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This I Pray

The people of God had a large place in the great heart of the apostle Paul. In that heart, enlarged and moved by the love of God, there was a deep and genuine concern for the welfare of all God's children. This fact finds particular manifestation in what Paul wrote to the Philippians. Because those saints were in his heart he said, "I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:8). This is an amazing and instructive statement. Had the apostle said, "I long after you all" the disciples in the church in Philippi would undoubtedly have found encouragement in the assurance of Paul's personal concern for them. But we have something much stronger. When Christ was on earth He saw at close hand the harrowing physical and spiritual consequences which the entrance of sin brought to mankind. We are told that one day "when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them ... "(Matt. 9:36). How deeply did the Lord feel for those distressed and needy persons. His whole inner being was moved because He was filled with tenderness and compassion. When Paul told the church in Philippi that he longed after them in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus he was conveying to them that the very emotions of the blessed Lord were motivating him in his concern for them. Because of this he prayed for them.

It is our privilege and responsibility to pray for one another. Do we realize this as we ought? Do we exercise ourselves sufficiently in this important service? We all are aware of the danger of lapsing into formality in our prayers. We mention names and circumstances in a perfunctory manner. If Christ is living in us as is intended in divine purpose then we shall feel the power and urge of the, tender mercies of Christ Jesus, and our longings for the well-being of others will possess a fervour which will melt formality.

What did Paul pray for? In several of his epistles this praying man indicates the substance of his supplications to God. A study of Paul's prayers is most instructive because in them are disclosed the things that are really vital in progressive spiritual experience. We examine briefly the apostle's prayer for the Philippians.

"This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more". The importance and power of love are clearly stamped in the revelation of God. God is love, and love is of God. Where the life of God is manifested there is love. In this message to the Philippians Paul does not refer specifically to the object of love. The scriptural presentation of love indicates that love is really indivisible. This is seen in the reasoning of the apostle John. He says, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen" (1 John 4:20). If we love God we shall love all that God loves. We shall love His Son; we shall love His word; we shall love His house; we shall love His people; we shall love men and women of the world, in the same way that God loves them.

When Paul prayed for the Philippians an experience of abounding love he was perhaps placing a special emphasis on their love for one another. In a church of God persons of greatly varying disposition and outlook are brought together. Such persons are called together to manifest in collective life and service unity such as exists between God the Father and God the Son who said in prayer to the Father, "That they (His disciples) may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me" (John 17:21). Disciples of Christ should be of one mind and one purpose as they contend for the one Faith. What is the power which will weld them in this unity? It is the power of love; and He who requested of the Father, "That they may all be one" commanded His disciples, "Love one another, even as I have loved you ... By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34,35). Love was the fulfilment of the law of Moses. Love is the fulfilment of the law of Christ. We do not need definitions of love to tell us what it is. Scripture abounds in statements which indicate what love does and what it refrains from doing. When love is lacking we can be sure that the flesh is being displayed.

Powerful though love is, it requires direction. The apostle John, who wrote much about love, said, "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and do His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments (1 John 5:2,3). There is a danger that human sentimentality may be mistaken for love. And so Paul in praying for the Philippians prayed that their love would abound in knowledge. If love is of God so is true and effective knowledge. How important is right knowledge. Paul said of his kinsmen according to the flesh, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2). Zeal can be very impressive, but it must be tested by divine truth. We have pointed out that God Himself is the Source of true knowledge. He is self-revealing as to the knowledge of His Being, His attributes, His character, His purposes, His ways.

How is this knowledge imparted? The answer to this is found in the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "The Comforter, even the Holy Spirit... He shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you... When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth... " (John 14:26; 16:13). The Spirit will give the knowledge in which love should abound. In giving this knowledge the divine Teacher is graciously disposed to use human teachers.

How is this knowledge received? It is received through hearing the voice of God in the word of God. The Spirit of truth uses the word of truth. If we are to receive the knowledge of God we must give ourselves to prayerful and careful reading of the word of God. We live in days of superficiality. The child of God who wants to have true knowledge must be willing to study the words of God, searching for the full meaning of those words and for their teaching. Linked to reading the word is obedience to its claims. The solemn injunction rings clearly, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves" (James 1:22). Better never to have heard the voice of God than, having heard, to refuse obedience.

A specific function of knowledge is to give discernment or perception. This particular application of knowledge is very important because it enables us to "prove the things that differ" (see Phil. 1:10 R.V. margin). There are differences inherent in divine doctrine which should be observed. There are, for example, in ecclesiastical teaching important distinctions between church truth as applicable to the great eternal purpose of God fulfilled in the Church which is His (Christ's) Body and church truth fulfilled in disciples of Christ on earth being called into churches of God to form the one church of the living God, the house of God. Failure to discern these distinctions has robbed many believers in Christ of the spiritual satisfaction of entering into the revealed purpose of God. Divine perception will also enable disciples to prove the things that differ in the realm of moral teaching. It is possible to have a clear understanding of ecclesiastical teaching and not be exercised as to what is right and what is wrong in spiritual conduct. In a day of deteriorating standards it is of great importance that God's people should be able to discern by the power and enlightenment of Spirit-imparted knowledge.

The objective in proving the things that differ is to "approve the things that are excellent". Great is the condemnation of those who are able to prove the things that differ but are unwilling to approve the things that are excellent.

These things for which Paul prayed would in their fulfilment produce in God's people sincerity and inoffensiveness. And they would be filled with the fruits of righteousness, living personal lives and engaging in collective service which would be to the glory and praise of God. This is an amazing possibility which we do well to ponder seriously in the presence of our God.