The Prayer That Love for the Church Demands
October 27, 2019
In the last few weeks, we have been looking at this incredible opening to the book of Philippians. In the last two weeks, in verses 3 through 8, we have seen the amazing way in which Paul truly loves the Christians in Philippi. In fact, let’s read those verses together again.
*I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.*
So in that little section there, in verse 4, we’re told Paul is remembering the Philippian believers. And he is remembering them with joy in every prayer of his. In verse 8, he talks about how much he yearns for them. Now, in verses 9 through 11, which we will be looking at today, we’re going to see the content of those prayers—what they look like. We’re going to see how someone who has this kind of love and affection for the church prays for those whom he loves. We see this in verses 9 through 11 where Paul says:
*And it is my prayer that your love may bound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.*
We have seen over the last few weeks just how we are to love all who are in the church and where this type of love comes from. Today, we’re going to discover how we should be praying for everyone whom God has placed in the same church as us. If you’re like me—and granted I was probably in the text a little more than you—the last couple of weeks have been very challenging. This passage has been revealing to me how I need to view all of you—my brothers and sisters in Christ—at all times, where I’m falling short in the love I should have for all of you. Once you start to understand these things—once they really start to take root in you, then of course, it is going to lead to the type of prayer we’ve just seen in verses 9 through 11.
What we’ve seen in these verses is truly a model for how we should always be praying for each other. Of course it is great to pray for each other whenever we have requests about various physical needs. We should absolutely tell each other about these, and we should solicit each other’s prayers regarding these types of things. But this—what we see in these verses—is an outline for how we should be constantly praying for one another. The types of prayers we pray, no matter what circumstances we know that someone might be in—these are the things we should be longing to see in one another, knowing these are the things the person we are praying for needs the most. We never see him—in any of Paul’s recorded prayers—praying for physical needs. That’s not to say he never prayed for those types of things. I’m sure he prayed for Epaphroditus in his illness. But we can clearly see that he never saw those types of prayers as prayers that would be instructive on how Christians should be praying, so he doesn’t include those in his letters. He includes this prayer.
John MacArthur has said, “There is no truer indicator of a Christian’s level of spiritual maturity than his prayer life.” That makes perfect sense because the more selfish and immature a person is, the less frequently they’re going to pray. And when they do pray, most of their prayers are usually when things aren’t going well or there is some sort of personal physical trial, and then they start praying. Once someone begins to grow a little more, they start to recognize the much greater importance of growing in Christlikeness, and they start to pray more with this aim in mind. As they continue to grow in Christlikeness, they grow in their love for others, and they begin to spend most of their time in prayer for others. Because they recognize their greatest need is to be made more holy, they pray less about the physical trials of others and more and more about their spiritual growth.
Even for those who are in trials, the more they grow in the right understanding of who God is, the more time they will spend in prayer as they understand there is nothing they can do to help themselves or anyone else grow in godliness if God isn’t at work in that person’s life to bring about the change—that drives you to prayer. And if that’s true, then of course we’re going to be driven to pray to our omnipotent Father to work these things into the lives of those whom we truly love. The type of concern and care that often drives us to our knees in prayer when we discover that someone we dearly love has just been surprised with some sort of terrible tragedy is that same desperation that is going to drive us to our knees in all of our remembrance of each one of our brothers and sisters in Christ because we know how desperately they need these things Paul is praying for in this passage whether they know it or not.
So today we’re going to see the prayer that love for the church demands. We’re going to see the prayer of true love, a right love for the church. If we really love the church they way we have seen in the last few weeks—the way we should love the church—the way we need to be loving each other, then this is the way we must be praying for each other. That’s what you see in your outline this morning. If you love the church—if you really love each person in here, then you will pray with these points: Number one—abounding in love, number two—approving of excellence, number three—abundant in fruit.
