Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: How do we pray for our Gospel Partners?
Scripture Text: Philippians 1:9-11
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Title: How do we pray for Gospel Partners?
Big Idea: The way we pray for Gospel Partners is for their increase in love and truth, leading to righteousness, to the glory of God.
We saw the heart of the gospel partner in our opening sermon last week. This week, we will hear the prayer of the gospel partner. We’ll learn how we can pray for one another in the church, and why we can have joyful confidence that our prayers will be answered
“I’ll pray for you”. We say it all the time to each other. Paul alludes to it in verse 4, where he expresses thankful joy every time he remembers them in prayer. But today’s verses, he goes one step further.
Instead of saying, “you’re in my prayers”, he writes down his prayer for them in the letter. Why does he do this? In my view, for three reasons:
It’s like how you pray for your child at their bedside before they sleep, and you pray out loud that they’ll learn to be good and come to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour. You’re opening your heart to them, and they hear your desire for them. Your prayer is petitionary, but it is also exhortatory.
He does not just want them to do things because he says so. He wants them to do them because he prays so. And the difference is that when you pray for them, they are not left to their own resources. In an exhortation, you are appealing to man to do something, in a prayer, you are appealing to God to do it. Paul wants the Philippians to know that as much as he desires their growth, he is not expecting them to grow on their own, he is relying on God to do it in and through them.
“Join in imitating me”, Paul says in chapter 3:17. He is a model gospel partner to the Philippian church not merely in his lifestyle, but also in his heart, as we have seen, and in his prayer, as we will see.
Last week, we saw what the heart of a Gospel Partner looks like, and today, we will hear what the prayer of a Gospel Partner sounds like. We will learn, from the Apostle Paul, how to pray for our fellow gospel partners.
Petition number One.
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more
Paul’s desire is for the Philippians is Gospel Partnership. It will be a love from and for the Gospel that unites them as Partners. Love will be the bedrock of this partnership.
We will look at three aspects of the love Paul prays for his gospel partners to possess.
The Nature of this love, The Model of this love, and the Source of this love.
1.A) The Nature of this Love.
The love referred to here comes from the Greek word, agape. Paul uses it four times in this letter to describe the love that Christ has for them, and the love they ought to have for one another.
Now, the ancient Greek language has several words for love. And they almost never use the word agape to denote love in their writing. In other words, the Greek word agape refers to love, but because it has hardly ever used, the word agape is not very well defined, in Greek literature at the time.
But agape is used over a hundred times by the New Testament writers. Agape is the word most frequently used to describe God’s love. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world” – agape. 1 John 4:16, “God is Love” – again, agape.
What the Early Christians did was to take a word for love that hardly anyone used, and their infused it with a uniquely Christian meaning, because no other word commonly used for love at the time – philia, eros, ludus, pragma – adequately captured the essence of the Christian love.
That is agape love. It is the love that moved God to send his Son into the world, it is the love that sent Jesus willing to the cross. In essence, agape is a love that sacrifices oneself for the good of the other. It is the love that we witness in the gospel. It is the love that gospel partners have for each other.
Phil 1:9, And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.
Paul prays that agape will abound more and more in us. In other words, Paul views agape not as a static possession, but as a dynamic process. Agape is not simply something we can keep in our pocket and say we have it; it’s as if agape has a life-force of its own; like a plant, it’s able to grow and increase, and bear fruit.
He prays that our agape love will abound, and not only abound, but abound more and more. Do you see, he doesn’t just want us to have a great amount love. The phrase “more and more” emphasizes that agape is dynamic, its organic, it grows.
Gospel partners, we have in us, the ever-growing potential for better and purer expressions of love. Paul doesn’t pray that we’ll be loving, Paul assumes we are loving. He’s praying that we grow in love, that we are loving more and more.
So, if you are loving, good. But not good enough. The question isn’t “are you loving”, but “are you more loving than you were yesterday?” That’s the prayer, that’s the aspiration that Paul has for gospel partners. Are you loving more and more and more?
