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Love is a word that falls off countless lips effortlessly, and often, without thought. But as the apostle Paul demonstrated, love must be understood and developed intelligently. In the message Pray for Love, Skip encourages us to consider how our love can become mature and God honoring.
Now, please open your Bible to Philippians chapter 1 as he begins.
I'd like you to turn in your Bibles please to the book of Philippians chapter 1. That's where we're setting, in this book of Philippians, technicolor joy.
Philippians chapter 1, where we get into the substance and the sum of Paul's prayer for them.
Most people never associate prayer with pop music, but there is an interesting country song that's been around for a few years by a guy named Jaron Lowenstein. He goes by Jaron.
And it's a song called "I pray for you." It's a song based upon the bitter breakup that he had with his girlfriend, and he puts an interesting twist on prayer.
He said, "I haven't been to church since I don't remember when. Things were going great till they fell apart again. So I listened to the preacher, he told me what to do. He said, you can't go hating on others who have done wrong to you.
Sometimes we get angry, but we must not condemn. Let the good Lord do his job and you just pray for them."
So his chorus is, "I pray your breaks go out running down a hill."
"I pray a flower pot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I'd like to. I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls. I pray you're flying high when your engine stalls. I pray all your dreams never come true. Just know wherever you are, honey, I pray for you."
I think we can do much better than that. And Paul does better than that in the Book of Philippians. You'll notice in chapter 1, verse 4, that he mentions that he prays for them. In verse 3 he says, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you always in every prayer of mine making requests for you all with joy."
Now, if you know anything about Paul, you know that in many of his letters he includes his prayer for his audience. When he writes the book of the Ephesians, he includes a prayer. When he writes the book of Philippians, when he writes the book of Colossians, he includes a prayer. When he writes the book of Thessalonians, he includes a prayer in 1 Thessalonians.
When he writes to Timothy, he includes a prayer. To Philemon, he includes a prayer.
That is a part of Paul's life. He prayed for people, and he did it regularly, and he told them what he prayed for. And I think it's safe to say that nothing really defines a person's spiritual life more so than that person's prayer life. And Paul had a deep and abiding one.
Now, just an interesting note about that. Whenever you read Paul's prayers for people, he never once prays for anything physical. I'm not saying he never did. It's just never recorded that he did.
What he prays for are things that he thought were much more important than just a general blessing for the church or a physical ailment. But what he wrote down were the really heart issues that matter the most. And in this case, we find out that he prays for love.
In verse 9 he says, "and this I pray." So here's the main request.
"This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all of discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and the praise of God."
Now, Paul has one thing that he is praying for, one specific thing above all else, and that is love. That is the sum of his prayer. He's praying for their love. All of the other phrases beyond that in verse 9, 10, and 11 support that one main thought.
Now why would Paul pray for their love? Well because that is the hallmark of their faith, right? He said, "now abide faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love."
Jesus said, "by this all men will know you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another."
So he prays for the most important expression of their Christian faith, and that is the expression of love.
By the way, Paul also mentions the idea of love not only here, but also in those other books that I just mentioned, Colossians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, and others. We're not surprised because faith is important and hope is vital, but love is the culminating hallmark.
Now, Dwight L. Moody once said something interesting. He said, you know, a man can be a good doctor without loving his patients, or a good lawyer without loving his clients, or a good geologist without loving rocks or science, but a man cannot be a good Christian without love.
And I'm really glad it's Mother's Day because of all the people that I think set the standard for self-less living and unselfish love, it's a mother. At least, I can say that in my family.
You've heard the old saying he has a face only a mother can love? That says more about a mother than a face. It says that a mom's love is always there. It's always steadfast.
No matter who you are, or what you've done, you can always count on a mother's love. And I've found that to be very, very true in my own situation.
The Jews used to have a saying that God couldn't be everywhere and so he created mothers. I think it's more of a statement rather than an absolute theological statement. It's a way of saying the way God expresses his presence is so often through the life of a godly mother.
