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A ‘LOVE-GROWTH’ DIAGNOSTIC – Philippians 1:9-11

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on August 13, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, August 13, 2017 from Philippians 1:9-11

Theme: For our love to abound to the pleasure of our Lord, it must abound in the right ways.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

The apostle Paul wrote a wonderful ‘Thank You’ letter to a group of Christians that had been a great blessing to him. We have this letter in our Bible as the New Testament epistle to the Philippians.

Paul had been put in prison for preaching the message of the gospel of Jesus. But while in prison, he was greatly helped and ministered to—not only emotionally, but also materially—by the believers in the ancient city of Philippi. He really loved those Philippian Christians; and they really loved him. And the letter that he wrote to thank them for the kind gift they had sent him makes this one of the most encouraging, and uplifting, and truly ‘loving’ of his letters in the Bible.

Just look with me at how this letter begins. He writes to tell them in the first chapter, starting with verses 3-5;

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now … (Philippians 1:3-5).

Paul had such a warm affection for them that, every time he thought of them, he thanked God for them. Wouldn’t you love it if you had received a note from the apostle Paul like that? Perhaps you have some spiritual leaders in your life that really made an impact on you, and that had set you on the right course in your life with the Lord Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it warm your heart to know that, every time they thought of you, their response was to offer thanks to God for you? That’s how Paul thought of the Philippians.

Paul had many reasons for giving thanks to God for them, and he mentions some of those reasons in this letter. But among the first reasons that he mentions is that they had been such faithful partners with him in his work of spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That had begun to happen from the first day that Paul had come to them; and it was going on even as he wrote this letter to them. They were truly partners with him in the work; and for that reason, he wanted them to know that he was always praying for them, “making request for you all with joy”.

And his prayers for them were prayed in great assurance of the outcome. He goes on to say that he prayed continually for them;

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ … (v. 6).

Paul had been able to see the work that God began in them as soon as he had first come to them. Those initial days he spent among them were turbulent times (as you can see if you were to read the back-story of this letter in Acts 16). Those early Philippian believers had to suffer much along with Paul because of the message of the gospel. But they were glad to join with him in his labors; and that’s why he could be confident that the good work of salvation God had begun in them would be completed in them. He was confident that they would be made to stand before Jesus in glory with great joy on the day of His return.

In verses 7-8, he went on to add;

just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ” (vv. 7-8).

Paul expressed his attitude of love toward them as ‘greatly longing for’ them. He had a very strong and ongoing affection and earnest desire for them. And it wasn’t just a mere human affection. He said that he longed greatly for them with “the affection of Jesus Christ”. That word in the original language means that Paul longed for them with the deep ‘intestinal’ compassion and emotion that Jesus Himself had for them. What a great love that is! And he wasn’t just saying those words for mere effect. He called upon God to be his witness that this truly was how much he loved them.

I have to tell you, dear brothers and sisters; those words in verse 8 truly convict me. As a pastor, I know that I am to love my church family. And I do love you. But this passage has made me wonder if I love you all enough. Could I say that I love you with the deepest compassion and affection that Jesus Himself has for you? Could I say such a thing—and then be willing to call upon God to look in my heart and see, and to bear witness that it truly was so? I hesitate to make such a claim of love; but I sincerely hope that it may grow more and more to say what Paul could say with a true heart before God.

When a pastor loves the people that God has called him to serve that much—with the very compassion of Jesus Himself—then, naturally, it will show itself in the fact that he prays for them. And it will also show itself in the things that he is willing to say to them. He will tell them when there are areas in which spiritual growth is needed; and he will tell them that he is praying that the Lord Jesus would help them in those areas of growth. And that’s what we find Paul doing in verses 9-11.

These are words that, by the enabling help of the Holy Spirit, I hope we may consider more closely this morning. They tell us what Paul—in great love—was praying about for these believers who had loved him so much, and that he loved so dearly. He wrote;

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (vv. 9-11).

* * * * * * * * * *

You know, dear brothers and sisters; there’s one thing that we have in common with the unbelieving people of this world. We all value love. Even most vocal and committed unbelievers in this world—unless their hearts are completely hardened and closed—would still recognize love, and would still value it, and would still sincerely praise it when they saw it in action.

But that’s probably as far as the similarity might go; because the way that love is usually measured and expressed in this world is quite a bit different from the way that the Bible calls us to measure it and express it. I heard a sad story the other day from a friend who is a counselor. He told me that there is a client of his who has had a happy marriage for many years. He and his wife had built a home and a life and a family together. But he had just recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; and shortly after that diagnosis was made, his wife sent him the divorce papers. There may have been a kind of ‘love’ present before then; but it was a love that depended on a certain kind of happy circumstance—a kind of love that was different than what the Bible calls us to.

