The abundant life
By: Scott Grant
Lucky to love
There is a great scene near the end of the 1996 movie “Marvin’s Room.” Bessie, played by Diane Keaton, has cared for her ill father and aunt for 20 years. After learning that she has leukemia, she receives a visit from her estranged sister, Lee, played by Meryl Streep. Bessie tells Lee, “I’ve had such love in my life.” Lee says, yes, their father and aunt love Bessie very much. Bessie is taken aback for a moment. She says Lee doesn’t understand. Bessie does not mean she’s lucky to be loved; she means she’s lucky to love.
Lucky to love. What a perspective.
Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10 — New American Standard Bible). The apostle Paul prays that the Philippians’ love for each other would “abound” more and more. The verb translated “abound” (perisseuo) in Philippians 1:9 is related to the verb translated “abundantly” (perissos) in John 10:10. The abundant life that Jesus promises includes not only the love we receive from him but the love that we give others. What does an abundant life look like? It looks something like Bessie’s life. One who lives an abundant life blesses others and therefore considers himself or herself blessed. How do you get such a life? Listen to Paul’s prayer.
 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.
The desire for love
Paul told the Philippians that he prays for them (Philippians 1:4). Here is the content of his prayer. He prays that they would be more loving toward each other. In the prayer, he shows what effect this will have and how he expects this to be effected. This is what God wants for the Philippians. It’s what he wants for us as well. To make this real for us, let us assume that Paul is praying this for us.
He prays that our love may abound still more and more. Paul uses similar language in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 in speaking of love for each other in the family of God. Also, love for each other is one of the themes of this letter. Love for each other, that seeks for the benefit of others, is what Paul is praying for here. He wants it not just to abound, but to abound more, and not just to abound more but to abound “more and more.” This looks to be a supernatural kind of love. And it is. If it weren’t, Paul wouldn’t pray for it. This kind of love is something only God can create in us.
It’s not that love isn’t in us. Paul indicates that he sees love in the Philippians; he just wants it to grow. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, something supernatural has already happened to you. You have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, and he has put love in your heart. There is something there, and you know it. God wants to make it grow. Give your heart to him, and let him work with it. Let him do his thing.
There are some interesting parallels between the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections. Each was extremely close. In each election, one of the candidates was a sitting vice president who served for two terms during prosperous terms, Richard Nixon with Dwight D. Eissenhower, and Al Gore with Bill Clinton. How do you run against prosperity? The television debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960 were fascinating political theater for many reasons. During one of the debates, Kennedy acknowledged the prosperity of the 1950s but added, “We can do better.”
That’s what Paul is telling the Philippians. Yes, you love each other. But you can do better. We love each other. But we can do better.
Paul prays that this increase in love would be “in,” or accompanied by, “knowledge and depth of insight.” The word translated “knowledge” appears in an intensified form and is often used of the knowledge of another person. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul uses the verb to say that we will one day know God just as he now knows us. Paul is praying that our love may be accompanied by the knowledge of God. “Insight,” then, would be insight into God’s will that comes from relationship with him. Love that is rooted solely in feelings can whither, and it often doesn’t know how to help the object of its love. It just “feels.” Paul, on the other hand, prays that we would increasingly abound in a kind of love that is connected with God and has insight into his perspective.
In order for our love for one another to be connected with God and with insight into his perspective, we need to be constantly nurturing our relationship with him and constantly checking in with him.
The effect of love
Paul prays for, and expects, this love to have two effects.
First, this love will enable us to discern what it best. “Love is blind,” goes the saying, and a purely sentimental love can obscure what’s really happening. Likewise, infatuation and obsession, which have nothing to do with love, only see what they want to see. The kind of love Paul wants to see in us opens our eyes. It’s a love that seeks the best for another and for a community and, being connected with God and his perspective, eventually does what needs to be done.
This kind of love sees through the muck in another person’s life and encourages the good that is there. It sometimes compels us to make some difficult choices. We have to make sacrifices. We have to give up time and resources. We have to take risks. We have to say things that others might not want to hear. But, motivated by love, we’re willing to do these things because we appreciate not only what feels good but what’s true and important and lasting — what’s loving.
