EVANGELICAL MENNONITE CONFERENCE
The good is often the enemy of the best. We clutter up our minds with things that are good, but have little room left for the best. If we jam our minds with the mediocre, it may not be vulgar, it may not be coarse, but it is the best?
In computers, we use a method called “formatting.” We format the margins, font and size of page. Formatting gives definition to the document we produce. Most of us live with little definition and for no ultimate priority. By formatting our lives we put priority on the things of greatest value. If we do not format our lives we will write aimlessly over the pages of life.
Paul prays to put priority on three things of greatest value in verses 9 to 11.
I. PRIORITY ON BIBLICAL LOVE, 1:9
and this I pray
We come to one of the splendid prayers of the apostle Paul. We can detect the deficiencies of the saints in this prayer. To put it another way, we see his concern for their lack of proper priorities. Paul’s prayers are never perfunctory but always pertinent to the situation. They are very suggestive and never superficial. This prayer has the very whiff of heaven. Paul’s prayers are a high water mark of spirituality in the New Testament. A person ought to be at their best when at prayer.
A. ABOUNDING LOVE, 1:9a
that your love
Paul prays that the Philippians put priority on three things. First, he prays that they would demonstrate a biblical love (1:9). The Greek word for “love” here means divine, self-sacrificing, one-way love that is free to relate. It is divine because God produces it; not us. It is self-sacrificing in that I am not looking for something for myself. It is one-way in that my love does not depend on the reciprocity of the 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. 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.
B. EXUBERANT LOVE, 1:9b
may abound still more and more:
Paul prays that this kind of love will “abound.” It is one thing to have love; it is yet another to have abounding love. Our love needed enlargement, a love that dominates our lives.
Paul says this abounding love is to have exuberance—“more and more.” Paul prays that their love would go beyond abounding love. This exuberant love is not anemic love, but a dynamic, poignant, powerful love.
C. LOVE WITH TWO SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS, 1:9c
with knowledge and all discernment
Dynamic love is not complete without two norms:
Love grows best with knowledge. A flighty, romantic, impulse love is not God’s love. Love in God’s economy goes beyond emotion. God’s love is no mawkish, maudlin, saccharin love about the little orphan who her lost doggy. Authentic love loves on the basis of substance or content.
Secondly, love it needs “judgment.” The idea of “judgment” is discernment. “Discernment” calls for practical application of “knowledge” specialized to needs in particular people.
II. PRIORITY OF A SCALE OF VALUES, 1:10a-b
A. TEST FOR APPROVAL THE THINGS OF GREATEST VALUE, 1:10a
That you may approve
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 Greek word “approve” means test for approval. The word was used for assaying metals and coins. The assaying process determines whether the metal satisfies specified standards. God wants us to have a criterion for whatever comes into our lives; that criterion is “excellence.”
B. HAVING A SENSE OF WHAT IS PRESENTLY VITAL, 1:10b
things that are excellent
Here “excellent” means to operate by a scale of values. We should be able to test for approval what is most valuable in life. No one operates adequately without a scale of values. Where there is no scale of values, there is utter 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! How we use our time depends on what is important.
We need to distinguish between the things that differ, not the things that oppose. It requires no keen insight to distinguish between what opposes. The emphasis here is not between what is good and bad but between what is good and better. That is, we need to determine that which “transcends.”
III. PRIORITY OF KEEPING ETERNAL VALUES IN VIEW, 1:10c-11
Now we come to the far or remote priority. 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“ (1:10c).
A. TRANSPARENCY WITH THE LONG GOAL IN MIND, 1:10c
The first quality to annex to excellence is “sincerity.” “Sincere” comes from two Greek words: “sun” and “to judge.” The idea is to judge by the light of the sun used in the selling of pottery. People would fill cracks of a jar with wax then paint over it and sell the jar as new. The way to tell if the jar was broken was by holding it up to the sun. If light came through, they knew that it was a defective jar.
We need to determine whether our lives pass the test when holding them up to the Word of God. God wants us transparent with nothing to hide. A sincere person is unmixed, pure, unsullied. He is genuine with nothing to hide.
The second evaluation Jesus will make of us when he comes again is to determine whether we are “without offense.” When we put priority on the things of greatest value, we keep our reputation intact.
The extent of putting priority on the things of greatest value is until “till the day of Christ.”
B. THOSE WHO LIVE FOR THE GOAL OF THE GLORY OF GOD PRODUCE FRUIT, 1:11a
being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
The third point for which Paul prays is that God would do something in our lives to make a difference. The Greek indicates “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” is something Christians receive, not something they do. Notice that this fruit comes “by Jesus Christ” for he produces this fruit. Such inner qualities are evident to others and magnifies God, not self.
We have the idea, “Tomorrow is God’s, today is mine.” Is not today God’s? If it is God’s, then we should format our lives accordingly. We establish the priorities God has for us and not wander aimlessly over a faceless terrain.