The kind of love that the Bible calls us to is a kind that doesn’t end when the circumstances change or when the commitments of love become hard to keep. I don’t believe you can find a better definition of the kind of love that the Bible calls us to than the one that’s in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Perhaps you are already familiar with what it says:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

That’s the kind of love that God calls us to show toward one another in Christ. And it’s the kind of love that characterized these believers in Philippi. The word in the original language for this kind of love is agape; and it speaks of a self-sacrificing kind of love that is active—a kind that gives of itself devotedly in order to bring about the good of the one who is loved. It’s the kind of love that was most perfectly modeled to us in our Savior Jesus Christ. It’s the kind of love that Paul rejoiced in finding present in his Philippian brothers and sisters. I believe that this kind of love is present in this church family as well. But what I learn from Paul’s letter is that we shouldn’t be satisfied with just having it present toward one another. We should—as Paul prayed—abound in it toward one another ‘more and more’.

And what I notice in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, as he describes it in verses 9-11, is that it’s not even enough that we just simply grow in it and abound in it. We need to be very careful to grow and abound in it in the right ways. This passage gives us, what I believe, may be called a ‘love-growth diagnostic’. It gives us come criteria by which to measure whether or not our love is growing in ways that truly pleases the Lord.

For our love to abound to the pleasure of our Lord, it must abound in the right ways. And so, please join me as we look at Paul’s words a little more closely and see in what kind of ways our love for one another in Christ should be ‘abounding’.

* * * * * * * * * *

First, I suggest that that this passage shows us that it should be …


In verse 9, Paul tells these believers, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge …” And because of the surrounding context, what Paul is talking about is ‘spiritual knowledge’—the kind of knowledge that only comes to us from grasping the theological truths revealed to us in God’s word.

Now; when you talk to most people about love, the last thing they would tend to think of is theology and doctrine. In fact, some folks might even rebel against that whole idea altogether. “Don’t talk to me about doctrine and theology and dogma,” they would say. “That stuff divides people! All we need to do is love one another.” But I suggest to you that that would be a spiritually dangerous idea. After all; if we don’t know the truths of what God has revealed in His word, and if we don’t conform our attitudes of heart and our emotional feelings toward one another to the unchanging truths of the faith, then we can’t really know whether we are truly loving people in a way that our Lord wants us to love them.

What if on some dark and foggy night, you had gotten into a row-boat on the shore in order to row out to an island. You couldn’t see anything except the prow of your boat; and you just knew that the prow has to be moving forward if you’re going to reach that island. And so, you sit down, you grab the oars, and you just row—saying to yourself, “Don’t bother with a compass and directions and markers and buoys and stuff. The important thing is to go forward!” You most likely wouldn’t reach the island—no matter how hard or how long you rowed. In fact, you may be putting yourself in great danger of being lost. Well; that’s what happens when people say, “Forget about theology and doctrine. We all just need to love one another.” Without clear directions from our Creator, we are lost in the fog. How could you know that your ‘love’ is going in the right direction? How could you even know for sure that it was really ‘love’ at all without the objective truth of God’s word by which to define it and measure it and direct it?

It was not enough for Paul that the Philippian believers simply ‘abounded more and more’ in love. Their love needed to abound more and more in true spiritual knowledge. Otherwise, they would be following an idea of ‘love’ that they would have made up for themselves from out of their own imagination—and because of the fallenness we have inherited from Adam, whatever we come up with from out of a fallen human imagination is bound to lead to sin and loss.

I suspect you would agree with me that, if love in action would mean anything, it would certainly mean doing good to others. And so, this leads me to think of what Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:13-17;

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:13-17).

To be ‘thoroughly equipped for every good work’, we need the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness that can come only from God’s revelation in the Scriptures. In finding out what love truly means, then, God’s revealed word serves as ‘the northern star’ for us. It’s the only reliable and unchanging guide for a love that truly pleases Him. So, dear brothers and sisters; let’s examine ourselves and make sure we are in God’s word regularly—reading from it daily, feeding from it for the nourishment of our souls, and being informed by it in how our love toward one another should abound more and more.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Another way that we should check to see that it is growing in the right way is by making sure it is …


Paul says in verse 9 that our love should abound more and more—not only in knowledge, but also in “all discernment …” The word that he uses for ‘discernment’ is one that speaks of having “insight”. It speaks of more than simply “knowing” a thing. It goes further to speak of having the ability to make good judgment calls on the basis of what one knows—of having a discriminating understanding as a result of sound knowledge. And as Paul then goes on to say, this discernment is “that you may approve the things that are excellent …” It’s so that you and I can make clear distinctions between things that differ—and pursue what is best.

Now; this second matter, it seems to me, builds upon the first one. Our love for one another needs to grow and abound ‘more and more’ in accord with true spiritual knowledge—knowledge gained from God’s word. And based on this knowledge, we also need to be sure that our love grows in careful discernment—so that by knowing objective truth from God, we choose to act on love and to direct our love in such a way as to pursue what is truly excellent and worthy and best in all situations—being characterized by “all discernment”.

I believe that the apostle Paul himself was a great model for us in this. In love, he made careful judgment calls between things; and he chose and pursued what was best and what was most worthy. In fact, he discerned and chose what was most worthy above all else. Later in this letter, he tells his readers;

If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:5-14).

