Title: A Pastor’s Prayer (5/20)
Reference: Philippians 1:9-11
We are studying through the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings. And we have come to that section in chapter 1 where we really get to see into the prayer life of the apostle Paul. Earlier in the chapter we had that section where we were able to see his heart and to see what really made this man of God tick. Well, today and going on into the next time we are together, we are going to be able to look at, almost like his private prayer closet and to see how this man prays and to see what we can learn to model in our own prayer life and to grow from that. So as I planned out this chapter and outlined the chapter, I have got to tell you my desire, my plan, was to cover this whole prayer in one Sunday. It is just three verses and I thought surely we can get through three verses in one Sunday, but I got to tell you that this week as I got, just really poured into these few verses, there is just so much here that it is so theological rich and I believe it is going to be instructive for us as a family of faith, so we are not going to get through three verses today. We are going to get through one verse, verse 9, and then we will pick back up, the next time we are together we will pick back up and finish off the prayer. So we will start today, finish next time we are together. Philippians chapter 1, is where we are at.
The title of today’s message is: A Pastor’s Prayer. A Pastor’s Prayer. You can go ahead and put Part 1 after that, alright. It doesn’t show that in your notes, but Part 1. I will begin reading with verse 9, and I am going to ask if you are physically able, let’s all stand in honor and reverence of the reading of God’s Holy Word. The Word of God says in Philippians, chapter 1 beginning with verse 9:
“And this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve the things that are excellent in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”
And Father, would you add your blessing upon the proclamation of your Word and it is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
I can already tell this is going to be trouble, there is a fly up here. This is gonna be bad, so if you see some of this … well, I could just be using hand gestures. (laughter) Have you ever thought about how much trouble Noah would have saved us if he would have just swatted those two flies? (laughter) Like really! I mean, come on! Just swat them because you know they had to be a nuisance there, right, and we could have been spared a lot of this, and this, … alright, … focus is the word of the day, right! No wonder we are only getting through one verse!
Alright, one of the greatest things about getting to do what I do as a pastor is getting to see people grow. That is right up there on the top things that bring me fulfillment in life is to see God’s people grow in their faith. To see a man of God or a woman of God just spiritually come alive, like the light bulb just clicks and they begin to dig into the Word of God and allow the Word of God to begin to shape them and mold them and really lead them into embracing who God has made them to become. This is probably one of the most rewarding things about doing what I get to do. Such a great joy in ministry to see God’s people grow and develop and to step up and to take a look back at who they are today and to think back at who they used to be and say I can’t believe the work that God has done in my life.
Do you know who else was also passionate about spiritual growth in the life of God’s people? Ask me, say who else. (who else) I will tell you who else. The Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul was also passionate about spiritual growth in believers. Listen to some of these verses. In Galatians chapter 4, in verse 19, Paul writes to the believers there and he says: My Children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you. Paul says I am so concerned about your spiritual growth and if you know any context about the book of Galatians, that church was beginning to really dabble in a mixture of legalism with their grace and they were beginning to depart from the simplicity of the gospel message that was saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and Paul writes back to them and he really labors over them, he is burdened, he is concerned about their spiritual growth and health in the Lord.
In the book of Ephesians Paul prays for the believers Ephesus. In Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 16 and following he says: I am praying that he, that is God, God would grant you, according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his spirit in the inner man. I think it is so interesting when you read, unless I have missed something, there are four prayers of Paul that are scattered throughout the New Testament epistles, and in every single one of those prayers he doesn’t pray for anything physical. I think that is so interesting. All of his prayers are about spiritual character, building up the man of God, building up the woman of God in his or her faith so they can live out who they are in Christ, and so he says that I am praying that God would grant, according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breath, and the width, and the height, and the depth, to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. Isn’t that great! He says I am praying that you would be able to grow in your spirit so much so, that you could understand the love of Christ, which, by the way, no one can understand, but I am praying for that anyway. I am praying that you would have that kind of grip in your spirit, that kind of connection with Christ in your spirit that you would begin to know the great love of Christ for you.