You see, when a farmer plants an apple tree, he isn’t satisfied with having a tree, he tends the tree, he fertilizers it, he waters it, he prunes it, so that it will grow more and more, so that it will bear fruit, so that it will bear good fruit. If you are a serious farmer, you do not plant a tree to have a tree, you plant it for the harvest it will produce. You want the tree to grow more and more, to give more and more.
That’s the nature of agape. It grows, it abounds more and more.
Let us now turn to the models for this love.
1.B) The Model of this Love.
Paul’s holds up his own love for them as a model for their love for each other.
He says, For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.(1:8)
And he will go on to say, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Phil 3:17)
Paul urges them at the end of the letter to put into practice what they learned, received, heard and seen in him (4:9). And what we saw in him last week was his affection for the church.
Paul seeks to stimulate them to love each other by the strong assertion of his love. It is possible, Paul is telling them, to love as Christ loves. If you think I am exaggerating, God is my witness. We have in a Paul, a model of the love that gospel partners ought to have for one another.
But he gives us more. He will give us the example of Timothy, who has proven to be “genuinely concerned for their welfare.” (Phil 2:20). He gives the example of Epaphroditus, who “risked his life to serve Paul.” (Phil 2:30).
And in the Christ hymn in 2:6-11, he presents to us the ultimate model of love in Jesus Christ, who did not merely risk his life, but lost it at the cross, to save the saints.
Join in imitating Paul and keep your eyes on the example of men such as Timothy and Epaphroditus, and most of all, model your after the love that Christ displayed at the cross, the ultimate paradigm of self-sacrificial, life-giving, other-serving agape.
With these models before us, let us pray for this quality of love to abound in you more and more in you and your gospel partners.
Now, let us consider
1.C) The Source of this Love.
The source of this love is God. That is why prays to God for it to abound. The birth of this love in the heart of Gospel partners is a result of God beginning his good work in them. The affection that Paul feels for them is none other than the affection of Christ Jesus. God, whose name is Agape, is the source of our agape.
The love of Christ is the source of our love for one another.
But how can Jesus’ love for us become the source of our love for others? Ephesians gives some insight.
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
In this letter, Paul’s desire that the Ephesians will be united in love, that they will walk in love, that they speak the truth in love to one another. And his strategy for bringing this lifestyle of agape to become reality, is that they may know the love of Christ in their inner being.
Paul prays that they know the love of Christ, be immersed in the infinite dimensions of the love Christ, and so be filled with the fullness of God, who is love.
Comprehending Christ’s love, knowing Christ’s love, experiencing Christ’s love, is the way we become loving. Christ’s love is the source of our love.
But we have to pray for the power to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge. God must help us know his Son’s all-surpassing love through the empowerment of his Spirit.
So fellow partners in the gospel, pray, pray for your love to abound, pray for my love to abound, pray to the God who is love, for our love to abound more and more.
More there is more. Pray for our growth in love to be accompanied by our growth in knowledge.
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
Pray that our gospel partner’s love may abound alongside his knowledge.
Here, we want to explore the relationship between our heads and our hearts, the relationship between our knowing and our loving. And there are three to take note of.
First, Our knowing shapes our loving. Second, our knowing serves our loving. Third, our knowing is nothing without our loving.
2.A) So, first, Our knowing shapes our loving.
We have already seen from Ephesians that we have to know Christ to love like Christ and for Christ to be the source of our love. In other words, the more we know Christ, the more we know the love of Christ, our love will then abound more and more. Our knowing shapes our loving.
Remember how agape was appropriate by the New Testament writers to describe the love of God? They chose agape, so that they can define love the right way. So that truth will define love and not the other way around.
When we begin with true knowledge, we can arrive at true love. If we begin with love, we might never arrive at truth at all, because an impulse, an emotion, a passion, is by nature wild, and ill-disciplined, and has to be brought under control by knowledge and discernment.
