Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

February 03, 2005

Discerning Love

Funny how these things happen. I had never intended to spend several days blogging about Paul’s prayer for the Philippians (see 1:9-11). But so be it. Before I go on, though, I just want to say that these musings are just that: these are not considered and crafted thoughts and conclusions. They are simply the verbal "bubbling up" that comes of my dwelling with these verses, or allowing these verses to dwell in me.

Just to recap: Paul prays that the love of the Philippians may abound in knowledge and depth of insight. So the first point is to note that love, the kind of love Paul speaks of, can actually lead to knowledge. As I've said already, by knowledge Paul had in mind a kind of spiritual insight or discernment. And this discernment has two stated purposes or goals. Paul wants the Philippians to be able to "discern what is best." Gordon Fee, paraphrasing, says, "approve those things that really matter." And the second goal–and here’s where I left off yesterday–is that the Philippians would remain "pure and blameless" until Christ returns.

This second goal is, in a word, holiness. It is the goal, in fact, of all creation; the goal toward which the Father of Lights is drawing us "with gentle cords." And it is the desire of every believers heart, or should be. It is that after which we hunger and thirst, that from which we always fall woefully short. This falling short is what we call sin. Sin is heart-damaging, person-damaging, world-damaging. Sometimes it seems like a trap, like the giant spider-web that Frodo was caught in (remember?), and sometimes we are hopeless to escape. That's how we feel sometimes, that's how Paul felt sometimes (see Romans 7 if you don’t believe me), and that’s how, I'm quite sure, the Philippians felt sometimes. This feeling of helplessness with regard to sin is in some ways the background truth of our lives. And yet . . .

Paul prays for holiness. And he does not pray in hopelessness, but in great hope. Our hope is in the Lord, and our hope is that we do not hunger and thirst for a pipedream but for something attainable. Paul does not pray for something that he really believes in his heart cannot be given except in heaven. He prays for purity for the Philippians now, and continuing on until the day Christ returns.

Righteousness. Purity of heart. Remember what Kierckegaard said: "Purity of heart is to will one thing." But remember, this holiness for which Paul prays, it comes of love. Love abounding in knowledge. Or, what I am calling "discerning love." Paul, like Jesus, has a sense of urgency about love. He see love as the high-road to holiness, and it results in "the fruit of righteousness."

Oh, but wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to have a closer look at that phrase, "the fruit of righteousness," but before I do, I want to say a little more about Paul's concept of love. That’s coming next. Thanks for sticking with me!


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