In Colossians, chapter 1, verse 28, Pauls tells us that it is his heart to proclaim Him, to proclaim Jesus, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom so that we may present every man, how many of God’s people is Paul concerned about? (all of them) All of them, right. Every man, right. Admonishing every man, teaching every man. I want to present every man complete in Christ and for this purpose I labor, I strive according to His power which mightily works within me. All that to say Paul was deeply concerned about the spiritual growth of believers. You just see that in his preaching, in his teaching, in his writing.
You know where else you see that, ask me where else. (where else?) Yeah, in his prayers. In his prayers, and we get a glimpse of that right here in Philippians chapter 1, verses 9 through 11, as Paul begins to pray for these believers in Philippi, and his heart, underlying the whole prayer is that these people would grow in Christ.
So let’s take a look at this prayer and as we do I just want to remind you that this prayer, much like the characteristics of his heart that we looked at earlier in the chapter, what was that, verses 3 through 8, so much like those characteristics were a model for us, this prayer is a great model for us to follow. That doesn’t mean we recite the prayer. It doesn’t mean like we need to leave here with a commitment to recite this prayer over and over, over our life, but it is a model. Like the Lord’s prayer, what is it, Matthew 6:9, somewhere in there, Jesus says pray then in this way. It is not a confession that we, it is not a creed that we recite over one another, but it is a model that we can follow to learn how to pray.
Have you ever wondered how, I would like to pray, I would like to communicate with God, but I am not for sure what to say. I am not for sure what to do when I pray, what do I ask for when I pray. Well, there are several prayers recorded in the Bible that are great models for us to follow. So this gives us guidance for how we can best pray for one another, for how we can best pray for others, for how a husband can pray for his wife, or how a wife can pray for her husband, how parents can be praying for their children.
So let’s take a look at this prayer. If you are taking notes I have five observations. We are only going to focus on one today but it is the big one that sort of hangs over everything else that Paul prays for and really opens the door for those other things to be given in their lives. So one today and we will pick up the next ones sometime in the future. So five observations Paul prays for the believers in Philippi. He prays that they might grow in five different ways. The first way is in love, in love.
Paul begins in verse 9 and he says in this I pray, underline those two words in your Bible, I pray, in this I pray. Let me ask you something. Do you pray? I mean at the very least Paul’s prayer here is a great reminder to us that we as Christ’s ones, we are to be a praying people. That is what Paul is doing, in this I pray. He may have been in prison and physically unable to go to Philippi and to instruct the believers there, to give instruction to the church, but his circumstances, no matter how dark they may have been, it cannot stop his prayers from reaching heaven. And so Paul prays. Not because it is the least he can do, not because it was all he could do, but Paul prays, because listen, one of the most powerful ways that we can influence one another for the kingdom of God is through continual, faithful, God honoring prayer. So let me ask you, are you a praying Christian? Paul says in verse 9, in this I pray. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine Paul down there in that jail cell and, I don’t know, maybe chains are on his hands, maybe chains are on his feet, and he kneels down in, I don’t know, maybe like, I just picture a dirty, dingy, smelly prison cell and he kneels down, maybe face down there in that jail cell, and as he begins to lift his heart and his proudness and maybe even his hands to God, he is confined to that jail cell but he is unleashing the power and the presence of God on that church in Philippi, he is unleashing something that is more powerful than all the legends that marched for Rome in that day. Are you a praying Christian? Like Paul it is not the least you can do, it is not all that you can do, but one of the most powerful things that you can do is to pray for the ministry of our church right here.