So we're so thankful today that it's Mother's Day and we can express that to you.
Well, what I want to show you in Philippians 1 verses 9, 10, and 11. In Paul's prayer are four attributes of mature love, four attributes of mature love.
Now as we go through these four attributes, what I'd like you to do is to be comparing your own expressions of love to what Paul prays for theirs ought to be. Four attitudes, four attributes of mature love.
The first is this, our love should be plentiful. Look at verse 9 and notice, "and this I pray that your love may abound still more and more."
The word abound means to super abound or to exceed a fixed number or a fixed measure. Now, it's evident that they already loved one another. Paul felt their love, and Paul makes note of it in this book.
You'll notice in verse 9, I pray that your love may abound-- notice this-- still more and more. In other words, that implies they already do it. He just doesn't want them to do it less. He wants them to continue to do it, and to do it more. That your love would abound still more and more.
Now how do you increase something that's already overflowing? Well, it's pretty easy. You just turn on the hose and walk away. Let it run.
This is a mistake I've made in my own yard. I have inadvertently watered my neighbor's yards from time to time by trying to fill a little pond or water an area of my grass or a tree, and I forgot. And two hours later it's like, oh, there's water everywhere.
Now, when Paul says, "I'm praying for your love to abound," what it is he speaking of specifically? It's possible that he is praying that their love would be the kind of love that goes out of the boundaries of loving just the church and loving different kinds of people in the world.
That certainly would be in line with what Jesus was all about. He said, "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son."
A few years ago, when I went to Iraq for the first time, I've told you that I brought shoe boxes with me. 20,000 shoe boxes that many of you packed. And we brought them into Baghdad.
The most striking thing about that trip is what one of the Iraqi officials said to me. He made a statement that was shocking. He said up to this point, in my mind he said, I always thought, we always thought, that it was the Christian west that hated us. But I can see by this token of your love that it's the Christians that love us.
Your simple shoe box expressions were like overflowing love into another culture that never experienced something like that before.
However, I believe that Paul is referring to the specific demonstration of love to one another within the church. I don't think he's speaking of loving God. I don't think he's speaking of loving God's world. I think he is specifically speaking of loving God's people, the church.
Why do I say this? Because he writes the same thing almost in 1 Thessalonians 3:12. Let me read it to you. "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other."
Why is that important? I think it's important because sometimes it's easier to love people you never see than people you see every day. The easiest thing is talking about, I love the world. Oh, I love the world.
But the people in your own home or in your own work space, it's sometimes more difficult. It's like a cartoon I once saw and the main character said, oh I love the world, it's just the people I can't stand. It's easy to say I love people I never see, but people you do see and work with and live with, it's different.
So I think he is praying that their love for one another would overflow, would abound more and more. That that hose of love would keep on running.
Interesting, one of the Church Historian's named Tertullian made mention in his writings that when the church started growing rapidly in the Roman Empire, that the government sent spies into different congregations because they were afraid that this new group of citizens, these Christians, would be very disloyal to the Roman government. So one of the spies, went into a church came back, and wrote this report.
These Christians are very strange people. They speak of one by the name of Jesus who is absent, but whom they seem to be expecting at any time. And my how they love Him, and my how they love one another.
Interesting that an unbelieving spy in a Christian congregation made note of the fact that they loved one another so intensely.
So take that little test in your mind right now. And ask yourself this, does your own love abound? Would that be a word that describes the expression of your love?
Think about your marriage. Is your love toward your spouse an abounding love? Or in your home toward your children, or toward your parents, or among your friends? Would you say that that is a good description of your own love experience in your life?
You're the kind of person that love just keeps growing and growing and abounding more and more?
You say, is that even possible? Well, yes it is possible. It is possible because in Romans chapter 5 Paul said, "the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit."
The love of God has been poured out or literally it gushes out. It implies there is no limit to it at all. What that means then is that we have an unlimited capacity to love.
