The Essentials of Spiritual Growth - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Philippians 1:9-11

  • 2003-12-07 AM
  • Sermons


Well again this morning we come to our study of Philippians. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Word this week and I'm hoping that you will get just a little bit of the overflow of that as we look together at one of the richest portions in the book of Philippians this morning and next morning, next Lord's day morning, if the Lord wills. As we approach the holidays and the new year there's an industry that's gearing up to try to get your money. They're not selling clothes or food or electronics, they're selling thin; it's the weight loss industry. At any one time, millions of Americans are on a diet – I'm not going to ask for a show of hands this morning. The problem is that there are hundreds of plans, many of which are conflicting about how it is you should lose weight.

Here are a few that I found on the Internet. There's the grapefruit diet, the popcorn diet, a high protein diet, a high carbohydrate diet, the Beverly Hills diet, the South Beach diet, and the I don't know how anyone ever agrees to it, cabbage soup diet. My personal favorite I found last week as I was waiting in Eckerd's to get my prescription filled. I saw on one of the stands near the counter, the ice cream diet. I'm not making that up.

While we may never know what diets will make us truly physically healthy and lean, there is no disagreement about the essential building blocks of our spiritual health and our spiritual growth, because God has revealed that plan in His own infallible Word. Some of you are wishing He had revealed a weight loss plan in His Word as well, aren't you? There are essentials for physical health, although we don't always know what they are, and likewise there are essentials for physical, or excuse me, for spiritual health and spiritual growth. Paul identifies them here in his prayer for the Philippians.

In chapter 1 verse 4 Paul had assured the Philippians that he prayed regularly for them. And in verses 9 through 11 he tells them exactly what it is that he has consistently prayed for them. You see, Paul was concerned about this church that he loved so dearly. And he prayed for them first and then he wrote them. We're slow to learn this valuable lesson, that the most effective way to influence another human being is to pray for him. Paul prayed constantly. You read through the New Testament and you see his prayers overflow, and he prayed for all men, even earthly rulers, to be saved. He prayed for his Jewish brothers Romans tells us. But most of the time when we catch Paul praying it's for the church, it's for the believers that he'd come to know and love.

You see this in so many passages but I can't help but take you to a couple of his richest prayers. Turn to Ephesians 1:16. He says, to the church at Ephesus, "I don't cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers." Here's his prayer,

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

Wow, what a prayer! Notice chapter 3 of Ephesians, verse 14.

For this reason [he says] I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, [and here's what I pray] that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith and that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Notice Colossians 1:9, he tells the church in Colossae,

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

What amazing prayers, what rich theology were in the apostles' prayers. And even when he didn't tell the churches what he was praying exactly for them, he consistently told them that he was praying for them.

This Sunday and next we're going to examine Paul's prayer for the Philippians. Like his other prayers this prayer is not concerned, or doesn't focus primarily on physical and temporal issues, but on those issues which are spiritual and eternal. And that should be the priority of our prayers as well. You see, what you pray for, inspect your own prayer life, because what you pray for is a measure of your spiritual maturity. A selfish superficial heart will show itself in selfish superficial prayers that are focused primarily on personal problems and struggles and interests. It's not that you shouldn't pray for those things, it's that those should not be the primary focus of your prayers. Look at the Apostle Paul in prison, what is it that he's concerned about? Lord, release me, Lord release me, I don't want to be here! No, his prayers take the expression of concern for others.

You see, regardless of your circumstances, a heart that's focused on God's glory and on God's people will produce prayers that are for God's glory and on behalf of God's people. Let's look at what Paul prayed for, for the Philippines. Chapter 1 verse 9, he says,

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 heart of Paul's prayer, as you look at it together, is for their spiritual growth. He's concerned about the Philippians' spiritual advance. And as he details for them exactly what he's prayed for, he provides us with the key principles of spiritual growth. If you want to grow in Christ then these are the things you should be praying for and these are the things you should be pursuing. In these three short verses Paul identifies for us seven essential principles of spiritual growth. We're not going to get to them all this morning, but seven essential principles of spiritual growth.