So I just want to encourage you to pray, to pray for our church, maybe you can’t attend like you would like to attend, maybe you can’t give like you would like to give, maybe you can’t serve, like you can’t serve in the nursery, you can’t go down and serve as a part of children’s worship, you can’t be as actively engaged and involved as in your heart that you would desire to be, but one thing you can do no matter where you are at, no matter what your physical condition may be, no matter what your financial resources may be to give to the kingdom, one thing you can do no matter where you are at, you can pray, you can pray for the ministry and the mission of this church. And I just want you to know that as you do that it is not the least you can do, listen, it is one of the most powerful things that you can do for the building up, for the edification of this body of believers. Are you a praying Christian? Paul says, and this I pray.
Back in verse 3 he tells the believers I am always praying for you and now he tells us what he is praying for. This I pray, now look at this, that your love may abound still more and more. So what does Paul pray for? He prays that these believers might have an increased ability to love. He prays that they might have an increased ability to love. Now notice he doesn’t pray that the church would begin to love. He does not pray that the church would become a loving people. Love is already there. There is at least a measure of love, a measure of that fruit of the spirit, a manifestation of the spirit of God, love, there is at least a measure of that already in this body of believers. Let me just take a time out to say that is kind of the way it ought to be. I mean if there is any place in the world where someone ought to be able to come and just walk into and feel loved and feel encouraged and feel hopeful, then it ought to be the church. Amen, amen or oh me, right, amen or oh me. It ought to be the church. Bad attitudes, hard feelings, broken relationships, selfish motives, divisive speech, cutting remarks and unforgiving spirit should never be tolerated in the church. No place in the church for those kinds of acts of the flesh, much less, much less be the norm for any church. The Bible says this in I John, chapter 3, verse 14, it says: We know, we know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren. Love is a distinguishing mark of a Christian. If you think I am a Christian and I follow Christ, there ought to be some kind of manifestation of love in your life. It is a mark of being a Christian. Jesus himself would say John, chapter 13, verse 35: By this all men will know that you are my disciples. If you have engaging Bible studies, no, no. Like if you have all the programs in the ministries and you are able to offer a thriving ministry to every age group then all the world will know that you are my disciple, right? No. What is he say? By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love, if you have love one for another. Love is a distinguishing mark of being a Christian.
Love, if you remember, when we studied that passage in I Corinthians 13, love is the supreme Christian virtue. Do you remember that? Just a couple of weeks ago we studied this passage of scripture together. Let me read it to you. I Corinthians chapter 13, verses 1 through 3, and I know I am throwing a lot of verses at you this morning and I guess I would apologize for that if I was sorry, but ah, (laughter) I am not really sorry. You need this, right. You need this. You need to know this. Love, love is a distinguishing mark of being a Christian. And so the supreme Christian virtue so listen to this, I Corinthians chapter 13, 1 through 3. Don’t try to turn there, it is on the screen. Just write the reference down and listen to this. Paul said: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophesy and know all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith soas to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, if I surrender my body to be burned but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Scripture is essentially saying, it doesn’t matter what you do. Right, it does not matter what you do, it doesn’t matter how good you are at doing what you are doing if you don’t do it in love, it if it not clothed with Christian love then there is no edifying factor, there is no building up of the body of Christ in your service to God. It doesn’t matter what you do or how good you do it, if it is not done in love, Paul says it doesn’t amount to anything. So it should be no surprise to us as we glance into the private prayer closet of the Apostle Paul and we wonder of all the things he could be praying for these churches, what is he praying for, like what is he asking God to do on their behalf. It should be no surprise that the very first thing that he mentions is love. God, give them an increased ability to love. And this I pray that your love may abound. I love that word, circle that word in your Bible. Abound, it means to overflow, right, to overflow with abundance. So this I pray, that your love may abound, it may overflow. You tell me, is Paul talking about a little bit of love, or a lot of love. What is he talking about? (A lot of love) A lot of love, right. Not like a thimble full of love but … my grandma used to say that all the time and I never really understood what exactly that meant, but not like a little thimble full of love, but a lot of love, right, like a whole, like a five gallon bucket of love, overflowing, overflowing abundance of love. He prays that it may abound, he prays that their lives might be marked