If you're one of those type of people, and I've met a few, who say I'm just fresh out of love, I've loved all the love out, I've got no more love to give. It's all gone now. I say, well, you need a better connection. Because the love of God gushes out, is poured out by the Holy Spirit. And last time I checked, he never ran out.
So what this implies is, is if God's love flows into your life, it ought to what? Flow out of your life. If God flows in, it must flow through to others.
Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist, once wrote, the biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis or any other disease, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love. That terrible indifference toward one's neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty, and disease.
Now what all of this tells me is that if I have such a capacity that the Bible tells me that I have to love people, that nobody around me should ever feel love starved. They should never feel love starved. They should feel love saturated, love soaked, but not love starved.
Because if the love of God is poured out by His Holy Spirit into me, then it can then be poured out through me. I have to receive it so that I can give it.
Our love then should be plentiful. That's the first attribute of a mature love.
Second, our love should be perceptive. Now watch what he does. You know, Paul could have just said, in this I pray that your love may abound still more and more period. But he doesn't do that.
He says, "that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment."
Now, this is important because now Paul is qualifying what overflowing love is to look like by adding these parameters of knowledge and discernment. You see, Paul is not naive. He's not throwing out love like some cliche is tolerate anything except everything kind of love.
He says no, the overflowing love that I am speaking about one another needs banks just like a river has banks. And one bank is called knowledge in the other bank is called discernment. And your love needs to flow within those banks to be safe.
You see, overflowing love sounds really great, but it is like a river. And if that water has free flow without any direction or discretion, it can kill people.
A few years ago I was in Honduras, they had just had a flood. And I was in the helicopter going over these villages. The homes were washed out, schools, hospitals were gone. People were huddled in masses in the jungles trying to find a place for shelter.
And it was all because of a river that over flowed its banks. Water is a blessing, but that much water that just flows wherever it wants to, can destroy people's lives. And so too with love.
If our love is just pure emotion without discretion or direction it can bring devastation. It needs those banks in which to flow. So let's look at them. Let's look at them one by one.
The first bank is called knowledge. That your love may still abound more and more in knowledge. What does that mean?
The word epignosis, the Greek word for knowledge here, means an expert knowledge, a mature knowledge, brought on by experience. If you know anything about Paul's writing, you know that Paul will often take love and knowledge and combine them. Sometimes he'll oppose them. He'll show the difference between them.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 8, he says, "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." He's contrasting love and knowledge.
Or 1 Corinthians 13, "though I speak with a tongue of men or of angels, but I have not love. I've become like a clanging cymbal sounding brass. And though I can understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, but I have not love, I have become nothing."
So he says, knowledge needs love. But he also says, love needs knowledge for that love to be responsible love.
Remember when Paul spoke about a zealous group of religious brethren of his? He said they have a zeal for God but it's not according to knowledge. And he faulted them for that. It's pure emotion but no knowledge.
Now, if you diminish your need for knowledge and you place feeling above knowledge, like so many people do. Just do what's in your heart man, whatever you feel like doing. That is the most dangerous, irresponsible thing you could ever do. And you would be a dangerous person to live that way.
Why do I say that? Well, you can feel out of love with your spouse and feel in love with somebody who's not your spouse.
A parent can feel they had to give something, whatever the child wants to their child. Just I'm going to give it because I feel that that's the loving thing to do. Well, that could be the worst thing to do, to give them whatever they want.
You may feel that love is letting another Christian do whatever he or she wants to do. That's where you need knowledge. The knowledge of Matthew chapter 18 where Jesus said, "sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to confront another brother or sister." And that's love.
So mature love is not sentimentality, nor is it emotion. It has banks and the first bank is knowledge.
2 Peter chapter 1, he says, "make every effort to add to your faith goodness and to goodness knowledge."
So follow me, our love should be growing, but our love should also be knowing. Knowledge is one of the banks that allows the free flow of love.