But before we look at the specific principles, I need to remind you of the process of spiritual growth, how you use these principles. How exactly do we grow in Christ? Well, first it's important to remember that Paul has been praying these things. He's been praying for the Philippians' spiritual growth. He's been asking God to change them. And make no mistake, God is the only one who can change your heart. In John 15:5 Christ makes the sweeping statement, "'apart from Me you can do,'" what? "'Nothing.'" There's no spiritual growth that takes place apart from the intervention of God. But that doesn't change, or in any way lessen, our own responsibility. God has chosen to produce that change in us through the use of divinely appointed means. As a child, as a physical child, did you make yourself grow? No, of course not, only God can do that. But He chose to produce physical growth through the use of means. So you grew into an adult by eating the right things, by drinking the right things, by exercising your body, by sleep, all of those were divinely appointed means to your physical growth.

Likewise, while only God can cause spiritual growth, He's chosen to accomplish it through the use of means. What are those means? Well there's one primary means. John 17:17 tells exactly what that primary means is, as Christ on the night before His crucifixion lifts up what is really the Lord's prayer, to His Father. He says this in verse 17, "'Sanctify them through the truth,'" literally, "'Sanctify them by means of the truth; Your word is truth.'" There's the primary tool that the Lord uses to produce spiritual growth, the primary means that He's determined will cause growth.

Ephesians 5:26 makes the same point. Paul says, "so that He might sanctify her," speaking of the church, "Christ might sanctify the church, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." The primary means that God has appointed to cause, to benefit our spiritual growth, is the Word of God. This, by the way, is exactly the point Paul makes in Philippians 2:12-13, that we will get to in a few weeks. As you "work out your salvation," that is, as you actively pursue obedience in the process of sanctification, God will be at work in you to change you. So how do you grow spiritually? You work and seek to obey as if your sanctification depended entirely upon you, and then you pray for God to change you, since ultimately only He can effect that change. What a wonderful blend that God had in mind, of human responsibility and divine work.

As we examine the foundational essentials for spiritual growth that are found here in Paul's prayer, you should commit yourself to pursue them with all your heart. You need to create a plan and do everything you can to see these principles become a reality in your daily life. And then you should, like Paul, commit yourself to praying that God would effect these changes in you and in everyone for whom you pray.

So, with that basic understanding of what you should do with these things, let's examine the seven essentials for spiritual growth that are outlined here in these verses. Today I plan for us to look at just the first two. The first is found in verse 9, abound in love, abound in love. Notice verse 9, "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more." Now, why would Paul begin his prayer for the spiritual growth of the Philippians with the quality of love? It's because love is at the very heart of Christianity. Love is what characterizes the Father. Every child grows up knowing John 3:16, the fact that it was God's love that prompted Him to send His Son.

But this is put very profoundly by the Apostle John in his first epistle. I want you to turn there, 1 John 4:7. He writes, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God." First of all, love has its source in God,

and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Not only is God the source of love, but God is characterized by love. Love is one of the attributes of God. It's one of those things that is what He is; it describes His nature. Verse 16, "We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." You see what Paul, or excuse me, what John is arguing for there in verse 16 is that God has made us aware of the love He's shown us. This is exactly what Paul says in Romans 5:5 when he says, "the Spirit has poured out the love of God in our hearts." In other words, He's given us a sense of the depth of the divine love for each of us. If you're a believer, then God has planted by His Spirit within your heart, a sense of the love that God has expressed for you.

That love was most radically demonstrated at the cross. You remember Romans 5:8, "God demonstrates His love," He puts it on display. Where, Paul? "In that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." There's the most graphic demonstration of the love of God. Because we have been enabled to understand God's love, we in turn love Him. First John 4:19 says, "We love Him because He first loved us." In fact, a very interesting verse that we looked at last Sunday night in a different context, 1 Thessalonians 4:9 says, we don't need to be taught to love God, because we are, literally, "God taught" to love Him.

