I know I spent a lot of time granularly examining Ephesians (aka the “Queen of the Epistles”), but we’re just going to do a kind of whirlwind tour of the rest of the New Testament epistles since we have such a short time left. Also, much of the material I would’ve covered in the remaining epistles has already been covered elsewhere on the blog, usually during one of my short topical studies.
That's almost a shame, because I love the book of Philippians. Paul loved the church at Philippi, and it showed in this letter and elsewhere; it’s one of the most positive books of the Bible. Basically it’s an inspired thank-you letter written to the church that took up a generous and sacrificial love-offering and sent it to him.
Paul listed two prayers he regularly lifted up for the Ephesians. In his letter to the Philippians, he listed only a short one, but it’s so beautiful and concise that I couldn’t resist spending a day looking at it. Like most of Paul’s material, he packs “10 pounds” of theology into a “one-pound bag.”
What did he pray for the Philippian believers, these people so dear to his heart? What did he ask God to bring about in their lives?
· He asked that their love may abound more and more. It wasn’t that they were really lacking in love. They showed how much they loved the Lord and Paul through their sacrificial giving. But none of us, save Christ himself, has ever loved as much as we can and should. No matter where we are in our maturity level, there’s always room for improvement. He wanted them to "step it up a notch," always striving to be closer to he who is love.
· He wanted this love to be grounded in knowledge and depth of insight. I can’t think of any principle that needs more to be hammered home to this generation: Love must be grounded in truth and knowledge and depth of insight. As C. S. Lewis put it, “In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are 'good', it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding . . . He told us to be not only 'as harmless as doves', but also 'as wise as serpents.' He wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and first-class fighting trim.” Or as Paul told us in another letter: “Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”
· This discernment will let me know what is best. In other words, I’ll be able to not only discern between good and evil (that’s a given), but between what’s good and what’s best. Quite often the good might be the worst enemy of the best. There’s nothing wrong with watching a hockey game: It’s a “good” pleasure I get out of life. But I need to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the “best,” that which is of eternal significance. Or to put it another way, “Never settle for less than God’s best.” That’s how I get purity and prepare to be pronounced “blameless” when I see my Savior face to face.
· This love, which is grounded in knowledge and depth of insight, will produce fruit. This is the “fruit of righteousness” which is a natural result of our becoming more like Christ. “Fruit” is a metaphor for visible results of an invisible process. Paul in Galatians lists the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As we’ve noted before, however, that list isn’t comprehensive of what he wants to see in our lives, like humility and perseverance. For my series on Christian virtues, see here.
· The purpose of this is to the praise and glory of God. Of course, this is the summum bonum of everything I am and do. As I become more like Christ and display more fruit, he gets more glory. Duh.
Let me wrap this up with a way I like to apply passages like this. Instead of just reading this in my devotional and moving on, I like to pray this for myself: “Father God, please let my love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that I can discern what’s best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through your Son Jesus—all to your praise and glory, Father. In your Son’s name, Amen.” Or something like that.
Instead of me submitting a suggested prayer, I’d suggest making today’s passage your own.