wrong. Part of good stewardship is to measure a certain amount of relaxation into our lives. If the essence of life is to play golf or trim our hedges, then we subsist on the outer edge of God’s priorities for us. We dwell on the outside of the periphery of God’s design for us. Do we place priority on the things of greatest value? Do we appraise what is truly important?
“A lighthouse keeper was given a measured amount of oil to run the lighthouse in the older days. He lived close to shore so people came over to visit him. One day a lady came and said, “My family is cold and we need some oil to keep our house warm. Would you give us some oil?” He said, “OK, that is a good use of my oil.” Over time others came; he gave them oil as well. A day came when he depleted his supply. That evening a number of ships crashed on the shores. A number of people died. He did good things but did he do the best thing? He did not put priority on the thing of greater value.
Now we come to the far or remote priority for which Paul prays:
“That you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ” (1:10b).
Paul prays that the Philippians will annex two characteristics to “excellence” by the time Christ comes, “that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ” (1:10b). The word “sincere” is more meaningful in the Greek than in the English. It means “transparent.” “Sincere” comes from two Greek words: “sun” and “to judge.” The idea is to judge by the light of the sun. In the ancient world, people would fill in the cracks of a jar with wax and paint over it. They would sell the jar as new. The only way someone could tell if the jar was broken was to hold it up to the sun. If light came through, then they knew that it was a defective jar.
Does our life pass the test when held up to the sun? When we hold our life up to the Word of God, does it show cracks? We judge our life by holding it up to the Word of God to determine whether it is genuine. Are we transparent with nothing to hide? When Jesus comes again he will judge us with piercing perception. He will see us for what we truly are.
The second evaluation Jesus will make of us when he comes again is to determine whether we are “blameless.” This word means “no stumbling block.” God will evaluate us on whether people stumbled over our lives.
If we put priority on the things of greatest value we will not stumble other people. If we put priority on the things of greatest value we will have a life of integrity until Christ comes again.
The second priority is that we will live by a scale of values both in the near and far terms until Christ comes again.
The Result of Putting First Things First
The third point for which Paul prays is that the Philippians will glorify God by producing fruit which only God can supply by Jesus Christ,
“Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:11).
The Greek indicates “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” is something we receive, not something we do. Christians receive this action. They do not produce it. We do not produce fruit; we receive it.
Notice that this fruit comes “by Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ produces this fruit. The third point for which Paul prays is that God would do something in our lives to make a difference. He prays that we would orient to the grace of God, to the provision of God, to the majesty of God. If we set our course on God’s grace, we will glorify God. Only through the death of Christ is deliverance from sin possible. His death makes it possible to live the Christian life.
Is the hand of God on your life? Will you allow him to radically change you? Most people never change their terminal values. It takes a major disruption in life to undermine a core belief. Only dissonance or some major catastrophe will impact this fundamental belief system. We believe money will make us happy or beauty will give us a sense of fulfillment. If a core belief fails us, we may be jolted into openness toward God. Must we wait for a catastrophe before we change? The Holy Spirit will create a spiritual dissonance or dissatisfaction with our terminal values if we yield to him.
The fruits that God produces glorifies God. The glory of God is the manifestation of his attributes, the manifestation of God himself. His glory depicts the wonder of who he is. If God does the doing he gets the glory. If we do the doing we get the glory. The “fruit” in this verse is God’s doing. “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).”
It chaffs people of our generation to depend upon God. We have lost the idea of dependence. We cannot have proper relationships even with other humans if we cannot depend upon them. If we cannot depend on human beings, how can we depend upon God to work in our lives? God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
We have the idea,” Paul said, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”