by an abundance of love, like a fountain of love that comes gushing out, pouring out, never ending, ever giving supply of love in their life. And then he adds this phrase: still more and more. This I pray that your love may abound, overflow, still more and more. As if to say may it ever be growing, may your love ever be growing, may it never stop growing. That’s his prayer, and by the way, he never defines the object of love. He never says may your love for God be ever growing, or may your love for one another ever be growing, or may your love for people who are far from God, may it ever be growing. He never defines the object of love and it could very well be any of those things. I think scripturally you could support any of those conclusions but I think that given what we know about the context of Philippians, if you took the Philippians challenge and you read through all of those chapters each week leading up to the series you know that in this church there was some strife. You know that in this church not all was well in Philippi. There was some internal strife, some fussing and fighting, can you believe that, fussing and fighting in the church. Never happens, right? Maybe in other churches, not in this church! It’s a joke, come on, lighten up, lighten up. So I think even though he never defines the object of love, I think he is talking about loving one another. I think Paul is praying, if you just look, chapter 2, this prayer leads us into chapter 2, Paul is going to start putting his finger on some things in the church that need to be dealt with. Before he even goes there he says I am praying that God would give you the ability to experience an ever growing capacity to love one another. He says I am praying it might increase, I am praying it might abound more and more. Paul is saying I pray that your love one for another may ever be growing, ever increasing, ever expanding, and never ending. I pray your love for one another would never dry up. You have probably met some Christians that their love has dried up, right. You probably met some of those Christians before that they say they follow Christ but they are like the biggest jerks walking around, a bunch of smarteleck people. You know who I am talking about, right. Have you met some of these people before? Just mean and arrogant and quick to judge, quick to condemn, no grace, no love, no joy. Look like an old dried up prune that could suck a golf ball through a garden hose, and Paul says I am praying you don’t ever become like that. I am praying that your love never dries up, but that God would give you an ever increasing, never ending supernatural ability to grow in your capacity to love one another. This is so essential for the church. There is no way, there is no way a church can be a church without love. No way. There is no way a church can do anything if we have not love one for another. Great love, not a little thimble full of love, great love one for another.
So essential to the unity of the church, so essential to the witness of the church, the growth of the church, so essential to an adequate image to the watching world of how God loved us and Paul prays that their love may abound still more and more. Paul said when God saved you God put His spirit in you. You had a capacity to love and I pray that capacity to love might grow and grow and grow and never stops growing. And we need that, don’t we? We need that. Because we have to extend love often in the body of Christ. But love, now watch this now, this is where it gets good guys, I am telling you. This is where it is just so good. This is just something we just have to hear in the body of Christ. Love, Biblical love is not just this blind emotional thing like we just love, love, love, love, … like it is all about love and there is nothing else. Right? That is not what we are talking about.
Biblical love is anchored to something, it is tied to something. And Paul identifies that with two words here in verse 9. He says in this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more, here it comes, in real knowledge and all discernment. So knowledge and discernment. Think about it like this. If love is like a mighty rushing river, you have two banks to keep love in check. Right? If love is a river, you have got two banks to make sure love is directed in the way it is supposed to be directed, and if love ever gets outside of the banks it can lead to some pretty ugly things as witnessed in my home state of West Virginia. So the two banks that keep love in check, Paul calls them knowledge and discernment.
So knowledge is to know, knowledge is to know. It is used in reference to knowing God, knowing God’s Word, knowing God’s ways, knowing how God works and how God does things. This is more the word knowledge, this is not just like intellectually being familiar with something but it is close knowledge, it is personal, it is intimate knowledge that you have about God and his Word because you have experienced it. So Paul prays that these believers might have an ever increasing capacity to love one another, but that love must be directed by truth. Man, that is a good word for our world today, truth. Love is to be directed by truth. Who would have imagined that, right? Who would have thought that, that true love, true authentic God-honoring love is to be directed by truth. Not void of truth, not separated from truth, not closed off to truth but love is informed by truth and truth, what we are talking about God’s love. Could you imagine how our world would be so different if we just lived by this principle? Love is to be directed by truth.