There is another bank I want you to notice, also in verse 9, and that is discernment. That your love may abounds still more and more in knowledge and all discernment. Discernment means insight, mature insight, or sensitive moral perception. Allow me to explain.
We might have an affection for somebody else, but that doesn't mean we have the right to express that affection any way we see fit. We need to bring discernment into it.
See, there are moral and ethical considerations that are to govern the overflowing expression of our love to people. To discern something is to distinguish, to make a difference.
And so every parent knows this, that love is expressed in different ways at different times to the same child. One day a parent will give a gift to a child. Another day a parent will spank a child. Both are legitimate expressions of love.
Another example is that of Jesus Christ. Sometimes He'd heal a person, another day He would overturn the tables in the temple and with a whip drive out the money changers. Both are expressions of love but in two different contexts.
One day Jesus would say to the crowd you are blessed, blessed are you. Another day he'd look at another crowd filled with Pharisees and say, you whitewashed sepulchres. Both are expressions of love from the one who is the author of love himself.
Now most of us know that the most frequently used Greek word for love in the New Testament is what, tell me? Shout it out.
Agape. Agape is the Greek word for love that expresses God's love for us. Generally love for one another is to be at that supreme, superior, that's what we aspire to, agape love.
Well, make sure that your agape isn't sloppy.
Don't love with sloppy agape. Sloppy agape is saying you love somebody but it's really a selfish love. I'm going to do something or say something because I don't want to be disliked by that person. That's sloppy agape.
1 Corinthians 13:6 sums it up. Love does not rejoice in iniquity but it rejoices in the truth.
So our love should be abounding, plentiful love, but it should also be perceptive, having run within the banks of knowledge and discernment.
Now look at verse 10. "That you may approve the things that are excellent. That you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ."
You see where it begins, the sentence with the word that? Everything that follows is a purpose clause it is called, a purpose clause.
In other words, it means so that or in order that or Paul is saying, here's the reason you need these two riverbanks of knowledge and discernment. Here's why. Here's the purpose for it. It's so that you can approve the things that are excellent.
Now that little word approve was a word used in ancient times to test metals, to approve metals, to take a coin and determine how much real metal versus alloy is in it. You would examine it, you would test it, and you would test it for purity.
So he uses that word approve and he means this. We must carefully examine every expression of our love in the light of God's word. Because then it becomes a different issue.
No longer is it an issue of how do I feel, but it becomes an issue of what does the Bible say about how I feel? Does the Bible say this is a legitimate expression, an illegitimate expression? Does the Bible prohibit this? Does it encourage this?
So there was a mom in Walmart with her screaming little girl in her cart. And the girl was throwing stuff and complaining and yelling, and just the volume was going up and up. And that mom was feeling like expressing her love with a slap to the back side right there in public.
But instead, she said out loud, calm down, Ellen. It'll be all right, Ellen. You'll be home soon, Ellen.
And as she got up to the clerk, the clerk said, ma'am, I've just got to congratulate you on how patient you are with little Ellen. And the mom turned to her and said, I'm Ellen.
See there's a lady debating approving what's the proper expression of my love, talking to herself through. So our love should be plentiful, our love should be perceptive.
There is a third quality, a third attribute of mature love, and that is our love should be pure. Also verse 10, "that you may approve the things that are excellent." And notice the next phrase, "that you may be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ.
You see that second that in the sentence? Begins with the word that, and there is a comma, and there is another that. OK, I'm showing you all this because that's another purpose clause. It means in order that.
All of that to say this, Paul is praying for one thing. One thing, their love, the expression of their love. I want it to abound, I want it to overflow, but within the banks of knowledge and discernment so that you can approve the things that are excellent. And so that it's all about the same subject.
This is a purpose clause, so that or in order that you will express your love in the right way, in a pure way.
Look at the word sincere. You know what that is. When we say a person is sincere usually that we're paying them a compliment.
