Friday, January 07, 2011

A Pastor's Prayer

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:09-11, NKJV).
The Apostle Paul penned some of the most profound prayers in Scripture (Ro 16:25-27; Eph 3:14-21; Php 1:3-11; Col 1:9-15). Each one is worth deep study, and each serves as an example of succinct and Spirit-led supplication and thanksgiving to God. Rarely does Paul pray only for himself, and within his prayers he often appears compelled by emotion and gratitude to break into spontaneous praise of the One to whom he prays.

In the prayer above, offered on behalf of all the believers in Philippi, he eloquently asks that God would grant them the following seven gifts: abounding love; knowledge; discernment, godly sensibilities, sincerity, sinlessness, and godly ministry. Each request is worthy of examination in terms of exactly what is being asked for, and why. Each request is as valid today for us, as it was then. To be prayed for in such a manner would be an exquisite gift.

Abounding Love that your love may abound still more and more
Paul, in asking for the Philippians' love to increase is similar to exhortations he gives two other times in the New Testament, both of these additional instances appearing in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. In asking for it this way, he is acknowledging that they already had this kind of agape love; the love that "…suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NKJV). But there can never be too much agape in a believer's heart and life. It is the fuel that energizes the Christian walk day by day, the fire that burns through the dross of the world, and the light that shines in the darkness. The apostle wanted this to abound to overflowing in the life of each member of that church family, and by extension to all of the church throughout time. He desired the same to be true for each individual, as well.

Knowledgein knowledge

But their love is to be founded, not on mere emotion, but on knowledge; knowledge of what love is, and the divine source from which it originates. The word translated knowledge is epignosis (ep-ig'-no-sis), which is constructed of two concepts, gnosis, meaning "to know something", and epi, the prefix that connotes "over and above, or overflowing". It is the head-and-heart of knowing something precisely and correctly; like the back of your hand, or a characteristic that is so familiar and understood it becomes "second nature", or "informed instinct". This aligns with every teaching in Scripture about love - it is always volitional and based on accurate information. The cliche "love is blind" is coined only in the world, and only about fleshly love.

Discernment ...and all discernment
Going beyond even that kind of intimate and intrinsically lived-out knowledge, Paul also requests that their love be based on discernment, as well. This is best defined in context as "perception, not only by the senses but by the intellect". It involves the proper analysis of what is known, not just the mere facts or raw data. Discernment looks beneath the superficial and focuses on the essential or foundational. It plays out in life by a person being able to see and understand beyond the outward circumstance. It is what has enabled Christians throughout history to rejoice  in God's goodness even in the midst of worldly misfortune and loss. This kind of love then, is stable and unchanging. It provides the basis for all kinds of godly behavior, not the least of which are mercy, forgiveness, and graciousness toward others. It is the glue of Christian unity, and the floodlight of Christian witness.

Godly Priorities ...approve the things that are excellent
The words "approve" and "excellent" are key to understanding the reason behind the Apostle's desire for God to grant his people what may best be thought of as godly priorities. Approve incorporates the meaning of "passing the test". Its root describes what was done in ancient societies to test the genuineness of coinage, which was to literally bite down on the coin to see that is was in fact made of metal soft enough (silver or gold) to leave an imprint, a "stamp of approval". The word excellent pertains to something proven to be of worth through repeated weighing or bearing down upon. Think of strong wood that survives centuries of exposure to the elements and remains strong and useful throughout.

Sincerity …that you may be sincere
In upscale ancient Rome, life-size marble statuary were all the rage. Reputable artisans and distributors took great care to protect these sculptures during transport. Others, less scrupulous, cut shipping expenses to the bare minimum, and often the goods were damaged, and a nose, ear or other extremity sometimes broke off. When it did, instead of incurring the cost of replacement, dishonest dealers would perform a superficial repair using marble dust and candle wax. If done well enough, unsuspecting consumers could be fooled until a warm day would melt the wax, disfiguring the product once more. This became such a common practice, that a word was coined in Latin to describe high-quality, unadulterated statues. The word was sin-e-cer-e, which literally meant "without wax". That is what Paul's prayer was requesting for the church, that each member would be real, solid, high-quality, and undisguised by superficial spiritual cosmetics. We are to be without wax. Our moral bumps, scrapes, dents and scars are not to be covered up because they are no longer part of our essential nature, having been cleansed and redeemed by Jesus. That is the only way for us to be in the world, and with each other, else we put on hypocrisy rather than putting on Christ. There are few things more offensive than hypocrisy, and Paul wanted the churches under his care to be sincere. 

Sinlessness ...without offense

In addition to sincerity, we are to be holy, harmless and undefiled by the world or sin. Of course, this is impossible in and of ourselves, and the struggle between the flesh and the spirit will go on until death or rapture takes us off the planet. But the Apostle prays for God to grant this fellowship of believers (and by extension, all believers) the power to live, not sinless, but with less sin. The power to be free to consciously choose righteousness over its opposite. The power to see the godly path marked out by our Good Shepherd, and to take it. The power to purpose in our hearts beforehand to avoid offense against God, each other, and the world. Why? It is what is best for us as we live as sojourners and pilgrims on the earth, and it adds credence and substance to our being witnesses for Christ. Our gentleness, honesty, diligence and kindness should be how we are known in the world.

Godly Ministry …fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ
With abounding love founded on knowledge and discernment, with godly priorities sincerely lived out in right-seeking gentleness, we will bear the fruits of righteousness, both in this life and in the life to come. This is the logical result of Paul's supplication. If we allow God to pour out these things in our hearts, minds and lives, we WILL be filled with much fruit that remains. That is our sole purpose in being living disciples of Messiah, to bear the kind of fruit that is only possible by being in Jesus Christ.
The Duration ...till the day of Christ

The request is for God to bestow these things upon us until either we return to Jesus or He returns to the earth for His church. This is not just for Sundays, or in Christian gatherings, but everywhere and in all things for all time. There is no such thing as a retired Christ-follower. We are to shine His light throughout our time until we pass from this life into the next.  

The Purpose the glory and praise of God
Why does Paul ask for these gifts to be given to his flock? It goes all the way back to the very purpose of Creation itself. It is simple, really. Why do we exist? For what purpose were we born? Why are we one way and not another? Why now? The answer to all these questions is the same: for the glory and praise of God.

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13, NKJV).
Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NKJV).
having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, (Ephesians 1:5, NKJV).
having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, (Ephesians 1:9, NKJV).
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32, NKJV).