Someone might say well, you know, I have tried to be nice to that person but they are such a jerk and they are so mean and rude and I can’t stand to be around them. Truth would say you can’t have an attitude like that. You can’t take that perspective because God’s word said to love your enemies. God’s word said to pray for those people who have hurt you and offended you. Someone might say well, I can’t forgive this person over here. They hurt me, they caused me great harm, they offended me, and they haven’t repented, they haven’t even come to me and asked for forgiveness. There is no way I can forgive them. You can’t do that. Because, you see, love has to be directed by truth, and truth said, God’s word said, that you need to willingly extend forgiveness just like you have received forgiveness. Someone might say, I have heard this as a pastor numerous times, my affair is okay because we love one another, we have these strong feelings for one another, and God wants us to be happy. God wants me to be happy. No, no, no, you can’t do that, if love is anchored in truth, if it is directed by truth you can’t do that because God is primarily concerned about your character, not your comfort, and God is abundantly clear that an affair is never, never the right thing to do.
Could you imagine how different our world would be if we could just live by this principle, love is informed by, directed according to truth. So love is not an uncontrolled emotional impulse but it is directed by truth. And that is what Paul is praying for here. Our world would like to separate those two, right, would like to separate God’s word truth from our concept of love. And our world would like us to define love with terms like tolerance and acceptance at the expense of words like truth and righteousness. But listen, beloved, love must be directed by some standard of objective truth. Otherwise who is to say what love is. Who is to say what truth is? Otherwise you end in a moral mess much like our world is in today where existential things are defined by however people chose to define them, and we say that’s okay because that is just what they happen to believe, and then you end up with a nutcase walking into a church in France and he starts killing Christians because in his world view of what love and truth is, this is how he loves his God. It is just crazy. It is crazy to think that you can take concepts like love and truth and morality and say that is subjective to whatever you happen to believe it is. It doesn’t make sense and anybody that it does make sense to, all you have to do is walk up and slap them and they are going to change their mind real quick. Like I feel this is the right thing to do – slap – I feel like this is the right thing to do. Right? And if you love me you should tolerate me, right? I mean this doesn’t … it is a silly illustration, it doesn’t make sense. But you can’t take those existential things like what is life, what is love, what is truth, what does it mean to live your life, what are we created for. You can’t take those things and make them subjective, they are objective. And God has given us his Word, he said this is your compass.
So Paul prayed that these believers might have the ability to experience an ever growing capacity to love one another, but that love one for another is anchored in the truth of God’s Word. In other words, God’s Word tells us how to love one another.
Then the second word he uses here is discernment. And this I pray, that you love may abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment. Again discernment can mean different things depending on the context that it is used in, but we know the context of Philippians as a whole, we know there is trouble in the church, we know that people are fighting and fussing in the church. So I think Paul is talking about here an ability to understand how to best love one another because different circumstances call for different kinds of love. We know this, right.
Sometimes the situation may call for tender love so Colossians chapter 3, verses 12 and 13 says: so as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion. Hey brothers and sisters in Christ, how should we respond to one another in the body of Christ? How should we love one another in the body of Christ? Put on a heart of compassion. Kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against the pastor, anyone, anyone just as the Lord forgave you. Sometimes we need to respond with tender love.
Sometimes we need to respond with tough love. The Bible says this Proverbs 27:6-8: faithful are the wounds of a friend.
Sometimes the situation might call for sacrificial love. John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that he may lay down his life for his friends. Hey, forget about laying down your life for your friend, what about laying down pride for your friend? We always like to think about the big picture, the ultimate sacrifice, oh brother, I would take a bullet for you. Forget about the bullet; just lay down your pride. Sometimes the situation calls for sacrificial love.