To us, for some reason, sincerity is like the highest virtue a person can have. Doesn't matter what they believe in, as long as they're sincere. That's what a lot of people say.
The word sincere in English comes from a Latin word. Actually, two words that sound very much like our words sincere. I'll say it sine cera, sine cera, two Latin words, sine cera. That's where we get the word sincere.
Sine cera literally means without wax. Sine, without, cera, wax.
Saying I'm praying that your love would abound and be within the banks of knowledge and discernment so that you can approve the things that are excellent, and so that you may be without wax.
You're going, I don't get it.
Well in ancient times, porcelain dealers and statue makers would carve their wares and sell them. And if they wanted to sell them so that the buyer would know it's real, pure, legitimate through and through, they would say it's without wax.
Here's a plate of porcelain or a statue of marble that is sine cera, it's without wax. In other words, it didn't break and we added dust and wax and patch it back up. It's a pure work through and through.
Now, you could tell if it was with wax. You would just hold it up to the sun. It'd be sun tested.
You'd hold it up, and you could see the crack running through it, and you'd feel the wax mixed with the porcelain or marble dust. And you said this is a fake. This thing's busted. They patched it up.
And if you bought a statue for your husband's birthday and it's July, and you have it in the backyard, and you have a garden party, and you're all happy. Everything's good until the nose falls off and the arm falls off.
And then he says, that is an insincere expression of love. That has wax in it. That's the idea of sincere.
So the idea means pure. That you may be sincere and without offense.
So the idea is this, don't let your love be phony. Don't let it be mixed. Don't let it have an impure motive.
Like a little boy his mom said, you know, you've been a bad boy lately. You need to get on your knees and pray that God would make you a better boy.
He got right down on his knees, bowed his head, and goes, oh, Lord make me a better boy. And Lord, if you can make me better, don't worry because I'm having a real good time just the way I am. Amen.
Sometimes our life, sometimes our love, sometimes our prayers can be insincere. There's wax inside.
Romans 12:9 says "let love be without hypocrisy." That is, don't just pretend to love, really love.
Best example of insincere love is Judas Iscariot. Betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and betrays him with a what?
A kiss, an expression of love. Walks up to him in the garden, master, goes over to him and kisses him. Jesus even remarked and said, you betrayed the son of man with a kiss? That was insincere, impure love.
So let's personalize it. Let's say you give a compliment to somebody, a word of encouragement. What could be better?
Well, did you really mean what you said? Or are you saying that because you want something from that person? Now it's impure, now it's insincere.
When you go up and hug a person is it because you're genuinely showing brotherly love or you want to get physically close to that person? That's an insincere expression of love.
Matthew Henry said, "Hypocrisy is to do the devil's work in God's uniform."
So he says I'm praying for your love. That it keep on growing and overflowing, but not in a destructive way, but within the banks of knowledge and discernment. So that you can test it and approve that it's according to God's will and word. And so that it's the real deal. It is sincere, without wax. And notice, what else, without offence until the day of Christ.
In other words, the best testimony is a life that is a genuine, authentic Christian life without hypocrisy. When you have a hypocrite showing impure love it brings the offense factor front and center. It turns everybody off. So it would be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.
So let's sum it up. Our love should be plentiful. Our love should be perceptive. Our love should be pure.
There's a fourth mark, and will close with this, and with his last verse. Verse 11, "our love should be purposeful."
You say well, it sounds perfect purposeful so far. Why do you need another purpose? Because Paul always has a higher purpose, and I want you to see what it is.
Verse 11, "being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God."
What does all that mean? It simply means this is the kind of love that is the fruit of righteousness by which God is glorified. That's all it means.
So when our love abounds, but it's kept within the banks of knowledge and discernment, it's a pure love, God is glorified. And that is, by the way, the purpose of all love. The purpose of marital love, or boyfriend/girlfriend love, or friendship love isn't just so you feel better. The purpose of all love as a Christian is to glorify God.