Second this love, as it is expressed in discerning what is best, enables us to be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, when he returns and goes public with his reign. Although the blood of Christ makes us pure and blameless in God’s eyes, Paul uses similar language in Philippians 2:15 to talk about our witness to the world. His prayer is that we would be pure and blameless in the eyes of the world, that our love for each other would be such that the unbelievers watching us cannot fault us for not loving each other.
Unfortunately some of us have had some bad experiences with faith communities. Perhaps we ourselves, as part of a faith community, haven’t been very loving. In such cases, those who don’t know Christ can justly find fault with them or us, and the name of Christ is dishonored. On the other hand, if you find love in your faith community, those who are close to you who don’t know the Lord will know about it. They’ll see how you’re blessed. And they may want to get in on the action. If followers of Jesus love each other, that says something to the world about Jesus.
The means of love
Paul draws from horticulture to show how all this is brought about. If this kind of love abounds in us more and more, and it is having these kinds of effects, we will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” This is fruit consisting of righteous behavior (Proverbs 2:9, 11:30; Amos 6:12), and in this context righteous behavior is loving behavior. To be filled with fruit is to abound in love for each other. We are branches, as it were, and such branches cannot produce this fruit on their own. The fruit comes “through Jesus Christ” — it is effected by him. Jesus himself tells us the same thing: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus equates remaining, or dwelling, in him with dwelling in his love (John 15:9). Just as in Philippians, the fruit in John symbolizes love for one another (John 15:12).
In order to be filled with fruit, in order for our love for each other to abound more and more, we must dwell in the love of Jesus Christ. We must make our home there. The love of Jesus is where we get fed and nurtured. It’s where we rest. The love of Jesus is what we return to at the end of the day. It’s where we wake up in the morning. We return, and return frequently, to the biblical stories of Jesus’ love for us, thoughts of his love for us and images of his love for us. We spend a lot of time at the foot of the cross.
I’ve developed a little spiritual discipline that helps me dwell in the love of Jesus. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I can’t get back to sleep because my mind is racing. At such times I have a rule for myself: I am not allowed to think of anything except how much God loves me. Of course, my mind still goes off to the races, but when I realize what’s happening, I return to thoughts of God’s love for me. Sometimes it helps me get back to sleep. Mostly it doesn’t. But even if it doesn’t, something seemingly bad (sleeplessness) has been turned into something definitely good (dwelling in the love of Jesus).
Some of you have been away from home for a long time. You’ve spent a long time away from the love of Jesus. You’ve been trying to get that need for love met in some really bad places. It’s time to come home.
If we make our home in the love of Jesus, his love will enter us and transform us and our love for each other will abound more and more. We’ll be filled with fruit. The branches around here will be bent over from the weight of all the fruit they’re bearing. We’ll be saying, “I love so much I don’t know if I can take it anymore.” But we will take it. The fruit will be just falling from us in order to make room for more fruit. It will just keep coming, and no one will be able to stop it. There will be enough love for everyone. More than enough. Love will abound.
This kind of love among us brings glory and praise to God. He created us to love, and when we do love, we are fulfilling his purpose for us. If anything fulfills its design, it brings glory to the designer. If you are enthralled with a work of art, you don’t praise the artwork, you praise the artist. Here, then, is a very simple way to bring glory to God. Do you want to glorify God? Love someone.
We’re here to pray
The content of Paul’s prayer shows us what God desires: to see love for one another abound in us. It shows us some things we need to do to cooperate with God. But we cannot make love abound. We cannot make fruit. Only God can.
In order to connect with God’s desires for us, we have “assumed” that Paul is praying for us. Of course, Paul isn’t here to pray for us. But we’re here. We’re here to pray for us. We can pray this for ourselves and for each other.
O God, we pray that our love for each other may about more in more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.
What would happen if God answered this prayer? What would it mean for the advance of the gospel? What would happen if the Spirit descended and the fruit just started falling from each of the branches around here by the bushel? What if something supernatural happened? What if out there they heard about all the fruit that’s in here? What if we took some of the fruit to them? We can dream, can’t we?
SCG / 10-28-01
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