Learning to Love Others
April 10, 2005 | Brian Bill
I want to begin this morning with an unbelievable story out of Fresno, California.
On Sunday morning at the 18,000-member Calvary Church, tithers flash green Costco-like cards at greeters, who let them in early and usher them to special seating areas. “The seats have more padding, and they recline,” says tither Dan Phelps, kicking back before the sermon. “I feel a little guilty, but you can’t knock the comfort.”
Calvary is believed to be the first church in America to use membership cards to dole out privileges to certain members. First-time visitors are offered the best seats — plush recliners in the orchestra section — while non-tithing attendees carry orange membership cards and are forced to sit in hard, stadium-style seats on the mezzanine. “We give honor to whom honor is due,” says Pastor Jerald Dennis. “If you tithe or volunteer in some way, you deserve a special thank you.” At Life Family Center in Abilene, Texas, members at all levels earn “reward points” similar to frequent flyer miles for tithing and attending. The points add up to free hotel stays, vacation packages and tickets to NASCAR events.
Ringing the church’s cavernous sanctuary are private skyboxes where groups watch the service while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and deep leather chairs. Some pay only occasional attention to what takes place on the platform. “We compete with professional sporting events, not other churches,” says pastor Lovey Pederson. “I would rather people come here than a football stadium, so I offer bigger perks.” This year, at least a dozen more mega-churches will introduce some form of “club card.” “The credit card commercial said it best: ‘Membership has its privileges,’” says Pederson.
I should tell you that this press release was dated April 1st. This is not a true story, but I bet some of you were wondering how you could join that church and get one of those recliners! Several pastors used this April Fool’s prank last Sunday and got some good mileage out of it. One preacher said that some of his members even expressed a willingness to show up for all their services and join a number of ministry teams, if they’d get triple “miles” in return.
When I pastored in Rockford, we used to begin our services by telling people to “sit back and relax.” I now realize that that wasn’t right. We should be sitting forward in reverence, not reclining and relaxing. Some of us approach church with comfort in mind, forgetting that the real issue is conformity to Christ. Instead of focusing on the privileges of membership, we need to realize the responsibilities that we have. Instead of sitting, we must be serving. Instead of being pew potatoes (or chair chameleons) we need to be prayer practicers.
This morning we’re going to follow a different format because frankly we don’t need more principles about prayer, we need more practice in prayer. There will be three elements to our service, and we will cycle through them five different times:
I should warn you that it might be difficult to sit back and relax today. That reminds me of the woman who sheepishly approached the pastor after the service and said, “I hope you didn’t take it personally when my husband walked out during your sermon.” The pastor replied, “I did find it a little disconcerting.” The wife continued, “Please know that it’s no reflection on your preaching…Bob has been walking in his sleep ever since he was a child.” Our worship time is going to feel more like work today, so I don’t recommend that you catch up on that lost hour of sleep from last weekend!
Actually, prayer should cause us some perspiration. A believer named Epaphras modeled this in Colossians 4:12: “Epaphras…is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Before we look at Philippians 1:7-11, let me remind you that Paul’s passion was for the continued spiritual progress of believers. Galatians 4:19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” In Colossians 1:28, we see that Paul’s commitment was to “present everyone perfect in Christ.”
Last week we learned from verse 4 how Paul prayed: he always prayed “with joy” for the believers. This morning we will look at what he prayed. Paul’s prayer in this passage is really a model for us. It’s my hope that after our preaching, praising and praying, that this will become a model for how we can pray in our personal lives. Would you please stand as we read this passage together? “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. 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.”
1. Limitless Love (1:7-9).
Paul had deep feelings for the Philippians, telling them, “I have you in my heart.” We could say that this book is really a love letter to them because he was so grateful that they shared in God’s grace with him. In verse 8 he describes how much he longed for them with the “affection of Christ Jesus.” The word “longing” is very forceful. It means to strain after, and to desire earnestly. This was the strongest and most tender expression the Greeks had to denote the intensity of one’s attachment to another. It literally means that his “inward parts” were affected. He is groaning in his gut for them. That leads to a question. Do you have that kind of intense attachment for every Christian you know?
When you find yourself floundering in your prayers, ask God to grant limitless love to those you’re praying for
His first request is that they would have limitless love that “abounds more and more.” The picture here is of a river rushing over its banks or a glass of water that is filled to overflowing. The word is also used to describe a cascading waterfall that just keeps coming. When you find yourself floundering in your prayers, ask God to grant limitless love to those you’re praying for.
This word for love is agape, the kind of love that is unconditional and comes only from God. This is not an emotional or impulsive kind of love; it’s a matter of the will. Agape love is an action not a feeling. 1 John 4:7 says it best: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Paul gives two qualifiers for this kind of love.
Let’s pray that our own love would splash out, and that it would cascade over every Christian we know. One way we can gauge our growth in love is to ask if we’re more loving this year than we were last year. Am I more loving at 45 than I was at 35? By God’s grace and enablement, I want to love more people more deeply as I get older. Unfortunately, as we age we often get the disease called, “The hardening of the categories.” Instead of becoming more loving, we often get more crabby and cantankerous.
I talked to someone this week who told me that she’s been praying this request for over six months for someone she has struggled with. In fact, this prayer was up on her refrigerator so that it was always in front of her. She took the format right from Philippians: “And this is my prayer for that her love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…” After praying this prayer faithfully, God has answered and finally reconciled this relationship. You may want to put this same prayer into practice.
