A Prayer for Love

Philippians 1:9-11

July 25, 2004 | Brian Bill

A week after purchasing a pair of glasses for her husband, the wife decides to take them back to the optometrist.  The person behind the counter wants to know the reason for the return so she asks, “What seems to be the problem, mam?”  To which the wife replies: “I want a refund for these glasses…my husband’s still not seeing things my way.”

We all want people to see things our way, don’t we?  We tend to judge others by looking at them through the prism of our own perspective.  And if we look hard enough, we almost always find things to not like in other people.  I heard this week about a new “reality” TV show called, “Things I Hate About You.”  The theme of this show involves a couple that agrees to be followed around by seven video cameras and a film crew for two weeks so as to capture annoying behaviors that drive the other bonkers.  These irritating idiosyncrasies are then ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 to see which individual has more reason to hate the other.

The Apostle Paul, when he looked closely at the Philippian believers, saw their selfishness, heard their grumbling and was concerned about their church conflict.  When he wrote a letter to them, he addressed their selfish hearts when he urged them to consider the example of Christ and put the needs of others before their own (2:3-5).  He also told them to get a grip on their grumbling and complaining so they would shine like stars in a crooked and depraved generation (2:14-15).  And in his closing comments, he urged two women to be at peace with one another, instead of finding fault with each other (4:2-3).

Here’s the principle.  You can always find something to hate about someone, and if you look close enough, you can compile enough evidence to ignore and write off those who don’t see things your way.  And, just as the church at Philippi had enough problems to justify judgment, so too, our church has enough selfishness, grumbling and conflict to validate the withholding of love and grace.  And yet, in spite of all their problems, when Paul writes to the Philippians, he thanks God for them (1:3), he prays with joy for them (1:4), he calls them partners (1:5), and he’s confident that the work God began in them will eventually be completed (1:6).

And then he expresses his deep devotion in verses 7-8: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Notice the emotive expressions that he uses:

  • “feel this way about all of  you”
  • “I have you in my heart”
  • “I long for all of you”
  • “affection”

Paul is crazy about the Philippians.  Why is that?  I think the secret lies in his prayer life.  Two weeks ago we studied how to pray from Ephesians 6:18.  Our prayers should be:

  • Spirit-directed
  • Life-saturated
  • All-encompassing
  • Clear-minded
  • Persistently-devoted
  • Others-focused

Have you ever struggled with what to pray for when you pray?  One author writes: “Often we simply don’t know what to say when we pray…our usual response is to pray like this: ‘Lord, uh…uh…uh…bless Sally…And…uh…uh…please bless Bill…And…uh… I ask that you really bless our missionaries…As one man remarked, if you took the word ‘bless’ out of our prayer vocabularies, some of us would never pray again.”

This morning we’re going to look at what we should pray for when we pray for others.  Turn in your Bibles to Philippians 1:9-11: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.”  This passage contains an overabundant request, three overlapping results, and an overriding reason for prayer.

An Overabundant Request

In the midst of internal squabbles and pervasive selfishness, Paul’s primary request is for believers to experience an overabundance of love.  The word here for “love” in verse 9 is agape, the unconditional kind of love.  The word “abound” was used to describe the growth of a flower when it goes from a bud to full bloom.  The picture is also one of a river rushing over its banks.  Paul is praying for believers to have a perpetual flood of love that “gushes out in copious amounts.”  

I have never met a person yet who does not need to increase their love level.  I know I need more love in my life.  Even those who seem to do OK at loving, still have room to bloom.  In Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica he prayed: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you…” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).  Their love level was high but Paul wanted it to increase and overflow.  Years later, when Paul wrote his second letter to this church, he complimented them on their abundance of agape love but interestingly, he never told them that they had arrived: “…The love every one of you has for each other is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).  Pastor Stephen Brown expresses it this way: “Everybody that belongs to Jesus belongs to everybody that belongs to Jesus.”

When you wonder what to pray, ask God to give people an overabundance of love.  And while you’re at it, pray the same for yourself.  Paul then gives two modifiers in verse 9.  Our love is to abound more and more “in knowledge and depth of insight.”  

1. Knowledge. 

Love is not just a sappy sentimental feeling that comes and goes.  It is grounded in God himself.  In order to leap forward in love, we must get to know God because the more we know Him the more we will love Him. The word “knowledge” in the Greek has an intensifier in front of it so it can read: “real knowledge.”  It’s the kind of knowing that comes from a deep and personal relationship with God.  One of the Israelites’ biggest problems was that they didn’t really know God.  Listen to the words of Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” That’s why the psalmist calls God’s people to slow down and be quiet so they can focus on what really matters: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I love what J.I. Packer writes in his book, “Knowing God”: “What were we made for?  To know God.  What aim should we set ourselves in life?  Knowledge of God.  What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else?  Knowledge of God.” 

2. Depth of Insight. 

This refers to discriminating between what is good and what is evil; between what is better and what is best.  It takes the knowledge we have and puts it into practice.  We need real knowledge and then we need deep insight so we know what we need to do as a result of knowing.  We need deep insight in order to make right choices based upon the knowledge that we have.  Someone has said that insight is “sight” on the inside, a kind of inner vision that enables us to properly evaluate all the choices we face every day.