And let me ask, dear brothers and sisters; is your love growing in such a way that you are carefully discerning things that differ in all the situations of life, and choosing to pursue what is best? Is that how your life of love is growing to be increasingly characterized?—that is, with good, sound, biblical spiritual judgment based on the knowledge of God’s word? Paul put this way in 4:8-9;

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; a third thing that this ‘love-growth’ diagnostic shows us is that ours ought to grow increasingly to be …


Again, I believe this third point is built upon the two that preceded it. Paul urges that our love grow in true spiritual knowledge from God’s word; so that by that knowledge, we may discern what is excellent and make wise spiritual choices and judgment calls in our love; and then, so that—as he says in verse 10, “you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ …”

If we are not careful to grow in love in the ways that please our Lord, then we begin—almost without noticing that it is happening—to tolerate sin in such a way as to think we’re being ‘loving’. That is a sad characteristic of our day; isn’t it? Out of a fear of being called unloving in the sight of this world—based on its strictly human-based view of what ‘love’ means—we end up embracing things and approving things in the lives of others that God’s word warns will send them to eternal judgment. We try to love people in the way they demand to be loved—and we end up committing an offense before a holy God. There is nothing loving about that! It ends up being only a pretend love in the sight of God—a sham version of true love.

God desires that our love grow in such a way as to be ‘sincere’ before Him. I read something not long ago in Dr. Harry Ironside’s commentary on Philippians. This is what he wrote about the word “sincere”:

we are told that the ancients had a very fine porcelain that was greatly valued and brought a very high price. This ware was so fragile that it was only with the greatest difficulty it could be fired without being cracked, and dishonest dealers were in the habit of filling in the cracks that appeared with a pearly-white wax, which looked enough like the true porcelain to pass without being readily detected in the shops. If held to the light, however, the wax was at once manifested as a dark seam, and honest Latin dealers marked their wares “sine cera” (without wax). Thus the apostle would have the saints tested by the sunlight of God’s truth and holiness and found to be without wax, that is, he would have them straightforward, and honorable in all their dealings. Anything that savors of sham or hypocrisy is as the wax used to hide the imperfection in the porcelain.1

Paul wrote elsewhere, in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” May our love be the real thing—with no cracks covered up with wax that are revealed when held up to the light of God’s word. May it be that, when God looks upon our expressions of love, they are so based on truth that they sincerely hate the sins that God hates while—at the same time—showing sincere love to those who commit them that God wants us to display toward them.

May our love be such that we stand ‘sincere’ and ‘without offense’ before our Lord on the day of His return.

* * * * * * * * * *

And finally; here’s one more thing that this ‘love-growth’ diagnostic shows us. It’s not so much based on the others as it is the reason why they can be done at all. This one causes us to ask whether or not ours is …


Paul urges us to grow in love in all these other ways, “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God …” (v. 11).

Paul’s great ambition for these believers was that they stand before Christ filled with the fruit of righteousness that is ultimately His doing—not theirs; a fruit that only comes from submitting fully to Jesus and allowing Him to love others through us, so that they truly are “by” or “through” Him. Acts of love that come from our own fallenness are of no value for eternity. They are only, as it says in Isaiah 64:6, as ‘filthy rags’. Only what Jesus does in and through us will result in His glory.

I don’t believe, of course, that this means we are to do nothing—as if we’re just passive containers in which Jesus works. He calls us to rise up in obedience and love as He commands us to love. But we are to do so with a constant, continual sense of dependency upon His enabling help through the Holy Spirit in us. He produces the good fruit of the life of Jesus in us as we faithfully walk in the steps He sets before us and in His enabling power. Paul says later on in this letter;

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

It is the Lord Jesus alone who can produce in us what pleases His Father And dear brothers and sisters; we cannot possibly love each other in our own power more than Jesus can love each of us through one another—if we will only let Him. So; may our love grow increasingly to be expressed through a complete dependency upon Jesus—so that He loves us through one another; producing His own fruit in us, and all to His glory.

* * * * * * * * * * *

And may I close with one final thought? Do you know what I think the best way would be for us to “abound” in love “more and more” in the ways that our Lord and Master Jesus Christ wants that love to grow? Do you know what would be the best way to make sure that we ‘do well’ in this diagnostic from Paul? I believe it would be by making sure that we love the Lord Jesus more than we love each other.

The place to begin is by making sure that I have placed my faith in what Jesus–in love–has done for me; putting my full trust in His sacrifice on the cross for me, and believing on Him for the cleansing of my sins, and entering into a fellowship of love with Him by faith. And just think. If I then go on to love Jesus most of all, then I will be discerning in my love—carefully choosing those things that are excellent, and seeking those excellent things for you in my love toward you. If I love Jesus most of all, then I will be real with Him and never try to pretend to love others by approving of what is displeasing to Him—so that when I stand before Him, He will be pleased to see that my love for you is sincere—without wax—without offense in His sight. And if I love Jesus most of all, then I will utterly give myself to Him and let Him love you through me—giving Him the glory for what He does in and through me; and giving you the best love you could ever receive, because it would be coming directly from Him.

May our love for one another, then, truly abound more and more in the ways that please our Lord. And may it grow in the right ways by our loving Him most of all.

H. A. Ironside, Notes on The Epistle to The Philippians (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1967), p. 22.

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