Love & Knowledge
When a minister in the Presbyterian Church announces his departure, it begins a "vacancy" process that is monitored by the Presbytery. For those of you who might be new to the Presbyterian Church, the "Presbytery" is a group of Presbyterian churches within a particular geographical boundary. Each church within the Presbytery is represented by their minister and, at least, one elder.
When a church is about to become vacant, Presbytery appoints an interim moderator--a minister who provides oversight until a new minister is found. The Presbytery also requires that the outgoing minister withdraw from influencing the congregation in their decision making on vital matters.
Apparently, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, he had no orders from Presbytery to withdraw his influence. Paul, their departed minister, wrote to the Philippians from prison in order to encourage and exhort them.
I am not the least bit surprised by Paul's continued interest in the Philippian church. There is a saying, "You can take a minister out of a church, but you can't take the church out of a minister." It is not an easy thing for a minister to cease their concern for a church.
As I read about the ministry of the apostle Paul, I confess that there are times when I feel that I have very little in common with him. In contrast to my own ministry, the apostle Paul was constantly facing intense persecution. Wherever Paul went, he got beat up, but wherever I go, I get served tea. Where I do feel a connection to the apostle Paul is in his affection for the people he ministered to. In chapter 1, verse 8, Paul writes, "For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus".
Though they were physically separated, in their hearts, the bond between Paul and the Philippian church remained strong.
We see here in the text that the closeness Paul feels towards the Philippians is based upon their common participation in the grace of God(v.7). Both, the Philippian Church, and the apostle Paul, had an intense concern for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their bond was their common passion to see the gospel furthered in their midst. And physical distance did nothing to weaken this bond.
Beloved, this is my prayer for you: that though we shall soon be separated by distance, we might still remain united by our common love for Jesus Christ.
I think 17th century minister, Thomas Lye, said it best; Lye was preaching his last sermon to his congregation before "The Great Ejection" of British ministers in 1662, when he said to them, "It is true that it lies in the power of man to separate pastor and people, but not to separate their hearts. I hope there will never be a separation of love, but that our love will still continue. If we do not see one another, yet we may love one another, and pray for one another."
Friends, I do expect to see many of you, on occasion, following my departure. But in my physical absence, please be assured of the presence of my love and prayers for you.
And what shall I pray for, when I pray for you? I will take my cue from the apostle Paul. In verses 9 through 11, Paul writes, "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
The first part of this prayer comes as no surprise to us--Paul wants our love to abound. We've heard this before--Christ commanded that we love the Lord our God and that we love our neighbour as ourself(Lk. 10:27). I suspect that no one here is surprised to read that Paul prayed for their ability to love.
But then we come to the second part of the prayer. Paul doesn't pray for just any kind of love. Paul prays for love overflowing with "knowledge and all discernment". Paul is telling us that love and knowledge must go together in the life of a Christian.
Now, it isn't the case that the Philippians were devoid of any understanding of the gospel--Paul commends them for their "participation in the gospel" in verse 5, and calls them "partakers of grace" in verse 7. The Philippians had some level of understanding of Christian faith, yet Paul insists that there is more for them to know.
It is not enough for them to know the basics. No, Paul calls them, and he calls you, to "abound in real knowledge and all discernment". Theology is not the task of scholars and ministers alone. Theology is the study of God and is, therefore, required of every professing Christian.
Would you like St. Andrew's / Fraser to be a discerning church? If you do, the prayerful study of God's Word must become central in the life of this congregation.
Although I have not been a minister for very long, I have been a minister long enough to know that when a big decision lies before the congregation, the question on virtually everyone's mind is: How much will this cost? Presbyterians usually equate discernment with financial prudence. Financial prudence is great, but Paul is calling for something else here.
For Paul, discernment means recognizing the will of God in a given situation (Col.1:9). When faced with a big decision, the question that should be on everyone's mind is: What does the Bible have to say to our situation?
I have great difficulty understanding people who say, 'I don't care about theology, I just want to love Jesus.' My question for that person is, 'How can you love Jesus unless you first know Him?' Even Jesus, when He gave the command to love the Lord your God said that we are to do that "with all (our) heart, with all (our) soul, with all (our) strength, and with all (our) mind."
Paul's prayer for the Philippians, and my constant prayer for all of you, is that you might grow in both your love and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what makes daily Bible reading so important. This is what makes group Bible studies so important. This is why reading Christian books from our library is so important. The more we know Christ, the more we will love Him.
And why does Paul want us to grow in our knowledge and love? His gives an answer in verses 10 and 11, "so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
'Paul, can you put that more simply? Why do you want us to grow in our love and knowledge?' 'I want you to grow in love and knowledge so that in the day of Christ you might become like Christ.'
Ultimately, Paul's fundamental prayer for the Philippians is that they become Christ-like. And, in becoming Christ-like, it is "to the glory and praise of God." Everything Paul prays for leads to this end. Paul wants their love and knowledge to abound so that they may become more Christ-like.
Knowing that Christ-likeness is the goal of Paul's prayer, we can read this back into verse 6, "I am confident of this, that He who began (to make you like Christ) will bring (your Christ-likeness) to completion".
The kind of knowledge Paul desires for us is the knowledge that helps transform us into the image of Christ. Increasing in our knowledge of God was never intended to make us sound clever; it was never intended to help us win arguments. Increasing in our knowledge of God is intended to make us holy--it is intended to make us like Jesus Christ
This is the kind of knowledge that I am admonishing you to pursue this morning. There are no short cuts to this knowledge. You must pick up your Bible and read.
If our minds are to be trained to discern God's will, we must have a thorough knowledge of God's Word. We consistently learn from the apostle Paul that acting correctly towards God is the product of thinking correctly about God.
As I anticipate my impending departure from this pulpit, my deepest prayer is for you to continue in Christ-likeness. I implore you, therefore, continue to make the study of Scripture a priority in your life, and in the life of this church. Amen.