Point number one—abounding in love. Look at verse 9 again: “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment.” You can see that Paul’s prayer for them is that they would be abounding in love. That’s actually the main part of this whole prayer. Everything else flows out of that request. The rest of what he prays for flows out of their abounding more and more in love. And that makes sense because, as we know from the rest of the Bible, especially 1 John—love is to be the defining characteristic of those who belong to God. First John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” First John 4:16 and 17 says,
*So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in his world.*
So Paul wants this same thing for these people. He wants them to be defined by their love for each other. He isn’t just saying he wants it to grow a little, but that it would keep growing in them. That’s what we see in that phrase “more and more.” We know that Paul already thinks highly of the Philippians, right? We’ve seen that already. He already sees love as a defining characteristic in them. And he’s so thankful for them and the love they’ve shown to him and Epaphroditus and Timothy. He sees love in them already. We talked about this—how this is one of Paul’s only letters where he doesn’t feel like it is necessary to remind them he is an apostle who has to demonstrate his authority to them so they’ll listen to him. Paul holds them in such high regard that he doesn’t feel the need to remind them of this. Remember, this is Paul’s letter of joy. This is such a positive letter. But here he tells them implicitly, albeit, that they still need to be growing in their love. They haven’t arrived.
And it’s not just that they need to grow a little. If he were to say he prays that their “love would abound more,” and just said “more” once, that would be sufficient to show them still have some growth they need to do. They haven’t arrived yet. And it could be taken by them that maybe they have a little more growth until they get to the place where they need to be when it comes to love. But by saying “more and more,” the idea is that it is something they should always be growing in. They’re always going to be growing in it. There’s no reason to think these verses we looked at in 1 John don’t already characterize the Philippian Christians, but Paul is saying they can never be satisfied when it comes to love. We can’t just look at verses like this and think we can get to a point one day where we can check off the box and say, “Okay, I’m there. I’m abounding in love. What’s the next Christian thing I need to work on now?” We can’t do that.
When we are praying for each other, we need to keep praying that each one will abound more and more in love. In our prayers, we have a tendency to only pray a prayer like this for someone if we can clearly see a deficiency in love in them. That’s usually because we have a standard of some unloving person in our mind and we compare people to that standard. That’s what an unloving person looks like. That’s the person who needs prayer to grow in love. There are a lot of people—praise God—in this church who I would have no problem saying, “That person is characterized by love. Their love is so evident for the church in their life and in all of there interactions.”
And again, none of us ever reach a point where we stop needing to have this prayed for us. Even the person who is marked by the most Christlike love you have ever seen—even that person desperately needs us to pray that their love would abound more and more. As you go through this new directory we’re making and you’re praying for everyone, if you don’t know that person very well, that should be a good sign for you to go and get to know them. But you can also know for a fact that you can and should be praying this prayer for them. You can know they need it. They have not arrived yet. The culmination, remember, of Philippians 1:6 has not happened yet. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” That hasn’t happened yet. They need to keep abounding more and more in love.
As we pray this for each other, it is important that we don’t have that silly fraudulent worldly understanding of love in our minds. When Paul is talking about love here, he doesn’t mean it the way it is thought of by most today—the idea that you try to do whatever you can that no one’s feelings are ever getting hurt. We don’t go out of our way to hurt people’s feelings, but that’s not what we mean by love. It’s not prioritizing their happiness over their good. How someone feels when you talk to them doesn’t actually have anything to do with whether you have loved them well. It’s not about doing whatever you can to allow everyone to do what makes them happy. Biblical love has its origin in truth—doing and saying that is truly best for someone regardless of how they feel or how you feel.