So all true Christians have this kind of love. In fact, Paul says in Galatians 5:22 that love is part of the fruit that the Spirit produces in our hearts. All true Christians have love. Let me show you how important love is, turn to the chapter famous for love in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 13. I want to show you something that's fascinating. At the end of this chapter, as Paul has argued for the priority of love, as there's been this sort of selfish petty battling in Corinth over the use of gifts and who has what gifts and whether or not they're superior to someone else. Paul, in the middle of that discussion, argues for the priority of love and that if you have love then it will overcome those petty disagreements. He concludes chapter 13 with this verse, "But now faith, hope, and love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." Paul argues that love supersedes both faith and hope.

Now why would Paul say that? Well notice verse 7, he's describing the nature of love and look what love does, "it believes all things and it hopes all things." So if you have love there will be faith and confidence and there will be hope. But without love nothing else matters, nothing else matters. Without love not a single action or virtue, no matter how biblical, has any value. Think about that for a moment. Not a single act you do, not a single virtue you manifest, has any value if it doesn't grow out of a heart of love. That's what he says in chapter 13 verse 1,

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and do not have love, I become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,

Let Paul speak. If you had enough faith that you could go out and move a mountain on to the plains of Texas, it wouldn't matter if you didn't have love. Verse 3, "And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing."

There's a huge priority put by God upon love. What is this love that Paul mentions in Philippians 1:9? Well the Greek word is familiar to you, agape. It's rarely found in secular Greek. But in God's providence the word agape was adopted by the translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. They wanted to distinguish the love of God in the Old Testament from eros, the physical desiring love, and from philia, the brotherly sort of mutual affection. And so they adopted this word that really didn't have much meaning attached to it. In a very real sense, the Old Testament defined this Greek word, not the culture.

In the Old Testament Septuagint it's used both of God's love for His people, in Deuteronomy 7:7, and in the commands that are given to us to love God, Deuteronomy 6:5, as well as the command that's given to us to love our neighbor, Leviticus 19:18. So it's that kind of love that God loves us with and that we're to love God with and we're to love each other with. The distinguishing characteristic of agape love is that it is completely selfish, excuse me, selfless. Let me say that again, the distinguishing characteristic of this kind of love is that it is completely selfless and sacrificial. It seeks totally to meet the needs of the cherished object, expecting nothing in return.

And it involves the whole man. You will hear sometimes it described as the love of the will. And that's true. But if you look through the Old and New Testament at the use of this word, in the Septuagint and in the Greek New Testament, you'll discover that it involves every part of you. It involves your will; it is a decision of the will. It also involves your affections, your emotions. You can't love without being drawn to that person, without having an intense affection, as we saw in Paul even last week. It also involves the mind. It's the entire person selflessly reaching out to meet the needs of someone else.

If you want to see a picture of this kind of love, look at Ephesians 5, Ephesians 5:1.

Therefore [Paul says] be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, [here's the model] just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

There's a picture of agape love. It is an absolutely selfless sacrificial love, seeking only to reach out to the cherished object, expecting nothing in return.

If you'll notice, in Philippians 1:9 we are told that Paul prays for their love to abound, but there's no object; he doesn't tell them who they're to love. The reason is because Paul is stressing that love is to characterize our hearts. He's talking about love in its most comprehensive sense, as the central focus of our lives. Love should be our greatest priority.

Nowhere is this made more clear than in the words of our Lord in Mark 12. I'd like for you to turn there with me this morning, Mark 12. Let me give you the context of these words. On Monday of the passion week, the last week of our Lord's life on Earth, before, I should say, before His crucifixion, He basically took possession of the temple grounds. On Monday of that week, for the second time in His ministry, He cleared the temple of the money changers. And on Monday and Tuesday of that passion week He basically ran the temple. He was there answering questions, he was countering the arguments of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and He took possession of the temple grounds.

On Tuesday of that week the two most influential Jewish sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, set out to trap Jesus in His words. And their traps consisted of a series of questions designed to trick Jesus into contradicting the Mosaic Law, a crime that would undermine His credibility and if the misstep was bad enough, would even give them just cause to put Him to death, not simply to imprison Him. It's in that context that the passage I want us to examine comes. Christ's answer to these antagonistic questions were profound. And in each case He silenced His critics and left them without a single accusation.

