A sermon on Philippians 1:1-11 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 7 November 2021
Today we are talking about adding value to love. We add value to something when we transform it into something better and more useful. Farmers grow grain and we would go hungry without them. They can improve their yields by investing in machinery and increasing their inputs and caring for their natural resources. But at the end of the day, human beings can’t eat wheat or oats. We eat bread or Uncle Toby’s Natural Muesli. We don’t eat pigs, we eat ham or bacon. And transforming these agricultural products into food is adding value. That’s why we pay more per kilo for bread than farmers get for their grain.
In Philippians chapter 1 Paul spells out his prayer for the Philippians, the believers in the church at Philippi. He cared about them because he was the first person to go there with the gospel and he had planted the church there himself. He cared about them enough to pray for them regularly. And what he prayed for them in particular is that their love would grow in amount and in depth. He prayed for their value added love. He wrote to them,
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.
Paul prays firstly that their love may abound, that it may increase. This is the sort of thing you say to people who are already loving. He’s not saying, stop hating and start loving. He’s not saying that they have to change the way that they are behaving. It’s the sort of thing you say to people you care about who are already going in the right direction and you just want them to improve in some small way. These are people who are already partners with him in the gospel. Now that he has had to leave them and is separated from them, he still loves them and they love him and he longs to see them. These are not people who are a drain on him emotionally. He hasn’t had to waste time trying to get them back on track, having to solve some problem or answer some issue or deal with some conflict. The Philippians are people who love.
But Paul wants them to love even more. It’s a good reminder that none of us loves as much as we could, that none of us has finally arrived at the peak of Christian sainthood and that no improvement is needed any more. And none of us has lived long enough that we can retire from the call of God to love even more. Personal growth and development in our love for God and for others is something that we should expect will happen as long as we live.
It’s also a good reminder that the growth and development that God is looking for, is our faith and hope, but especially our love. We are not called to become more clever. We are not to aspire to winning more Bible quizzes. But the goal of our life is to improve our service, to grow in, above all other things, our love.
Paul prays secondly that their love would not only increase in quantity, but in quality, that their love would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. This is because knowledge and insight add value to our love. People who are unaware of what is really going on, who don’t really know who God is, or what Jesus has done for us, or what resources of the Holy Spirit are at our fingertips, people who are oblivious to their own faults and mistakes or to people’s real needs and desires – well it’s not so much that people like that don’t care. We may not be able to fault the love that they have for their family and friends. But that love that they have is not as effective as it could be in bringing the help that people really need. Love without knowledge or insight is like seeing someone who is obviously hungry and throwing them some heads of grain as if they will know how to thresh and winnow and mill it before baking the flour into bread.
But by knowledge we are drawn into a greater awareness of who God is, what he has done for us, what he provides us with, and what he expects from us. By knowledge we are led to a deeper understanding of our own faults of the real changes that must happen in our lives but also of our true gifts, the ways that we have been blessed to be a blessing to others. And by knowledge we are encouraged to love Jesus more and to want to walk more closely with him in service of others.
Insight, in particular, is that knowledge that can see through appearances to what is real and true underneath. It is the knowledge that is able to see the connections in life, the connections between our own insecurities and our own damaging behaviours, or the connections between how people who have been hurt in the past grow up to become people who hurt others, or the connections between how people’s greatest faults can be transformed into their greatest strengths.
Paul himself, after all, was a man who had changed. He’d been a persecutor of the church out of a misplaced zeal and passion for God. But when the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Paul had received knowledge and insight. He’d become aware that instead of serving God he was resisting God. And being led to repentance, to changing the direction of his life, Paul was able to channel that zeal and passion into serving the gospel of Jesus. His transformation had turned his greatest fault into his greatest asset.
It’s worth thinking about. Our greatest faults are often the result of misguided love. We care about our family and so we try to control them and to make their decisions for them. We care about our neighbours and so we are overly critical of their mistakes while turning a blind eye to our own. We care about what people think of us and so we care more about what it popular than what is good and right and fair. We care about how people feel and so we do what angry people want because we believe that that will help them change. Out of misguided love, families keep feuds going with their neighbours and nations declare war on each other. As a result, misguided love can kill millions of people.