You see this distinction made right here when Paul says he wants their “love to abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” If you’re not careful and you’re reading really quickly through the grammar there, you could read this as a list and say Paul is praying they will have love that abounds more and more and that he also wants them to have knowledge and discernment. But even in our English translations, we can see that’s not what’s being said even though that is how the majority in Christian culture take it—that’s how they think of a verse like this. You’ve heard that, right? “Love! Love is the main thing! That’s what we’re supposed to be all about. Maybe knowledge is important, and I should probably figure out what discernment is, but clearly what God is most concerned with is my love.” And I don’t want to deny that—there’s truth to that understanding. That is Paul’s primary concern here—it’s love. Like I said, everything else in this prayer flows out of them growing in love. He’s not talking about three different things here. He’s saying the way love abounds more and more is with knowledge and all discernment. Love is not this nebulous feeling or even an action that exists outside of knowledge and discernment. Most translations render the word “with” as “in,” which would probably more helpful for us to understand this. The very definition of love and growing in love is dependent on growth in knowledge and discernment. So, we’re not tempted to think of “with” as something that sits next to love instead of connected with it. It might be good for us to think of it in terms of “in.” Paul is saying the way in which their love is to abound more and more is in knowledge and discernment. The idea is that the growth of those things—knowledge and discernment—is what leads to growth in love.
So stop for just a second and think about how this one verse stands in rebuke of so much of evangelical culture right now. There is no growth in love apart from growth in knowledge and discernment—that doesn’t happen. True love for others cannot exist outside of knowledge and discernment. There is no love if there is no knowledge and discernment. Contrary to that popular phrase, “Love is blind,” it’s not true. Love sees clearly because it is informed by true knowledge and then rightly applied through discernment. To “abound” means “to have an excess of” or “to overflow.” It’s the idea that it’s just overflowing out of you. Love just keeps coming out of you and it doesn’t stop. But there is no abounding in love without also abounding in knowledge and discernment. They’re connected necessarily. If you’re not growing in knowledge and discernment, you’re not growing in love, no matter what you think. This is so important for a Christian culture that seems to be teaching that growing in love means outgrowing knowledge and discernment, getting past those things. Though they wouldn’t say it, it is primarily the idea that is taught.
Knowledge comes from a word that means true knowledge. “Epignosis” is true knowledge or moral perception and insight, as some lexicons say. It is the full knowledge of knowing who God is through Christ. The way we attain this is through a better understanding of God’s Word. Knowing better who God is and who we are and what is required of us by studying his Word will make us more loving. Think about it. It’s impossible to be proud or selfish and simultaneously be thinking true things about God. The word that is translated as discernment has to do with recognizing and making right decisions. So knowledge is gaining a better understanding of that which is true. And discernment is rightly living according to that knowledge. Actual love does not grow when you stop caring about these two essential components.
This is exactly what we saw this week in the controversy of the Truth Matters Conference with John MacArthur’s response about Beth Moore. For those of you who don’t know, Beth Moore is a famous Southern Baptist author and speaker who has gone from—when I was in high school and college they were just not very helpful or useful—but she’s gone from that to now dangerous and borderline heretical. She has talked about a hermeneutic she has of reading the Bible and trying to “find herself” in it—trying to put herself in it. She’s talked about hearing and receiving visions directly from Jesus. If you remember, when Justin Peters was here, we watched that creepy video where she heard Jesus telling her to go up to this guy in a wheelchair and start brushing his hair. She has aligned herself with prosperity gospel preachers and she has recently had the things she had written in the past against homosexuality, namely calling it a sin, removed from all further publication of her books. And even most recently now, she has become the poster-person for a new soft complementarianism, which is really just egalitarianism with a couple of limits. Egalitarianism, if you don’t know, is the teaching that there are no differences in the roles God has assigned men and women. It denies the clear biblical teaching that those who hold the office of elder and pastor—those who teach the word of God to the congregation—are to be men.
So this last week, in what was admittedly more a way of having a discussion of this importance, John MacArthur was asked to play a word association game and give a one- or two-word response to whatever the moderator said. When the moderator gave the name “Beth Moore,” Pastor MacArthur responded with the two-word phrase, “Go home.” He then proceeded to give the biblical case that women should not be preaching and made some further points on other social justice issues that were being confused in this. Again, the context for the initial comment and the nature of the interview wasn’t great and was probably in poor taste. It would have probably have been better if there had been a different interviewer—if Travis was doing the interview. But within the next 24 hours, Christian leaders from all over the country who are in that social justice camp were everywhere taking aim at him for his “hateful, unloving” comments.