Sometimes it calls for radical love. Matthew 5:44: but I say to you love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Do you see what Paul is praying for here? That these people, this church might be able to love one another and to grow in their capacity to love one another, but that love is not this careless, wreckless where whatever you want to do goes kind of love. It is a love that is informed by, directed according to the Word of God and it is discernment for how best do I love my brother and sister in this situation going through this circumstance.
This is just so practical. This is just so foundational to what it means to be in relationships. Relationships like husbands, wives, like family relationships, like church relationships. Have you thought about your relationships in this context? Husbands have you thought about your relationships … how does the Bible tell you to best love your wife? That would be a good study sometime, amen ladies? Oh me, men! Ladies, what about this, have you thought about, how does the Bible instruct you? You think you know your man, you think you know how to love your man? What did God say about how to best love your husband? Parents, you got it all figured out, right. You know how to give your kids what they need, you know how to give them the guidance they need. Have you thought about, what does the Bible say for parents how they can best extend love to their kids. And on and on we can go with this, your family, your co-workers, your leaders in government, I mean it is all in the Bible. The Bible would give us guidance in all of these areas, and even more, even in the relational context of the church family, so the person sitting next to you, the person you serve with, the person that you minister with on that committee, or on that special team, or the person you teach with, or maybe even the person that rubs you the wrong way. Maybe even the person that you see in the church and you are walking one way and they are walking the other way and you turn around, you do an about face because you can’t talk to them or you don’t want to be around them, they hurt you, they offended you and you just can’t be in the same room with them. Well, how would the Bible give us guidance in how to best love that person in that context in that situation?
This is so, so practical. As we do this thing called community, it is what we call church, right. A family of faith. As we do this thing called family, community, brothers and sisters in Christ, we need this, we need to grow in our love one for another but it needs to be a love that is anchored in the truth of God’s Word and it needs to be discerning on how we can best love one another. When I offend you, how can I love you in return. When you offend me, how can you respond in love in return. When someone hurts you, when someone doesn’t do what you feel like they should do, when someone doesn’t see your perspective or go along with your point of view, how can you respond in love in the best way. Not just in a good way, in the best way. How does the Bible instruct you to love your brothers and sisters in that context?
And this I pray. That is what Paul prays back at the beginning in verse 9. This is his prayer for the believers in Philippi and all this last week, I want you to know, this is my prayer for you. This is my heart for you and I want to challenge you to make this your prayer for me, and make it your prayer for one another in the family of faith. This is what we need. If we are to be this family, this community, if we are to grow and to press in and knowing the Lord, reaching others with the gospel we have got to be a family that knows how to love well.
So I want to advise you to begin to pray with me, the so what of today. Alright, so we know verse 9, alright, so what. I want to invite you to begin to pray with me, God, grow me in love, grow me in my ability to love you, in that particular circumstance, in that particular situation, increase our love for one another, not in a careless love, not in an uncommitted on one day off the next day emotional impulse that the word often mistakes as love but God grow us in a love that is informed by, directed according to your Word, and give us discernment as we go through all the ups and downs of family, give us discernment for how to best love one another.
Let me pray for us. Father, this is our prayer. Help us to love one another knowing that by doing so is a reflection of your character and how you have loved us. Father, thinking back on our lives, Father we realize that you have loved us when we have been cold and indifferent towards you. You have loved us when we have rejected you, when we have not listened to your Word, your desire, your heart for our lives, we just all but turned away from that, you’ve loved us. When we have gone chasing after our own fleshly desires when your Word tells us that that does not satisfy and it does not fulfill and we intellectually know that but we choose darkness anyway, you have loved us. When we have grieved you when we have hindered your work in our lives and when we have hindered your work in the body of Christ and grieved your heart, you have loved us. So Father, we pray that you would help us to love one another like you have loved us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as men and women who are part of the same family of faith. Men and women who have made a commitment to say that we are going to learn together, we are going to grow together, we are going to serve God together, and we are going to worship God together. God help us to love one another. This is our prayer, this is our heart. Work in us to this end for we ask it in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.