If we allowed our appetites to determine our eating habits, most of us would be in trouble. I would disappear. When I am busy, when I am stressed, I can go an entire day without feeling hungry. My mind has to tell myself, “eat!” I know some of you have the opposite problem, when you’re stressed your appetite soars, and you have to tell yourself “stop!”
Same for our love, for love to be healthy, for love to be true, for love to be agape, our knowing must shape our loving. Specifically, our knowledge of Christ and his gospel, must shape the love of the gospel partner. Love needs to be instructed by knowledge in order to fulfill love’s desire to serve.
As CS Lewis says, “The heart never takes the place of the head, but it can, and should, obey it.”
That’s the first relationship between our head and our heart. Our knowing shapes our loving.
The second is this:
2.B) Our knowing serves our loving.
“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend – the city of men.” Says Faramir, the Captain of Gondor. in the Lord of the Rings.
You see, Faramir treasures the sword, the wields the sword, he masters the sword, because he loves and serves the city of men.
That, my gospel partners, is the attitude we ought to hold towards knowledge. We treasure knowledge, we wield the truth we master the bible, because we love the saints.
Be very careful, we who are in the BP church, that we do not love knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
Is it possible to love the Word but not love the church? You bet it is.
Rev 2:2-4, “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
It is possible to be right about doctrine, and still be wrong as a church. Never confuse knowing truth with loving truly.
We love knowledge because knowledge shapes and serves our love. Knowledge is an instrument of love; love abounds more and more by knowledge. Knowledge is the means; love is the end.
So how do we know we love? We pray. A man may study the bible diligently because he loves knowledge. But only a man who loves God and his people will pray to God for his people.
Pray that our love may abound more and more, with all knowledge and discernment.
Third relationship between our head and our heart:
2.C) Our knowing is nothing without our loving.
This is straightforward. There is no inherent value to your growing knowledge of the bible, if it does not lead to growth in your love. Or to put it another way, without love, your knowledge means nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
There are enough examples of men, just in the history of our BP church, who know the word, who love bible study, who enjoy teaching, but have ultimately divided the church. Their knowledge has neither shaped nor served their love, rather, it has made them critical, judgmental and disagreeable. And you have to wonder whether things might not have been better if they had never known the word in the first place. Their knowledge proved pointless, it was worthless, it’s as good as nothing.
Take care that you are not one of these men, whose growth in knowledge isn’t accompanied by a growth in love. Pray, rather, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment. Pray the same for your gospel partners. God, to whom you pray, is love.
Finally, pray that your gospel partners may be filled with the fruit of righteousness.
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
So, here is our third and final prayer item for our gospel partners. We pray for love, we pray for knowledge and we pray for their fruit of righteousness.
As with the other prayer points, there are three things we want to learn about this fruit of righteousness.
First, the Nature of this Fruit. Second, the Source of this Fruit. And finally, the Purpose of this Fruit.
3.A) The Nature of this Fruit.
This nature fruit of righteousness is described as pure and blameless. Now what comes to mind when you hear the phrase “pure and blameless”? No doubt some of us will think of a personal holiness, or individualistic perfectionism. But that is not at all what Paul has in mind.
Let’s look at what he means.
5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 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… 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
Paul’s repeated references to the day of Christ signals that he is thought across these verses is not disconnected. The fruit of righteousness which is pure and blamelessness is connected to the good work that God is doing in the Philippian church. So God’s good work in us completed at the day of Christ, will result in us being pure and blameless for the day of Christ, that is the fruit of righteousness that Paul describes.
So what is this good work? This good work that God began in the Philippian church is the gospel partnership they had with Paul from the beginning. The nature of this fruit of righteousness in the gospel community, is the good work of gospel partnership that God has begun in us. The righteousness is a relational righteousness that promotes the bonds of our partnership.
In chapter 2, Paul echoes this idea of being pure and blameless. In v14-15, he instructs them,
Phil 2:14-15. Do ………………………………………. that you may be blameless and innocent..
He says, “Do ……… that you may be blameless and innocent. Do what?