One of those encounters is recorded in Mark 12:28. "One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that Jesus had answered them well, asked Him, 'What commandment is the foremost of all?'" This is a Pharisee, we learn from Matthew, one of the sect of the Pharisees. He says, "Lord, what is the most important commandment? What is the foremost commandment?" You see, the Pharisees believed that there were 613 commands in the Old Testament, corresponding to each letter in the Ten Commandments. And they had considered that some were weighty and others were light, and so they're asking Jesus to weigh in on the argument that they've had as to which is the greatest commandment.

In response to their antagonistic question Christ quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Notice His response, verse 29,

Jesus answered, "The foremost [the greatest] is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' And the second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

And notice how He ends verse 31, "'There is no other commandment greater than these.'" By the way, in Matthew's account, Matthew adds that Christ said, "'On these two commandments hang,'" or depend, "'all the Law and the Prophets.'" In other words, you could take everything that's written in the entire Old Testament and it would hang and be supported on those two commands. In other words, Christ is saying two very important things about these two foundational commands. They are and remain the two most important commands in all the Scripture. Let me say that again. They are and remain the two most important commands in all the Scripture. And secondly, they are and remain summary statements of man's entire moral duty to God and to his fellow man.

I love summaries. Some of you got used in college to not reading the book but reading Cliff's Notes. This is a Cliff's Notes on the Old Testament. This is Christ's Notes on the Old Testament, "'you shall love the Lord your God'" and "'you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The first is, "'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'" Why is love and allegiance to the one true God the very most important thing in the entire universe? Well it's interesting, because throughout the Scripture, and this is fascinating to me, there are only two groups. You know, we like to draw a gradient line and put ourselves somewhere on that line. You know, I don't love God as much as the guy sitting next to me, but I love Him more than the guy sitting behind me. But in the Scripture you have two categories, there are those who love God and there are those who hate Him.

Let me show you this graphically as the Lord speaks from Exodus, in Exodus 20 as he gives the Ten Commandments. He says this in verse 5, speaking of making idols, he said,

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep my commandments.

Folks, there are only two categories of people in the entire world. There are those who love God and show that love by keeping His commandments or there are those who hate Him. That makes the command to love God crucial. It's love for God that distinguishes true worshippers.

You see this throughout the Scripture and I wish I had time to trace even the verses I have in my notes that illustrate this, but let me just show you a couple of them. Turn to John 5, John 5:42. Christ is defending His ministry based on the witness of John, and based on the witness of His works, and based on the witness of the Father, and then based on the witness of the Scripture. Notice what He says in verse 42. Let's start at verse 39.

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves."

He says, listen, I know you don't love God and if you don't love God then you're not connected to Me.

Another passage that makes this point profoundly is 1 Corinthians 16, 1 Corinthians 16:22. Well, let's start at verse 21 because it's interesting; he says, "The greeting is in my own hand – Paul." As was often Paul's custom, he dictated his letters, and here at the very end, after he's done dictating the largest portion of 1 Corinthians, he writes with his own hand. And look at what Paul writes with his own hand, "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed," let him be damned. A very serious issue. C.S. Lewis wrote, "A man's spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God." That's exactly what Paul is saying.

What does it mean, to love God? If it's so important, we can't just pass on, we have to explain that, we have to understand it. What does it mean to love God? Well, it comes from, this quote that Christ gives in Mark 12, comes from Deuteronomy 6, and I want you to turn there this morning, Deuteronomy 6, because this is the foundational passage on love for God. Verse 1 of chapter 6 begins, "'Now this is the commandment.'" Notice that's singular in your Bible, "'this is the commandment,'" and then the word "statutes and judgments" are an appositive, they explain what's contained in the commandment. So we could say it this way, there's one commandment and that commandment is expressed in statutes and judgments. What is the commandment? Well, it comes to us in verse 4, "'Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!'" This is the Shema.