Imagine then what force for good is love that is guided by knowledge and insight. A love that knows what is really important and so it is committed to what is truly good. A love that is humble towards itself and compassionate towards others. A love that doesn’t try to control or to manipulate but tries to encourage and to strengthen. A love that pursues God’s agenda and not its own. This is value added love. A love that does not just increase in care so that it has even more things to worry about, but actually knows what people really need and how to really help them.
And there is no greater source of knowledge and wisdom than the good news of Jesus. In Jesus we learn what the true God is like. Who cares for us but who isn’t afraid to challenge and confront us, who gave us his all, so that we might want to give our all to him. And in Jesus we learn what the true human being is like. Jesus surrendered to his Father’s will and trusted in his Father’s care.
How is misguided love leading you into damaging patterns of behaviour? What can you learn from the gospel that can change you and channel your love into more effective help for others.
Thirdly Paul prays that their love may increase in knowledge and insight because then they will be able to discern what is best. We discern things when we look at things that are similar and can tell them apart. Like knowing what’s an edible mushroom and what’s a poisonous toadstool. I don’t actually know how to tell them apart, but people with a special kind discernment can. Or like knowing the difference between what you want and what you need. You think you need what you want, but do you really need it? Isn’t it true that you could probably go without it and be no worse off? But people without discernment can’t tell the difference.
Paul wants the Philippians’ love to grow in knowledge and insight so that then they will be able to discern, to distinguish what is best. Not just what is good from what is bad, but what is best from what is good, but maybe not as good, and from what is better than good, but still maybe not what is as good as best. Choices between what is good and bad are easy. We clearly know the difference, it is only a lack of will that makes the choice hard. But it takes knowledge and insight to be able to tell what is the best choice to make, the best thing for us, the best thing for others, in order to make best use of our time and the most effective use of our resources.
We live in challenging times and the world is full of people who mean well. But the challenge for us is to actually do well. And for that we need the discernment to know what is best that comes from the knowledge and insight that only God can give through his gospel.
But fourthly Paul also prays that the Philippians may grow in this value added love that that they may then be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. To be pure is to be without stain, to be morally sincere and genuine. To be blameless is to be without any well-known fault. To be pure and blameless are qualities not just of our behaviour, but also of our character. Not just who we are in public when everyone is watching, but who we are in private.
These things are important because a day is coming, the day of Christ. It is a day of victory, when the forces of evil will be crushed for good and God’s eternal kingdom of blessing will be established for ever. Nothing wrong, nothing wicked, will be welcome in that glorious place. And so it will also be a day of reckoning, a day of uncovering what is unworthy and of unmasking all that is false. Even of us. It is not a day that we should dread. Paul doesn’t want the Philippians, and I don’t want you, to feel anxious as if you could trust in Jesus all your life and still be locked out of heaven in the end because you weren’t good enough. God’s promise is better than that. The Lord Jesus died to take our judgment so that we need not fear it. For those who have trusted in Christ his day will be a time of cleansing and of renewal and of purifying. Nevertheless it will also be a time when our motives and actions will be exposed and shown to be what they really were all along.
Paul wants his friends, the Philippians, to stand unashamed on that day without regret about their actions and choices. And so he wants their love to increase that they may know what is best, and knowing what is best that they may choose it,
It’s a good reminder that we may not be saved by good works. We are saved by God’s grace through the blood of Jesus and received by faith. But we are saved for good works. As Paul says to live to produce the fruit of righteousness that grows from the seed of the gospel. So although we are saved by grace through faith, our choices and actions matter.
And so my prayer for you is the same as Paul’s prayer here. I pray that you may abound in love, that your love may increase in knowledge and insight from the truth of the gospel, so that you may know what is best, and knowing what is best that you may choose it, so that you may stand before Christ on his day of victory, as you will, and have no regrets.