3 Overlapping Results

When we request overabundant love to be splashed out in knowledge and depth of insight, verses 10 and 11 specify three overlapping results.  Notice the phrase, “so that…”  We pray for limitless love so that we can experience these three things that impact the totality of our being – the head, the heart, and the hands.

1. Deepening Discernment

We need discernment in our relationships with others because love without truth is sentimentality and truth without love is brutality

This affects our head.  Look at verse 10: “…you may be able to discern what is best…”  The word “discern” refers to approving that which is excellent and describes the process of testing coins and metals to ascertain their value.  I like how the Message paraphrases this verse: “You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.” The ability to discern comes from the constant use of Scripture as Hebrews 5:14 makes clear: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” We need discernment in our relationships with others because love without truth is sentimentality and truth without love is brutality.

2. Christlike Character. 

We start with the head because what we think about gradually makes its way to the heart. The second result of this request is found in the latter half of verse 10: “…and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”  Truth must move from our cortex to our character.  The word “pure” means to be “judged by sunlight.”  In the first century the shops were often dimly lit so customers would take the pottery or fabric out into the sunlight to see what it really looked like.  Likewise our lives are to be the same behind closed doors as they are in public.  Our love should impact how we live so that what was said about Nathaniel in John 1:47 would be said about us: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”  

A “blameless” person does nothing to make others stumble or trip up spiritually.  Romans 13:10: “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” Notice that we’re to cultivate our character and have holy hearts because Jesus is coming again.

3. Filled with Fruit. 

What we think about in our heads must move to the heart and finally must get expressed in our hands.  Look at verse 11: “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”  When we love more and more we will serve more and more.  Our increasing love leads to a bumper crop of indebted service.  Notice that the ability to be filled with fruit is only possible through Jesus Christ.  That’s exactly what Jesus said in John 15:5: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as we boldly proclaim the good news both here and around the world as Colossians 1:6 says: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing…”

When Paul thought about the Philippians and prayed that they would have an overabundance of love that led to being filled with fruit, he no doubt remembered how generous they were to him.  When they were new believers and the church was just getting started, they exhibited the fruit of financial support.  

And Paul was extremely grateful as he writes in Philippians 4:15-19: “…not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.  Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.  I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.  They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  That’s why we emphasize that our serving should involve our time, our talents, and our treasures.  A portion of what we make with our hands we are to give back with our hands to God.

When you pray, ask God to lavish His love on people so that they will abound in giving that love away to others.  This limitless love will affect their heads through deepening discernment; their hearts through Christlike character; and their hands as they become filled with fruit.

The Overriding Reason

Paul ends his prayer in verse 11 in a very theocentric, or God-focused, way.  This is a great reminder for us.  Prayer is ultimately not about us; it’s about God.  It’s not about us getting something; it’s about giving God glory: “…to the glory and praise of God.”  The word “glory” here is the Greek word doxa, from which we get “doxology.”  As Paul wraps us this letter, he breaks into praise in 4:20: “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.” I have a question: When people look at you, do they naturally think about God?  I like Ruth Bell Graham’s definition of a saint: “A saint is a person who makes it easy to believe in Jesus.”

God is to receive all the recognition and praise.  This is especially evident when we bear fruit according to John 15:8: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit…” and in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Art Mikesell began his sermon last week with one of the most beautiful doxologies in the Bible from Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen.”  

At a practical level this means that we are to intercede for others because it brings glory to God.  And we are to pray for ourselves because it provides a reminder for us to praise the One who holds all things together.  We must remember the first law of the Christian life: “He’s God and we’re not.”  Friends, guard against pride.  Don’t take the glory that is reserved for God alone.  I’m reminded of what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 when he started bragging about all that he had done: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  These words were still on his lips when God answered in a voice from heaven: “Your royal authority has been taken from you.  You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle…”  When you’re fruitful; be careful to give thanks to the Father or you may end up eating alfalfa.  God will not share His glory with another.  

Demolition Derby or Positive Praying

Our family went to the 4-H fair three times this past week.  My favorite thing, other than the Wisconsin ice cream, was to watch the demolition derby.  Drivers take aim at each other with the attempt to demolish or disable other vehicles.  The last one still moving is declared the winner.  I wonder if that’s how some of us approach life.  If we could, we’d be happy to take someone out.  We secretly dream about demolishing our enemies and crashing into other Christians.

Instead of harboring hatred toward others, let’s practice some positive praying.  Instead of trying to get people to see things our way, let’s begin seeing things God’s way.  I’d like to challenge you to pray this prayer every day for someone you don’t really like.  Make an overabundant request for that individual’s love to gush out in copious amounts in knowledge and depth of insight.  Ask that God would give the three overlapping results of deepening discernment, Christlike character, and a life filled with fruit.  And make the overriding reason of your prayer that God Himself will get all the glory.

Let’s pray this passage of Scripture back to the Lord, inserting the name of someone you don’t really like: “And this is my prayer for : that his/her love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that he/she may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.”

Now, I’d like you to pray this prayer for yourself as you admit that you’re low on love and you need the Lord to fill you up: “And this is my prayer for me: that my love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that I may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?