The Shema is very important in the Jewish faith. Shema is the first Hebrew word of Deuteronomy 6:4 in the Hebrew. It simply means here. This is not a prayer but it's a confession of faith. This along with two other passages in Deuteronomy 11 and in Numbers 15 make up what the Jews call the Shema. It's recited twice a day, when they get up and just before falling asleep at night. And if we had time we would look carefully at the words that are used here; the context is rich. Let me just fill out this idea of loving God. If you were to take all of the context in Deuteronomy where the command to love God appears and you were to look at the synonyms, the words that compliment it, that surround it, it would fill out your picture of what it means to love God. Let me just give them to you and I'll reserve a careful study of them for some time in the future.

To love God means to fear Him, Deuteronomy 10:12; to be loyal to Him, Deuteronomy 11:1; to serve Him, which also implies loyalty; to walk in His ways, to walk in God's paths, literally; to keep His commandments; to cling to Him. And there are many verses throughout Deuteronomy where the concept of loving God is married to those concepts. If you love God then you fear Him, you're loyal to Him, you serve Him, which is a term for loyalty and commitment, you walk in His paths. In other words, it's like a child following his father, you walk in the paths of your father. You keep His commandments and then that beautiful expression, you "cling to Him," you're glued to God. Our primary duty in life is to devote ourselves with an undivided allegiance, with pure and intense affection and with unquestioning obedience to the one true God. We're to love Him with all of our hearts.

Now how can we best demonstrate our love for God? How can we demonstrate it? Well, there are two primary ways. One of them is found here in Deuteronomy 6 and that is, by immersing our lives in the Word of God. You want to demonstrate your love for God, then immerse yourself in the Word of God. See, if you love your spouse then you delight in their words. If you leave to travel somewhere and as you're traveling you discover in your briefcase or in your suitcase a note from your spouse, you treasure those words. Why? Because you treasure the person that expressed them. The same is true with God. If you love God you treasure His words, you treasure what He says, you treasure the expression of His heart.

And that's what Moses points out here in Deuteronomy 6. Right after the command to love God, verse 5, notice what he says, verse 6, here's what you are to do with it. This all-encompassing love for God should express itself in a willing and joyful obedience to the commandments of God. That's the theme he expresses beginning in verse 6. Notice, if you love God, verse 6, you're going to study and meditate on God's Word, "'it shall be on your heart.'" If you love God you're going to teach your family God's word, verse 7, "'teach them diligently to your children.'" If you love God you're going to saturate your daily conversations with God's word, verse 7, you're going to "'talk of His commands when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.'" Your whole life is going to be saturated with the words of God. Verses 8 and 9, if you love God you're going to occupy yourself with applying God's Word to your life.

Notice verse 8,

"You will bind them as a sign on your hand they will be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

The Jews took that literally, but that's not the point. The point is that everywhere you turn, when you take up something to do with your hand you're reminded that what you do needs to have applied to it the Word of God. You're supposed to do it in applying the Word of God. When you think, when as you go, you're to be reminded of God's Word, it's between your eyes. When you come home and you see your gates you are to be reminded in your house you're to apply the Word of God. That's the context. Moses is saying that a love for God will demonstrate itself in a life immersed in the Word of God. If you love God you're going to love His words. This is, in one of my favorite passages in the Psalms, expressed in a profound way, Psalm 1. Psalm 1 is an introductory psalm to the psalter. It sets out the two ways of life. There is the way of life and there is the way of death, the way of blessing and the way of cursing.

But notice how the psalmist describes the blessed man, how he describes the righteous man. First of all, in verse 1 he says what he doesn't do. Now, if you were going to describe a righteous man, how would you describe him? What would you say is the most important component about a man who is righteous before God? You probably wouldn't have said what the psalmist said, because in verse 2 he describes a righteous man in terms of one attitude and one action. Notice verse 2, "his delight," his desire, the thing that he takes joy in, is the law of God, "and in His law he meditates day and night." If you love God then your delight is going to be in His Word.

First John 5:3 makes the same point, if you love Me, if you love Christ, John says, you're going to "keep His commandments," you're going to delight in what He says. You see, if you're not committed to the Word of God and obedience to God's commands, then listen carefully, according to the Scripture you don't love God. And if you don't love God then God says, there's only one other choice, you hate Him. And if you love God you'll follow His Son. Remember what He said, from heaven, He said, "'This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!'" Loving God is the chief priority of our lives.