Phil 2:14-15. Do, do all things without grumbling or disputing that you may be blameless and innocent.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing. Church, this righteousness pertains not to individualistic perfection, but to communal relations.
In context, the good work that God is perfecting is the koinōnia – the gospel partnership of the saints.
Here’s how to understand it. You can imagine the good work that God is beginning in us as being given a gift. A pair of ice skates. And we receive it and we say thank you for this gift. And he says, use it well, grow in it, perfect your skill. And we go alright, and we learn to skate rings, and figure 8s and we twirl around. And when the day comes, we stand before God and he says, okay, show me what you have done. And you say, sure, check out my sleek moves. And you do your routine, spinning and twirling like a champion figure skater, feeling proud of yourself. And he says, what are you doing? I gave you skates so you could play Ice Hockey. Where are your teammates, where is your teamwork? You trained for the wrong sport.
Church, don’t miss the point. The grace that has been given us is the grace of partnership in the gospel, the good work that God is doing in us is perfecting us as gospel partners, the fruit of righteousness that we can showcase at the day of Christ is the fruit of gospel partnership.
The fruit of righteousness is the good work of gospel partnership.
So, gospel partners, pray for one another that we will be filled with this fruit.
But where does this fruit come from? This is the subject of our next point.
3.B) The Source of this Fruit.
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
If gospel partnership is the fruit, Jesus Christ is the root. This fruit comes through Jesus Christ. The good work that God has begun in us will bear the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
It does not mean, however, that we are passive recipients of this fruit. Paul isn’t referring here to the justifying righteousness that is imputed to us in Christ, he is referring to the sanctifying righteousness that is imparted to us through Christ. We are passive recipients of the former, we are active participants in the latter.
Sure, it is ultimately still God’s good work in us, the fruit ultimately comes through Jesus, we cannot and do not sanctify ourselves. Yes. But we are nonetheless called to bear good fruit, we must work to produce this fruit.
Paul puts it this way: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13)
This means that when it comes to producing this fruit of righteousness, we cannot apply the maxim of “let go and let God”. It doesn’t work that way. The way it works is we work, for it is God who works in us.
What this means is that we can work joyfully, purposefully, and confidently. What greater joy can there be than to be part of a project that you know will result in an A+ at the end of the course? There was a time when it was easy for Manchester United to recruit new players, we were winning everything, we had a legendary coach, everyone wants to be part of a winning team.
As gospel partners, we are part of a winning partnership. Because God himself is in the partnership. The source of our good works is God, the source of our righteousness is Christ. Our final result is nothing short of perfection at the day of Christ Jesus.
We pray, therefore, with thankful joy, for the fruit of gospel partnership in our lives.
Finally, the purpose of this fruit.
3.C) The Purpose of this Fruit.
filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
This is quintessential Paul. Paul prays to God, for God. Because any other kind of prayer disorders the relationship between creature and Creator.
Almighty God, I pray for a promotion. For what? So, I can increase in power and prestige and position. What kind of prayer is that? It assumes that God exists to serve my will and my glory. That’s not the language of biblical prayer. Every prayer that does not ultimately culminate in the glory of God, not only threatens to make an idol of our ego, but holds to assurance that it will be answered.
Jesus taught us to pray thus:
Our heavenly father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done. To you be the power and the kingdom and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.
We know the end for which God created the world, and you and I, is ultimately to the praise of his glory. We learnt from Ephesians that our salvation is to the praise of his glory, the plan for the cosmos for the fullness of time, is to the praise of his glory, that all things work according to the counsel of his will, to the praise of his glory.
And so it is for the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Phil 2:9-11.9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The purpose of our fruit is the glory of God. It is because we know that our fruit of righteousness serves the purpose of glorifying God, that we can have confidence that when we pray for one another to abound in love, to grow knowledge, and in the fruit of gospel partnership – that our prayer will not be prayed in vain.
This prayer will be heard, this prayer will be done, if only we will pray it.
On the basis of this conviction, Paul begins this prayer with joyful thanksgiving to God and ends it with glorious praise for God.