The Priority of the Believer’s Heart and Mind
Text: Philippians 1:9-10a
In the midst of His high priestly prayer in John 17, we read of the Lord Jesus petitioning His Father for His people, “that they may be one, even as we are one”. In a prayer where there was no idle word and no wasted petition, the Saviour longs for unity among His people. He longs that they might depict the unity of a body which is under one Head. That they might have real, genuine, and self-sacrificial communion with one another.
This is what Paul had personally experienced with the Philippians, and we looked last week at v3-8. And in those verses a lot of preachers and commentaries see them merely as being ‘Paul’s Thanksgiving/Praise’ for them, but the question is, thanksgiving for what? So we saw last week that at the core was the idea of True Christian Fellowship. And therein Paul and the church at Philippi displayed precisely what the Saviour is looking for among His people.
While v6 shows the Divine Reason he knew he would continue to enjoy fellowship with them, v7 shows the Human Reason he felt he would continue to enjoy fellowship with them. He says it’s ‘meet’ = ‘right’. It’s the just thing, the right thing. It’s not presumptuous to be positive about the power of grace to keep people. If you profess to know Christ, you are expected to exhibit the marks of grace. We are not in the business of cheapening grace. Grace changes people, and it’s not presumptuous to expect that. Paul says its just and right for him to believe they would continue to fellowship in the gospel and that God’s good work in them would continue perpetually throughout their lifetime.
“because I have you in my heart” = I love you dearly because you are God’s people, and so I know you will persevere in grace and together in fellowship.
“inasmuch as…my grace” – he then says that in his current circumstances of imprisonment and the prospect of giving a defence for the gospel before the authorities, the church at Philippi were partakers of his grace. How? What does that mean? Well in the midst of Paul’s affliction for the gospel, the grace of God had prompted the Philippians to come to his aid. They sent Epaphroditus to minister to him (2:25). They were prompted by the grace of God in them to help Paul in defending and propagating the gospel where he was. The same grace supporting Paul, was prompting them to help him, without care of the shame that may be attached with associating with a prisoner.
And so, with such deep fellowship, Paul was moved to pray for them and gives the specific petitions v9-11… Now I doubt this is a word for word dictation of his prayers. These verses contain the essence of what his continual burden was for them.
But you’ll notice something about this prayer and all of Paul’s prayers; there’s little concern about the physical state. There’s little worry about physical health. That’s not to say it’s unimportant, but it’s not the priority. The priority is the believer’s heart and mind…
I. FOCUSES PRAYER ON THE NEED FOR LOVE
‘abound’ = ‘bread enough and to spare’ Lk 15:17. Overflow, abundance, to superabound in quantity or quality. Now had Paul detected a lack of love while there? Certainly there was no lack of love to Christ, since they believed in spite of early persecution. And there was no lack of love among each other since Lydia opened her home for them to meet. Yet Paul looks for it to develop more. Why?
Is it possible to have too much love? We know it is at the head of all graces, Gal 5:22. But what else do we know about this love that Paul wants to abound?
He uses the word ‘agape’ here, that many of you will be familiar with. It’s the most intense form of love, and often you will read and hear that non-Christians cannot ‘agape’ which isn’t true. “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love [agape] those that love [agape] them.” Lk 6:32.
Then we’re often told that it is self-sacrifice. But according to 1 Cor 13:3 self-sacrifice is not proof of spiritual love, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Paul in one sentence, shatters most of the definitions of Christian love.
No, they are missing something, and that’s the glory of God. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10:31. And this is what makes true biblical love so difficult. Even when we’re being self-sacrificial, it’s not always for the glory of God. We make sacrifices to be recognized by man.
True biblical love is self-sacrifice to the end that God may be glorified.
One of the attributes of God is love, and you don’t have to be a scholar to see it, John puts it plainly, “God is love” 1 Jn 4:8. To be full of this true love is to be full of Christ. And this was the burden of Paul, to see them advance in the queen of graces.
So with Paul love never stands alone. It is moulded and formed by a spirit of self-sacrifice and a motive to glorify God, and it finds its direction, not in emotion, but in something else…
II. FOCUSES PRAYER ON THE NEED FOR KNOWLEDGE
1. The Plea for True Knowledge – “in knowledge”
‘knowledge’ = denotes in ordinary Greek the intelligent comprehension of an object or matter, whether this comes for the first time, or comes afresh, into the consideration of the one who grasps it.