And Christ says, a second way we can demonstrate our love for God, not only is being immersed in God's Word, but we can express our love for God, interestingly enough, by loving others. Loving God demands that people be our priority. This is exactly what Christ says next in Mark 12. He says, verse 31, "'The second command is like it,'" he says it is this, "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" You see, you can't love God and not love people. First John, 1 John 4:19,

We love [the Apostle John says] because God first loved us. If someone says, [here you go] If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, [now John, be polite], he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

You want to show your love for God? Then love His people, love people. When you love someone you fulfill everything that God requires in that relationship. In fact, there's an interesting passage that we won't take time to turn to, in Romans 13, where Paul says that every command in the law is fulfilled in the one command to love. If you love your neighbor you're not going to covet his wife. If you love your neighbor you're not going to steal from him. If you love your neighbor you're not going to speak harshly about him and lie about him.

Who is your neighbor? Again, in an interesting passage that we don't have time to turn to this morning, but I'll remind you of it, Luke 10, a parallel passage to Mark 12, someone, this man who asked the question, wishes to defend himself, and he says, "Lord, who exactly is my neighbor?" And Jesus goes on to tell the story that we're familiar with of the good Samaritan. His point is this, your neighbor is anyone that God providentially brings into your life; whoever you come across is your neighbor, and you're to love that person. You are to express the love of God to that person. Next to God, the people that God brings into your life should be your priority. And that should start at home. You know, sometimes it's a lot easier to show love to people that we don't know and we don't have to live with, than it is to those we do. To love those who really know you and whose weaknesses you know, that is much more difficult. But those too are your neighbors.

I've counseled some couples who've been in such terrible difficulty and trouble and fighting with each other, that when I tell them the Scripture says that they are to love each other, husbands, you are to love your wives, and wives, you are to learn to love your husbands, their response is, I don't think I can do that. And my response to them is, well, if you don't think of your spouse as a husband and a wife, maybe you can think of them as a friend, because the Scripture urges us to love our friends. And sometimes there's such an embattled fight between them that they can't even bring themselves to that. And I say, well then, what does Christ say? "'Love your enemies.'" You can't get away from it. It starts at home, love begins at home, and it expresses itself to everyone that God sovereignly brings into our lives.

You see, loving others is not only the second greatest commandment in the entire Bible, but it's also how we show love to God. When Paul says, in Philippians 1:9, that he wants the Philippines' love to abound, this is what he means, he wants them to obey the two greatest commands in all of Scripture, to love God and to love the people of God, to love the people that God has sovereignly placed around them, including those in the church. Notice again in Philippians 1:9 that he says, "this I pray, that your love," your love for God, your love for others, "may abound." Literally that word means, continually abound or overflow, to be more than enough. Paul loves this word abound; he uses it 26 times in his letters, four times in this book alone, we'll see as we get through them.

You see, for Paul everything we enjoy in Christ is not just enough, it's more than we could possibly ever use. He wants us to abound in every way. He says that love overflows, 1 Thessalonians 3:12; grace overflows, Romans 5:15; we overflow in hope, Romans 15:13; in wisdom, Ephesians 1:8; in generosity, 2 Corinthians 8:2; in thanksgiving, 2 Corinthians 4:15; in every good work, 2 Corinthians 9:8; in the work of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15; and then in everything, 2 Corinthians 8:7; Paul says abound, abound, overflow.

You see, it's not surprising that Paul's aspiration for the Philippines is that they might be so rich in love that they have no room to store it. That's the picture behind that word abound, so rich that you don't have enough barns to keep it in. And he adds, I'm praying that it will "abound still more and more." You see, Paul is accumulating words to stress how superabundant their love should be. These people were already known for their love. You remember 2 Corinthians 8, when he talks about those in Macedonia who love so much that they sacrifice to give for the churches that were in need. They were already known for that. But Paul is concerned that their selfish ambition and empty conceit that's beginning to grow, that we'll see in Philippians 2, might eclipse the reputation that they already have for love. And so he writes to them, "I'm praying that you'll abound in love still more and more."