Again, I’m not a fan of the interview, but telling an unqualified false teacher to “go home”—is that really unloving? Maybe it would have been best if no one ever had confronted her on any of this stuff, or if John MacArthur hadn’t been confident of the biblical reasons she needs to stop teaching and writing, get into a good church, sit under good preaching, get her theology correct, and then maybe start teaching and discipling women—maybe if none of that had happened yet. But she has been confronted on this multiple times, and she just keeps moving further and further to the left. As we have seen in this passage, love is not a tone. There are two loving ways to tell my kid to get out of the street—if there are no cars coming, I can say, “Son, daughter, get out of the street.” But if there’s a car coming, I can shout it and it’s still a loving tone, right? So love is not a tone, and it isn’t about individual feelings, but it can only exist and grow with knowledge and discernment. Love can only exist and grow with those things.
If that is true, then is it loving for these evangelical leaders to keep affirming Beth Moore’s ministry? Is it loving for their churches to continue to promote her to them because she is such a nice lady? Is it loving to God or to her to not say anything to someone who teaches that which is contrary to Scripture while also ignoring clear biblical teaching in her practice? What is more loving—to tell that person to stop, or to encourage them to continue, and even build them up in their teaching? With a truly biblical understanding of what love is, how is it possible that encouraging that or even just not saying anything is more loving than John MacArthur’s response? Again, we don’t go out of the way to say anything in an unloving or a false tone, but we know love isn’t defined by those things. With a biblical understanding of what love is, how is it possible that encouraging that or not saying something would be more loving? And to whom could that be more loving? Is it more loving for the people who sit under her teaching and buy all of her books? Is it more loving to them to not confront her? Is it more loving to Beth Moore to let her continue on in that? Is it more loving to God to allow someone to continue to claim his name and teach falsely about him?
We are to pray for each other that our love would abound more and more in knowledge and in discernment. Love knows what is right and then does it. Granted, this usually does mean it will come across as nice and kind to those around you—and it should. But it doesn’t always look like that. It always comes down on the side of truth, knowing that this is what is best for everyone involved and most honoring to God. Being nice, being sensitive, being tolerant—all of those things could possibly be a part of loving someone, but knowledge and discernment always are. They are essential every time in anything that could be considered love. So this is how we are going to be praying when it comes to our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Christ—that their love would abound more and more, that they wouldn’t buy into this terrible definition of love we see everywhere, but that they would love like Christ with action that is based on true knowledge.
That type of love leads naturally to our second point, which is a proving of excellence. We see that in verse 10: “So that you may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ Jesus.” So you see he says, “So that.” It means that real love, the kind that grows as knowledge and discernment grow, leads to the ability to approve what is excellent. That is next level of discernment. It’s not just acting on what is good as opposed to what is evil, but acting upon that which is best, excellent. The point in this is that when someone has love abounding more and more, they are no longer making a decision between what is morally right and morally wrong—those things come easy to the one who is overflowing with the type of love that comes from increasing knowledge and discernment. We are talking about the ethereal, “What’s God’s will for my life?”—those type of questions that so many people in the evangelical world are just broken over and obsessed with. That’s what many of the book titles I read to you a couple of weeks ago had to do with. Did you notice that? Not only were those books made for people who were completely focusing on themselves, which is why I gave you that list to show that is happening, but they are also primarily about figuring out your life. The themes in those books were things like this: How to find your purpose, how to discover your dreams, discovering who you really are, how to become more courageous, who were you meant to be—not just who you are, but who are you meant to be, and how do you live your purpose. Those could be subtitles on all of those books we read.
