Monday, January 17, 2011

Living By the Excellent Things Principle

God's Word: the Holy Bible.
Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, January 16, 2011

Philippians 1:9-11, “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.”

A prayer for a more perfect church. A prayer, our prayer, for everyday of the year! So far in our look at this amazing portion of God's Word, we have looked at what we might call the CONTENT of Paul's prayer for the Philippians. In verses 3 and 4 of this same chapter, the apostle Paul, whose love for this congregation was deep and whose gratitude for them was rich, in those verses, Philippians one verses three and four, he tells them: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” “Every time I pray for you I always pray with joy.”

Wouldn't that be something, if this giant of the faith, the apostle Paul, were to say that of us? “I thank God for you. I'm rejoicing in God because of you. And, I'm continually praying for you.” What an encouragement, what an inspiring word that must have been to that congregation at Philippi so long ago.

But, then what? In the passage we have been examining for the last few weeks, Paul moves from simply telling the Philippians that he has them in mind and in prayer, to letting them in on exactly what he asked God for in their behalf. Once again, read the sermon text with me, will you?

Philippians 1:9-11, “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.”

Paul prays for the Philippians, and I believe, in the fact that God's Spirit prompted Paul to write down this prayer to be preserved even for us, for our study and edification, Paul prays for them, and he also, in a sense, prays for us. And his prayer is to the effect that love, Christlike love, the 'Christian's crown jewel', might abound, might grow and increase in all of us! In other words, he prays that the sweetness of our fellowship, the richness of our prayer life, the practicality of our need-meeting ministry, and, the wideness of our caring outreach, that all of these might INCREASE, today - this year - to the glory of God, to the up-building of the Kingdom of God! “I'm praying for you. I really am, and this is what I am praying...”

Next, we learned that the more perfect church, that God-sized goal, that opportunity to be a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves, when you come right down to it, it has everything to do with knowing Christ! When weighed on the scales of eternity, when calculated on Heaven's spread sheet, when compared to anything and everything else, knowing Christ, being filled with the knowledge of His will, with His wisdom and spiritual understanding, nothing else compares! Nothing else is even a close second! Nothing! “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and in all discernment, in all spiritual insight.” That's the content of Paul's prayer for the Philippians, that's WHAT he prayed for them, and for us. And, by the way, that's also a marvelous prayer for us to incorporate in our prayers!

But, then what? Notice that Paul's prayer does not stop there. It doesn't end with mere content. No. Directed by the Spirit of God, in tune and in touch with the mind of God and the heart of God, Paul's prayer, as it is recorded for us here, it moves from mere content, to purpose, from “what” to “why”. It takes us, through this prayer, penned by the Spirit of God, through His servant the apostle Paul, this prayer takes us from the level of our thinking, what ought to be on our minds, to the level of our decision-making, what we are going to do, what God desires for us to do, in light of this prayer!

Take another look with me, will you? “And this is my prayer, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment...” Why? Why did Paul pray that way, in that prayerful direction, for the Philippians, and for us?

Here's the first reason why: “that you may approve, that you may put to the test, and prove out in your day-to-day lives, those things that are excellent, those things that really matter, as far as God is concerned!”

Before we go any further, I need to pose a question; in light of our theme, A Prayer for a More Perfect Church, you'll understand why I ask it, why I pose this question. Here's the question: “How often have churches and Christians been torn apart, split wide open from one another, by things that really are not that important? The color of the new carpet for the sanctuary! The start time for Sunday services! The preacher – which one do I like better? How often have churches and Christians been torn apart by things like these? By things that, all things considered, are far less important?

Paul, your prayer here, to the effect that my love, our love might abound, and to the effect that our knowledge of Christ and our spiritual insight might increase, why did you pray that prayer?

The content of Paul's prayer: “That your love might abound, that your knowledge and insight might increase...” The content of Paul's prayer, designed to influence our thinking was ultimately aimed not just at our thinking, but at what results, what flows from our thinking. Namely, our decision-making. “I pray for your love and your knowledge and your insight to increase” - why? “[to the end] that you may approve the things that are excellent.” “[to the end] that you may choose what really matters!”

As I studied this text, for the sake of teaching from it today, I made two interesting discoveries. As I wrestled with figuring out what Paul mean by this portion of his prayer – approving the things that are excellent – God led me in my study to two dramatic insights. Here they are: in learning to choose, as Paul's prays that I will choose the things that are excellent, God intends to comfort me! God desires to encourage me, insight number one. But the, digging a little deeper I discovered that, not only does God desire to comfort me, as I learn to choose the things that are excellent, He also intends to confront me, to challenge me, and my decision-making, to see if whether or not what I am in the habit of choosing lives up with what He would choose!