Phil 3:8 Paul speaks of everything the proud man values as meaningless to Him in comparison to what? The fuzzy feeling being a Christian gave him? No. In comparison to the knowledge of Christ. A knowledge that he was not content to let stagnate, but cried with ever-fervent zeal, “That I might know Him…” v10.
And this is the spirit he wants to see develop in the Philippians. He want’s their love to superabound, not in subjective fuzzy feelings, but upon the objective foundation of knowledge. What Paul is actually saying here is that the depth of true spiritual love is interconnected with true spiritual knowledge. Does one’s love for Christ account for anything if that love is founded upon a deep appreciation for His example to humanity? No! Such love will only further damn your darkened soul.
Paul was not interested in a shallow understanding of Christ, and because of how that knowledge of Christ had thrilled his soul, he desired it for the Philippians. And that is the same for me, beloved. I know nothing compared to Paul, but the more I learn of Christ, the more my heart is moved to appreciate Him. And one of the goals of my ministry is to inflame your love for Christ. That your love may abound yet more and more in your knowledge of Him! Those Christians that despise doctrine, perhaps ignorantly despise Christ and despise love! Those preachers who cut out doctrine from their ministry, perhaps ignorantly despise Christ and despise love!
2. The Practice of Sincere Discernment – “all judgment”
‘judgement’ – only place in this form in the NT, but it appears often in the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX), especially in Proverbs. It denotes moral understanding, and it is what guides the actions and words of those who are wise. It is what we often call perception or discernment. The ability to judge the rightness of something.
Here is where love finds its practical outworking, where we have the ability to discern how to exercise our love as it relates to other people. God is not interested in a bunch of people with hearts abounding in love, but without any discernment. Our love may overstep its mark and do more harm than good if we lack judgment, so this is a necessary attribute. It’s a love and that knows how to exercise itself in practical conduct.
3. The Purpose of Scriptural Testing – “that ye may approve things…”
The basic meaning of approve has the idea of testing by fire to prove gold is genuine. It denotes the process of testing to decide, not what is good and what is bad, but what is genuine and what is best. Paul is teaching that by such abounding love, knowledge, and judgement, they would be able to make decisions that are otherwise nigh impossible.
Rom 2:18 he uses the exact same statement which is translated, “kapprovest the things that are more excellent.” You say, will what’s the big deal? Why does it matter if we’re able to judge between what’s good and what’s best? It’s because of the coming of Jesus Christ, which we’ll consider more fully next week.
Close – By showing us how he prayed for others, we learn how to pray for ourselves and what’s expected of us. What a tragedy that we would read a Spirit inspired prayer and not seek to live it out and experience it for ourselves. Remember the Lord’s prayer that says, “deliver us from evil”? What’s the Lord telling us there? Is he telling us just to pray that, or is there hidden instruction that’s calling out to us to abstain from all appearance of evil?
How important it is that we have knowledge. I think it’s amazing that some Christians think they can get by on one spiritual meal each week. And they wonder why things go wrong in their lives. Why decisions seem to backfire. Why there’s a lack of experience of gospel joy. What unnatural strength you have to last a week on one sermon and on one meeting with the saints. Now I know health and a few other things prohibit some of you, and that’s another reason for the church website. I want you to have access to the truth others are feeding on. Granted, it’s not the same. It’s like eating reheated steak – it would have been better to be there when it was first cooked and served. But a starving man won’t turn his nose up at the nourishment from a reheated steak.
If, as Peter declares, we have become partakers of the divine nature, should we not be pairing that with a divine mind? A mind full of the knowledge of the Lord?
And it’s not like we just need knowledge and love and discernment for the big decisions in life. We need it to keep harmony in the home. We need to know how to handle a wife that’s going through a tough time, or that husband who is going through a spiritual desert. How powerless we feel at times even in the mundane.
Oh what a blessed scene that is, where the Son of God had thorns pressed into his head that the thorns might be removed from my mind, and where His heart was pierced that my heart might be inflamed with love.
Paul’s prayer shows that the idea of a stagnant Christian would be unthinkable for him. Recording this prayer showed them how to pray, and how to live. May God help us to pray this prayer and live this prayer.