Now just think about the questions those books are trying to help you answer for yourself. What is going to happen to the one who is abounding in knowledge and discernment when he goes to answer those questions? That person is either going to find those questions very easy to answer or deem them pointless. The one whose mind has been informed by the Word of God and then has determined to live according to it does not need to read a book to discover his purpose. The Bible is clear. Grow in Christlikeness, be an active part of a church, evangelize, disciple. The reason people are devouring these books, even though the answer to those questions are clear in the Bible, is that it goes against that deficient understanding of love they have embraced and can’t let go of. Since this is what love is, these are valid questions. The love that says everyone gets to be and do whatever makes them happy, and we don’t get to encroach on anyone else’s pursuit of those things—that’s love.
Of course, a person thinking like that is going to be lost and deluded and have no idea what step to take next. They can’t live lives approving of or embracing the excellent when they aren’t even taking the first basic step of discerning what is right and wrong. The one abounding in love does not waste time trying to discover their own personal dreams and isn’t tempted to waste their life following those dreams because they know they are a slave to Christ. Their concern is righteous obedience, and they have a trust in a good and sovereign God. You don’t need to discover “the real you” because the Bible tells you who you really are. You don’t need to waste your time trying to discover who you are meant to be or who you can become because the Bible tells you that, too. You are a slave of Christ, and you get to experience the unbelievable privilege of living your life in his service—a ransomed sinner now made a friend and adoptive child of God. And you live for him, and it’s the only way to live that will bring you true joy and the only way you’ll ever be able to understand and have a real sense of purpose.
So you can see that these types of books and songs that are so popular are really only needed and desired by those in American Christian life who have completely sold out to this low, feelings-oriented understanding of love. Those with a deep and rich truth-based love have no need for those things. I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself since I’ve been a Christian, “What’s my purpose?” I’ve never been tempted at all by those books and songs. Those who have this understanding of love are not only able to live in a way that distinguishes right from wrong, but also wise from foolish. That is this “most excellent way” he is talking about. They will know that is true in themselves; but even greater, even better, even more to Paul’s concern, they will be able to see it in the context of the lives of those who are around them also—their brothers and sister in Christ.
So we pray for this in each other—that God would cause our love to abound more and more in knowledge and discernment so that we may approve what is excellent. We need to be praying for our church in this way. How awesome it would be to have a whole church that is able to approve what is excellent, demonstrating with their lives that they recognize what is truth and what is worth pursuing.
So you can see how that would lead to what it says would be the next result: “And so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ Jesus.” Pure and blamelessness—that’s not referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is true of believers. The imputed righteousness of Christ, the glorious and wonderful truth that unites us and makes us brothers and sisters—Jesus Christ, our pure spotless righteousness. He is the one who perfectly obeyed the law in our place so that when we place our trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, he took our sins upon himself, and God was pleased to accept this sacrifice and demonstrated it by raising him from the dead. So now he takes our sin, the punishment we deserve, and he gives to us in exchange for that perfect righteousness of Christ. So God now sees in us the perfect obedient life of his son. Those who are in Christ hold a pure a blameless position before God because of his imputed righteousness. That is true. That is a glorious truth. It is the most wonderful message imaginable.
But that is not the purity and blamelessness that Paul has in mind here. “Pure” is not the more common word that is translated as “pure,” in the New Testament. This word can also be translated as “sincere.” You’ll see that in some of your translations. The idea that Paul is trying to communicate isn’t one of earning one’s way into a pure standing, but is one where the person is above reproach, is sincere, of good character—someone who is consistent, not a hypocrite. The word literally means “to be tested by the sunlight.” So the idea is that when they are brought out into the open, they can be seen as genuine. They can be seen that they are what they really proclaim to be. “Blameless” is in reference to one who gives no offense or to not cause someone else to stumble. That seems like the way Paul is most likely using the word in this context because it demonstrates his concern for how they love each other. He is concerned with their unity. He has demonstrated this already in several places. He is praying for their love to abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment so they will approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless, be sincere and blameless.