Let's take a look at each one of these insights a little more carefully, shall we? Go with me, first of all, to a familiar passage from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew chapter 6. In the interest of time, we won't read the entire passage; nevertheless, take a look at its theme and, if you would, scan across the verses as I continue.

Approving, choosing the things that are excellent, that really matter”, that part of Paul's prayer, to me it's a comforting word from the Lord to us. How so? I want you to look with me at these red letters, at these words of our Lord and Savior and ask yourself: what is it, what line of thinking is it that guides God, our Heavenly Father, in His decision-making, as He makes choices?

Matthew 6:25-26, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:28-34, “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

What line of thinking guides God's choices? The birds of the air, “They are My first priority!” No! The lilies of the field, “they are what matter most to Me!” No! “Approving the things that are excellent”, choosing what really matters, this is a word of comfort to me, why? Because that is what guides God's decision-making. Birds of the air, and flowers of the field – oh, they are important to God, all right! But listen! Don't worry! Don't fret about what you're going to eat or drink or wear! Why? Because God, your Father, cherishes you more! Jehovah Jireh, your sufficiency. He will provide what you need! Because you are more valuable; you are one of the excellent things that He has chosen to concern Himself with.

That's a comforting word, isn't it? Matthew chapter ten – more red letters, more words of Jesus. How many of you, not only struggle with the question, “God, can I really count on you to meet my needs?” - I struggle with that area of childlike trust! How many of you not only struggle trusting God to provide for you, but also struggle with trusting God to protect you? Matthew chapter 10, for me, the struggle as it relates to fear and faith is not so much about burglars and boogie-men, but about the unknown, about the “what ifs?” - about the future! Anybody here know what I'm talkin about? We need a comforting word from the Lord, don't we? Listen to this one, will you

Matthew 10:28-31, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

What's the word of comfort from the Lord in this text? Can you see it?

Here it is: because God decides, because He chooses in keeping with the “excellent things” principle, what does He promise to do and to be for those who belong to Him? Psalm 121 – He promises to be our keeper, our shade and shield, the One who has decided to preserve us from all evil, yes, to preserve our souls, to preserve and protect us as we go out, AND as we come in, both now and forever! Forever!

Paul's prayer in Philippians chapter one, it is a comfort to me, why? Because it reminds me of these 'red letters': “I will provide what you need.” (Philippians 4:10-20) I'm your Father! “I will protect you” because I have chosen to value you, to cherish you more than many sparrows!

Philippians 1:9-11 – As I said, in analyzing the PURPOSES Paul had in mind for this prayer, I am comforted God chooses, He proves and approves of the things that are most important! But, listen – this fellow (me) whose tendency is - to major on carpet colors and service times and preacher preferences – to focus on things that often split Christians and churches wide open – guess what? I am confronted, I am challenged, I am rebuked, by this simple prayer regarding approving the things that are excellent. Matthew 11:28 – 12:21 – Again, we can't read the passage in its entirety, but later this afternoon, I urge you to do so. What's going on in this section of Scripture, to put it simply, over and over and over again, as elsewhere, so also in this text in Matthew, we read of Jesus setting forth His priorities, what really matters to Him, and in contrast to that, what matters to the Scribes and Pharisees. Matthew 12:1-14 – The Pharisees, we might call them the 'legalists', their priority is strict adherence to the law, no mater if people are hungry and need something to eat, no matter if a man – a PERSON, fashioned by God in His image – is in need of healing! It's the Sabbath, and you must not do those things, feeding the hungry, healing the sick on the Sabbath!

The Law – that was the Pharisees priority. But what was Jesus' priority? Matthew 12:7 - “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew 12:12 - “To me”, Jesus says, “men – persons – are more valuable than sheep!” Why would Jesus say things like that? Why would He “break the rules” to feed the hungry and heal the sick? Because His priority guided by the “excellent things principle” of Paul's prayer, is to heal bruised reeds, to rekindle flickering flames, Matthew 12:20, and to call to Himself all who are weary and heavy laden that He might give them rest – Matthew 11:28-30.

How many times, like Saul of Tarsus, have I been the legalist on the hunt for those who weren't measuring up! How many times have I valued a sheep – the color of the carpet, etc. - more than the hurting, needy persons God brings into my life!

This prayer, you see it, don't you? It not only comforts us, it confronts us! It speaks to the issue of walking by faith not by sight, trusting in our Provider and Protector, our Father!

And, it also pierces our hearts, our selfish, misguided hearts, with the challenge to LOVE people, not things!

A prayer for every day of the year. A prayer for a more perfect church, a church guided by Jesus' choosing excellent things principles! That's what I want to be; that's what God wants us to be!

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