The Prayers of Paul: For More Love

 

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:8–9 NASB).

In this first chapter, Paul is diligently praying for his friends in the Philippian church. He’s asking God for them to grow in spiritual progress in five areas: love, excellence, integrity, good works, and in glorifying God. He begins with love because it’s the prerequisite for the other four. We have a difficult time growing without first an understanding of love. Pastor Warren Wiersbe expressed this thought about love well when he wrote, “[Christian love] is the ‘spiritual lubrication’ that keeps the machinery of life running smoothly. [Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 65].”

What we first can realize in this prayer of Paul is the tremendous change that has happened in his life. Here’s a man who persecuted the new Christians as Saul of Tarsus. He was often a ferocious and cruel leader who wreaked havoc on the followers of Jesus. How can this man now extoll the virtues of love? What made him so tender and caring? He had an encounter with Jesus Christ (Acts 9) that radically changed his life. The more he looked at Jesus; the more Jesus occupied his soul.

As my co-teacher, Julie Sumner pointed out, Dallas Willard emphasizes how love is the beginning of our relationship with Christ and also the outcome of our relationship with Christ. In Renovation of the Heart, Willard’s book on spiritual formation, he observes:

…Jesus gave a sure mark of the outcome of spiritual formation under his guidance: we become people who love one another (John 13:35) …. he gives “a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you you also should love one another” (John 13:34). The age-old command to love is transformed, made a new command, by identification of the love in question with that of Jesus for us (see 1 John 2:7-8).

Love of “the brethren” in this supernatural way allows us to know that ‘we have passed out of death into life’ (1 John 3:16). We simply can’t love in that way unless we have a different kind of life in us. And the “love” here in question is identified as that which is in Christ because it is one that makes us ready to “lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16) (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012), 182–183]

Admittedly, it was because Paul had been the recipient of this unique kind of love from the early church that he once persecuted, that he understands its culture-defying and life-changing power. Consider the outcome if the early church had held Paul at arm’s length, with sound logic given his murderous past, and never truly opened their arms to him. Never give him the authority to be a leader and a preacher? Instead, they demonstrated a greater love toward Paul than he could have ever imagined, a love that was divine in its purpose and vision.

Paul’s instruction is for this unique, more excellent kind of love. The Greek word is agape, the critical Greek word used to describe Christian love and how Christians should love in the New Testament. The word was used infrequently in most first-century Greek writings. However, in the Bible, it’s a core word that indicates a love that flows naturally from a compassionate and self-sacrificing nature. When Paul prays for this church to love, he’s praying that they will possess and demonstrate the most excellent, most real, most potent, and most compelling proof of their faith and lives as Christians.

This agape love is to abound still more. Paul is saying, “You’re already showing love; now I want you to show more overflowing love.” The word Paul uses for “abound” means superabundance. It’s like a natural spring that keeps on flowing to overfilling and more without any mechanical help.

Paul then asks God to give the Philippian’s real knowledge. Interestingly, Paul links his prayers for more love together with those for more knowledge (see blog post on Paul’s prayers for knowledge). If you think about when you feel most loved, it’s often those times when you feel particularly seen and known by another person. If we want to love any person, we have to “get to know them” usually before we are able to love them. Paul knows, from his own transforming experience, that real knowledge leads to devotion and obedience. It purifies the soul and allows us to love with the self-sacrificing kind of love he implores them to have. William Barclay wrote, “Love is always the way to knowledge. If we love any subject, we want to learn more about it; if we love someone, we want to learn more about that person; if we love Jesus, we will want to learn more about him and about his truth [William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 22].”

Paul then connects knowledge with discernment. While he wanted them to abound in love, Paul also wanted their love to be controlled by the Truth by spiritual insight. Many voices and views bombard the Philippian church, and our churches today. Some appear to be attractive on the surface, but when scrutinized, there are elements of spiritual danger and unbiblical doctrine. Paul wanted this church to love but also to safeguard their souls from false teaching. “The world says that love is blind, but the love of the Christian should be enlightened, well instructed, and directed in all its exercises, effects, and manifestations by the Scriptures [Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings from Paul Studies in the Prayers of the Apostle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 203].”

C.S. Lewis gives us a fitting summary of this prayer of Paul: “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Harper One, 1952, 1980), 116].”

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