You know how I know that? Because that's the purpose of all life. All of life is to glorify God. I exist to glorify God. I do.
In Revelation 4 the 24 elders bowed down saying for thy pleasure all things were created. That's why I exist. 1 Corinthians 10, "whether you eat or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God."
Last time I checked love is under the category of all. Whatever you do, all things, for the glory of God. Loving is under the category of all things. Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.
So now we have the ultimate test to know if this expression of our love is approved or not. And it's simple. Does it glorify Jesus Christ?
If it does, then everyone around us is going to be loved, and we're going to stick out like a sore thumb in this world. We're going to be like that early church that the spy came in and said, my how they love him and my how they love one another. Because people just don't do that.
But when we do it with the responsible kind of mature love, people feel loved around us, cared for, invested in, secure, and God gets the glory.
So to sum it all up, our love should be growing, our love should be knowing, and our love should be showing.
You ever pray for love? Oh, yeah, I pray that people love me all the time.
No, I mean do you pray for your own love for them? That's what Paul said. I'm praying for your love for one another.
Do you ever pray that your love would flow out because people around you would be soaked, wonderfully soaked. They'd get around you and go, man, I'm all wet. I'm soaked. That guys love so much, she loves so much, and it's such a pure, Godly love. I feel so cared for.
My challenge then, as we close this week, is that you be a person-- this week you start praying for your love, the expressions of your love, to be mature like what we just prayed for.
I'm praying that for you this week. I've made that's my commitment is I pray for you this week. And I'll pray for myself this kind of prayer.
And here's why we need to pray for it. Here's why Paul prays for it. Because, you know I just want to bring this up, because sometimes people go, why did he pray for that? Of all the things to pray for, why that?
Well you know, in the physical world we have a law called the second law of thermodynamics. And the second law of thermodynamics basically states that all matter and all energy in the universe is subject to and in a constant state of entropy. That is a continual degradation, ongoing deterioration, decay.
In the spiritual life it's like there is a form of spiritual entropy that pulls us backwards. So as we go through the day and through the week, we get pulled back to the values of this world, the ideologies of this world expressed in their music, their news articles, their messaging along the freeway, our friends. We get pulled back to it.
The only way to counter act that spiritual entropy is to be infusing our self with new energy. And so we get together a lot.
And that's why the book of Hebrews says, fellowship come to church a lot. Especially as you see the day of Christ approaching, do it more often, pray more often, Bible study more often. You need to counteract the spiritual entropy.
So I'm praying for you. But I'm not praying for you like Jaron Lowenstein said wherever you are in your car, I'm paying for you to crash.
I'm praying for the long haul. That your love, your expression toward one another, would be this kind of mature love as expressed in these four ways.
Let's pray together. Father, thank you for this flock that is devoted to your word and is devoted to loving one another beyond a superficial cliche kind of love that exists in so many places. The world is filled with the language and the songs of love with absolutely no idea what it even means. This is what it means.
This is what it means. And I pray, Lord, that our love would grow and overflow, abound more and more. But Lord, with an epignosis of full knowledge and a discernment that would keep it within safe expressions, one that is pure, authentic, real, and that ultimately would bring glory to you because of it.
Lord, a special thanks for our moms, Lord, who of all people-- they come the closest, I think, to this kind of expression.
And I can say that after not having my mom for seven years now. I look back to those days of nurturing and counsel and that inexhaustible love that was hers. That happy face and those words of encouragement that were real.
Lord, I just thank you for our mothers who do exemplify this and just pray for them to be even more godly and more steadfast. Thank you for their energy and their time and their blessing.
Lord, I pray that you strengthen them so that this next year is even better. And may you bless all their trips to Walmart. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Our love for one another can be renewed by prayer. Let us know how this message has encouraged you to demonstrate love according to biblical standards. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Calvary Albuquerque.