2. Deep Discernment (1:10a).
When agape love abounds more and more in our lives, we will then be “able to discern what is best.” The two words, “so that” establish a progression. Limitless love leads to deep discernment. We all need wisdom to not only discern the difference between what is evil and what is excellent but also to know how to choose between the good, better, and best. As someone has said, the “good” is really the enemy of the “best.” It’s so easy for us to settle for the spiritual status quo, when God wants us to know the very best. Too many of us are involved in peripheral pursuits that keep us from fully committing ourselves to Christ.
The word “discern” in classical Greek was used for testing money for counterfeits and metal to see if it was pure. It has the idea of verifying in order to determine what is real and valuable. In other words, we pray for discernment so that instead of living mediocre lives, we can know what really matters. When you intercede in this way for others you are asking God to give people the ability to sort through the plethora of their choices and activities and have the wisdom to choose the most excellent way.
Ephesians 5:15-16 puts it this way: “Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 establishes that we must not just accept what we see on the surface: “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” When we’re weak in wisdom and have a discernment deficit, James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Prayer for Deep Discernment
3. Sweet Sincerity (1:10b).
As this prayer progresses, Paul now prays that believers would be genuine: “…and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” The word “pure” literally mean that which “is tested by sunlight.” In ancient times the best pottery was very thin. But the problem with this pottery was that it would often crack in the oven and would need to be thrown away. Dishonest dealers would fill in the cracks with a special wax that blended in with the color of the pottery so that no one could see it. And in the poorly lit shops the unsuspecting customer could easily buy some damaged goods. People got into the practice of taking the stoneware outside to hold it up to the light of the sun. Any cracks would show up right away. Honest artisans would stamp a caption on the bottom of their product that read sine cera, which means, “without wax.” This is the background to our word sincere.
Paul is praying for believers to be sincere, or without the wax of hypocrisy when they stand before the Son on the “the day of Christ.” Every Christian has some cracks; but we must avoid filling them in with the wax of hypocrisy. Instead, let’s pray that we allow the Redeemer to repair our cracks. I met with someone this week that is refreshingly honest and completely real. The word “blameless” refers to a person who doesn’t cause others to stumble. Warren Wiersbe suggests two good tests for us to follow:
- Will what I’m doing cause others to stumble?
- Would I be ashamed if Jesus should return while I’m doing this?
I like what John Wesley’s mother reportedly said to him when he went away to school: “Whatever weakens one’s reason, impairs the tenderness of one’s conscience, obscures one’s sense of God or takes off the delight for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of one’s body over one’s mind, that thing is sin.”
4. Filled with Fruitfulness (1:11a).
When’s the last time you prayed for someone to be fruitful? That’s difficult for some of us because we may be jealous of what God does in the lives of others. We may secretly want others to fail just so we look better. Not so with Paul. He was passionate about praying that fruit would form and ripen in the lives of the Philippian believers. The word “filled” means to be completely filled like a cup to the brim. This fruit of “righteousness” only comes as we stay connected to Christ. As followers of Jesus we are called to bear fruit. Jesus said it this way in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If we unplug from the vine, we will never be fine.
Lawrence of Arabia once brought a group of Bedouins to London and put them up in a beautiful hotel. They were accustomed to travel a long way just to get some water and now all they had to do was turn on a faucet. When Lawrence helped them pack up to leave he noticed that they had taken off all the faucets and put them in their bags. They thought if they just had the faucets they could get water wherever they went. Friends, unless we are connected to the pipeline of spiritual water, no matter what else we try, we will not be able to produce spiritual power. Too many of us are living lives that are as dry as the Sahara Desert.
Let’s pray now for the various ministries of our church, that God would be pleased to make us fruitful as Colossians 1:10 says: “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”
Prayer for being Filled with Fruitfulness
5. Giving Glory to God (1:11b).
When people gaze at you, they should give glory to God
When we pray, our goal should always be to give all the glory to God: “…To the glory and praise of God.” His glory is the totality of all His perfection. When we recapture His wonder we can’t help but worship Him. We see once again how this prayer is sequential. In John 15:8, Jesus makes it clear that spiritual fruit gives glory to God: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” When people gaze at you, they should give glory to God. This idea is also stated 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.” As our love becomes limitless, when our discernment deepens, when our sincerity sweetens and we are filled with fruitfulness, all glory and honor goes to God. As Psalm 115:1 declares: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory.”
The great classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach once said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub.” At the top of his compositions were the initials: “J. J.” (“Jesus Juva”) which means, “Jesus help me” and he ended his works with these three letters: “S. D. G.” (“Soli Dei gratia”) which means, “To God alone the praise” (Kingdom Conflict, J. Stowell, Victor, 1985, pp. 77ff). Let’s develop lives that sing the doxology, giving all praise and glory to God alone. Remember that prayer is not about us getting something; it’s about giving God glory.
Prayer for Giving Glory to God
Believers do have special membership privileges; actually, the greatest perk we have is prayer. What could be better than being able to communicate and converse with the God of glory? Let’s use this passage in Philippians as a model for our own prayers as we intercede for ourselves and for others. Boldly ask for:
- Limitless Love
- Deep Discernment
- Sweet Sincerity
- Filling with Fruitfulness
- God’s Glory