This is what he desires for this church to be like so they are ready for the day of Christ. You see this throughout his letters. Paul has this understanding that he is presenting people to Christ and presenting this church to Christ. That should definitely apply to a greater extent to pastors and elders, but is that how all of us see our church? We are all doing our part to prepare each other to be presented to Christ one day. Is that how you are praying for one another? The person next to you, the person on the other side whom you don’t talk to often are going to be standing before Christ one day as a fellow member of the church that I’m a part of. We often talk about how we need to be striving to store up treasures in heaven for ourselves—and amen! We should. Wes just taught a class on that earlier this morning. But is there something also in you that longs to see everyone in your church family receiving these rewards—storing up treasure in heaven, able to stand sincere and blameless in the day of Christ, to see no one in here be ashamed or embarrassed in the day of his return?
Let’s pray for each other in this regard—to pray for love to abound in us more and more and that that would lead to lives lived for only that which is excellent. To pray for lives of integrity lived for the Lord and his church and lives that are—and this is the last point in your outline—abundant in fruit. Look at verse 11 and how this marvelous prayer of Paul ends. It says, “So that you may be approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Paul’s prayer for them is that they would be pure and blameless for the day of Christ and that they would be filled with the fruit of righteousness. The fruit of righteousness is in reference to all of the good that God wants to produce in us that God is producing out of us.
So the idea is, once again, the day of Christ is coming, and we want no one in the church to be standing before Christ lacking fruit and not just lacking fruit, but not being filled with fruit. We’re praying for each other at the level of ultimate purpose. This is why we have no need for those books. We have come to a place where we know God through his Word, and as we are able to understand that which is truly excellent, we can pray it for each other. We can look around at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and we can see each other and be confident they are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that [they] should walk in them.” That is Ephesians 2:10. We often read that verse and think of it in terms of understanding our own purpose and what Christ wants with our own lives and we should think of it that way, also. But we need to shift a little bit and start taking these verse and thinking of verses like this as ground for our prayers for each other, also. We pray for each other to be like this.
Fruit, of course, as the Bible talks about, is the product of a process. It is something that God is doing in you. It is something that comes from out of you because of what God is doing you, not because you are really trying hard to produce it yourself. God is doing it in you. That is what is says right there: “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” That is what Jesus taught us in John 15:4 and 5. He says:
*Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.*
So this means that connected to this prayer that we are praying from this passage in Philippians is also the fact we are praying for each other to abide in Christ, to continually be abiding in Christ. If we are not connected to him and if we are not drawing from him, we can do nothing. We will never be filled with the fruit of righteousness. And that is actually a reason that Paul gives to Titus for why Christ died. In Titus 2:13 and 14, Paul says to Titus, “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” We have talked about this before. We are constantly to be filled with thankfulness for one another because we understand that God has made us partakers of the same grace. No matter what else we have to thank God for about each other, we can always begin with the fact that in his good pleasure, this person has been the grace of salvation and that God has begun a good work in them that he will bring to completion. But in our prayers for each other, we understand that justification wasn’t the end purpose in salvation. It wasn’t the end purpose Christ came to die. He saved each of us in here who have turned from sin and followed Christ, whom God has regenerated. He saved each one of you to be one who is zealous for good works. Is that how we are praying for one another—that we would each be zealous for good works? “God, make them abide in you. Make them zealous for the good works you have saved them to do, that they wouldn’t be so distracted with all the vain things in life—all of the rubbish—and be filled with the fruit of righteousness.” Are we praying like that for each other?
There was an article in the Babylon Bee, which is a Christian satire site, so it is fake. The article was about author and Pastor John Piper as a guest commentator during the World Series. So John Piper is the one who wrote the book Don’t Waste Your Life and Desiring God. It had lines in the article like this:
Babylon Bee, Don’t Waste Your Life Desiring God.