Let me ask you a question this morning, what do you love? What do you love? You say, well, I'm not sure. Well, let me tell you that you can look at where you spend your time, your money, your resources and you can discover what you love. What is it that you delight in? What brings you true delight in life? Is it God? If you truly love God then it will show itself in two ways, a life immersed in His Word and a life immersed in loving others. A. W. Tozer writes, "It is not a small matter to be lightly shrugged off. Rather, it is of present, critical, and everlasting importance." Listen to this, "It is prophetic of our future. It tells us what we shall be and so predicts accurately our eternal destiny. We are becoming what we love." End quote.

If you want to begin manifesting love, there are three practical steps. Pray for it. Pray that God would cause His love to abound in your hearts. Immerse yourself in the Scripture. And begin, thirdly, in practical ways, to focus your life on others; make daily choices to put others over yourself. And as you seek to obey the Scripture and you pray for God to change you, He will. And He will increase your love. So the first essential of spiritual growth is that you are to abound in love.

The second is that we would grow in knowledge and discernment, grow in knowledge and discernment. Verse 9, "I pray, that your love may abound in real knowledge and all discernment." Notice that these two qualities should grow out of your love and characterize it. Your love should "abound in knowledge and in all discernment." You see, some mistake love for sentimentality. They talk about falling in love with God. If love ever becomes detached from knowledge and discernment, then it becomes pure sentimentality. It's what happens when you get a group of people together and a good public speaker whips them into an emotional frenzy; they hold hands, sway back and forth, and sing "Kum ba yah" and they think they love each other. They think that's love.

Peter makes the point that the Christians who are most frequently upset in their Christian lives are those who are untaught and unstable, 2 Peter 3:16. You see, the two usually go together, untaught and unstable. Knowledge is crucial to the Christian life. But on the other hand, if knowledge and discernment ever become detached from love, then they simply produce spiritual pride and mere intellectualism. It's what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Knowledge by itself makes arrogant, but love edifies."

Knowledge by the way, here in verse 9, is not the normal Greek word gnosis, instead it's epignosis. You can hear the difference. It's a deeper, fuller, more advanced knowledge. It doesn't refer to merely knowing about something, a mental grasp of spiritual truth, but it's a kind of full intimate knowledge that comes from experience or from personal relationship. That's because Paul's view of the word knowledge comes to him from the Old Testament. To know God in the Hebrew Scriptures meant to be personally committed to Him. You'll remember that in Proverbs the knowledge of God begins with what? Fearing Him. It's based on relationship. We still use even the English word know in this sense. If you came up to me after the service this morning and say, by the way, I want you to know something, I know President Bush. What's the implication? Not that you know about him, that you know some fact about him, the implication is that you have a personal relationship with him.

In the case of Philippians 1, this knowledge is an advanced knowledge, a full appreciation of God and of the real meaning of spiritual realities. In the New Testament this word knowledge is always used of moral or spiritual things, of sin, of His will, of truth, of Christ, of God. So Paul means knowledge here in the fullest sense, he means knowing God and knowing the whole content of the Christian faith, through Christ, in a personal way. That's the kind of knowledge he's describing. That kind of deep knowledge results from both instruction, being instructed in it, the things of God, and experience, having time to grow in it. That's why the translators have translated this word "real knowledge" – they're trying to get a grasp on the fullness of it.

There's a moral element in this kind of knowledge of God. You see, it's if we really come to understand the truth of God that our love for God and others increases, and we will, as a result, have a greater assurance of our salvation and so our love grows more and more. And the more I grasp the truth about God and I become settled in my love for Him, then I can face life's difficulties and its seeming contradictions, because I have confidence in the one I love. I love Psalm 9:10, "those who know Your name," the psalmist says, that is, those who understand Your character, "will put their trust in You." It's when you really understand who God is, and you know Him in the way that Paul means here, that you can have confidence in Him, you grow in your knowledge. That's presumably why you're attending a Bible church, you want to grow in your knowledge.

But there's a warning here as well. D. A. Carson writes, "Of course, a person might memorize Scripture or teach Sunday school somewhere or earn a degree in theology from the local seminary or divinity faculty, but that is not necessarily the same as growing in the knowledge of God and gaining an insight into His ways. Such growth requires repentance, it demands a lessening of our characteristic self-focus. To put it positively, it demands an increase in our love, our love for God and our love for others." It's not a head knowledge, it's an expression of the heart. We are to grow in our knowledge. And Paul adds, we are to grow in "all discernment." This word occurs only here in the New Testament. It's often used in the Septuagint for the word wisdom, especially in the Proverbs, where it occurs 22 times. You see, knowledge deals with general principles, discernment deals with practical application.

Imagine that you had discovered that one of your heart valves was defective and that it was going to require eight hours of intensive surgery to replace it. And as you were there on the table, on the gurney, being prepared, being prepped for the surgery, you discovered that your doctor just graduated from med school. And that you're his first solo surgery. You wouldn't be very excited about that. Why? I mean, he has the knowledge. You would say, yes, but he doesn't have the practical life experience to go along with it. He hasn't learned to apply all that he knows.

That's what the word discernment means, it's the ability to apply that knowledge to life's situations. Paul doesn't want us to just have knowledge, he wants us to have the wisdom to live it out it. It speaks of an ability to make moral decisions, practical concrete judgment. He says, "all discernment" because you see, in life we're faced with a variety of choices and discernment gives us the ability to choose between them, to make the right choice.

Where do you get this knowledge and discernment? Well, you get it from God. Remember, this is in a prayer to God. But that's only half the story. We have responsibility as well. We're to gain it by our own study and our own experience. We're to gain it, if you will, by spiritual exercise. That's what the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 5 verse 14, "solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."

Sometimes you'll hear someone talk about making muscle. That's really a misnomer. You see, you're born with all the muscle cells you will ever have in your lifetime. But muscle cells have a unique ability, they are designed to repair themselves when they're injured, resulting in a bigger stronger cell. When you lift a heavy weight you cause a microscopic injury to that cell. The injury triggers a series of events that you can actually see under an electron microscope. Those physiological events make that muscle stronger. But it only happens when the muscle has to reach beyond its current capacity.

The same thing happens when we exercise spiritual muscles, the spiritual muscles of knowledge and discernment; they grow stronger. Our ability to know and to discern grows. You see, Paul, in this text, is praying that their love might grow, and as their love increases that it might deepen their true knowledge of God and affect their decisions in practical conduct. That's what he's saying.

There are two temptations we constantly face in life. One of those is living by our feelings and our experience. There are people, perhaps some here, who really don't have a place for doctrine and teaching. They want emotion and experience. They want to sing another verse of a praise chorus. They want to live for experiences.

But the other danger is also a danger, the exact opposite. And that's the danger of becoming interested in doctrine in a purely theoretical and academic manner. It's an intellectual interest in the Bible that never changes you. Oh, you can argue your position, and at the very time you're arguing your position, be denying it by your behavior. Paul's solution is to abound in both love, and in knowledge and all discernment. You want to grow spiritually? Then you must personally pursue these first two essentials of spiritual growth, love, and knowledge and discernment, with all of your heart. You need to pursue them as if your maturity all depended on your efforts. And at the same time, you need to raise your voice, pleading with Christ to grant you these things, because without Him we can do nothing. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for the clarity of it. Thank You for the way it speaks and challenges our hearts. Lord, don't let us fall on either side of the great precipice. Lord, help us to be committed to loving You. But help that love not to be a sentimental love. But help it to be a love that's informed by knowledge and discernment. Lord, I pray that You would cause all of us to "abound still more and more" in our love, in "real knowledge and all discernment."

And Lord, if there is someone gathered with us this morning who doesn't love You, instead by Your definition they hate You, I pray this morning that they would come to a place of repentance, they would acknowledge their sin before You, fall on their face before You and seek Your forgiveness, commit themselves to follow Christ. It's in His name we pray, amen.