*An animated Piper gave insightful commentaries on the plays and criticized both the players and crowd for “wasting their lives throughout the game.” Piper said, “There goes another man wasting his life swinging a piece of wood at a ball.” He said after an incredible hit was made late in the game, “And for some reason a crowd full of people also wasting their lives were cheering like mad. I just want to remind the audience that none of this will go into eternity,” he added as he passionately pleaded with the audience to turn their attention to things that mattered.*
At first glance, that is a funny article. And I’m not saying it’s bad to take in an occasional sporting event. And the article is meant to be satire, but as a Christian with an eternal mindset, I was thinking through that. And I was thinking, “How long would I actually be able to watch that game with John Piper commenting like that before I turned if off and went to read my Bible?” I would have to at some point. Being filled with an abounding love founded in knowledge and discernment should cause me to live a life where I don’t need commentary to approve what is excellent and strive for fruits of righteousness. This is what we are praying for each other—that our love may abound more and more in knowledge and discernment so we will approve and live for that which is excellent. So in our day to day lives, as we abide in Christ, we are discerning the best use of our time and energy and not simply doing whatever we want to as long as it’s not direct sin, but being filled with fruit of righteousness. And not being filled with just an apple a day—my good-deed-for-the-day type of thinking—but every hour, every moment being filled with fruit of righteousness.
As we pray for each other, we need to think of our lives as vessels that are constantly being filled every hour, every day. We don’t typically pray like that because it makes us reflect on our own lives. So sometimes we feel like we’re being overly critical. But are we praying that their lives—that each day, all the time—would be filled with the fruit of righteousness? Is that how we are praying? That is the way we must be praying for one another. Again, not that it is bad to pray for physical needs, but our primary overwhelming concern for one another in prayer needs to sound like Paul. As we pray these things for one another, if we pray this model of prayer along with Paul, it will increase our patience with one another as we grow together as a church in sanctification. It will have that effect because just praying a prayer like we see Paul pray here means you are recognizing this type of life we are praying for in each other can only be accomplished by the work of God. We see this in the very fact that Paul announces this as a prayer. In that very first verse he says, “It is my prayer.” The fact that it is a prayer means he understands that this can only be done by God. Yes, he is going to—through this letter—encourage them to grow in these same ways he is praying for them, but he ultimately understands it as a work of God. The filling of the fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.
So as we pray for each other with this mindset, and as we see each other’s lives growing in this direction, we will give glory and praise to God just as Paul does here at the end of this verse, “To the glory and praise of God.” That is the ultimate reason we are to pray for each other like this—not because we really love each other, though we absolutely must really love each other. And we have seen over these last few weeks just what that love looks like and how that love acts. But the ultimate reason we are pleading with God to make his people like this is because it magnifies the glory of God because only he can do this. We are praying that God will continue to do that which he has promised in verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the da of Jesus Christ.”
So as this work begins to reflect more and more—that completed work—we must give glory to God because he is the one who must be doing it. And you will find that the greater your involvement in this work is—the greater you are used by God in this, the more you are invested in it, the more fervently you are praying to see God do this in an individual or in the church—then the greater your amazement and joy and praise to God will be as you watch it happen before you. It’s amazing. The best thing that can happen to you is to see that and witness that.
So let us, Grace Church, understand that God is doing a work among each brother and sister we have in here. And let’s fervently pray this prayer for each—that we would abound more and more in a love that is inseparable from an ever-deepening knowledge and wise discernment, so that we may approve what is excellent, embrace what is excellent and thereby live lives of integrity, making the most of our time, keeping others from stumbling, so we may be found sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, at which time we may also be found filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through abiding in Christ—and all of it to the glory and praise of God.
Father, we thank you for this instruction on how to pray. God, I pray we would all be faithful—so faithful in our prayers for each other that we would pray these things, long to see these things taking place in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we would get the privilege—and more and more so—of seeing you answer these prayers and seeing our brothers and sisters grow in love abounding more and more, in a right true love, and marked by knowledge and discernment, seeing them grow in their ability to discern and approve what is excellent, to live their lives for you. I pray we would take great joy in this and we would never cease to thank you, praise you, give glory to you as we see it happen. In Jesus’ name, amen.