Monday, January 31, 2011

A Prayer for a More Fruitful Life

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Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, January 30, 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.”

We're nearly one month deep into the new year, and I supposed we could say that the 'newness' has worn off. January is nearly over with, February is in view, and it's time – so we say – to move on to other things. That may be true in a lot of areas of our lives, but I'd like to suggest to you that it isn't true, it must never be true, when it comes to what ought to be the back-bone of our lives, the foundation of who we are as God's people, the Church. What I'm talking about, My Loved Ones, is this prayer from Philippians chapter one.

We've looked at it four times already this month, and this morning I want to look at it one more time before we close out this study. But, not because I didn't have anything else better to preach on. Not because I want us simple to mark some time before we go home for lunch! No! But because this prayer, and other, powerful New Testament prayers like this prayer, are indeed the backbone, as I said, of our lives, the foundation of who we are and ought to be as the people of God, the Church. In other words, my slogan, my by-line, “A Prayer for a More Perfect Church”, “A Prayer for the New Year” is not your preacher just blowing smoke! No! This prayer (and the others that are like it, recorded in this Book) this prayer really is a prayer for everyday of the year! It is a prayer that is so very practical, one that has obvious application for our church AND for our families!

Growing in, increasing in Christ-like love for each other; what could be more practical than that? What could be more powerful, to promote unity and harmony in our homes, in our marriages, in our work together for God's kingdom than for us to abound in Christ-like love?

This prayer is extremely practical in its orientation. It also is a necessary, and I would say, an urgently needy protection in a day and time when so many people, indeed, so many so-called Christians, don't know the difference between truth and error, right and wrong. Paul's prayer for the Philippians, and really, our prayer at this point in time for ourselves, ought to be: “God, would you not only cause Christ-like love to increase in Me; but would you also help me to be able to discern, to prove and approve what is best. Yes, give me eyes to see the excellent things, so that I won't be lured into pursuing what will waste the precious time You give me, and what will tear down what You are trying to build in me!”

This prayer for every day of this new year, it really has a protective focus to it also! That you and I might abound, might increase still more and more in knowledge – deep, spiritual knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – that we might be more able to discern by way of fuller heavenly insight and understanding – why? So that we might be protected and preserved from the many potholes and pitfalls that are disabling and derailing so many in our day and time! We need to pray this prayer and pursue God's answer to this prayer this year for that very reason...

But, then – allow me also to recommend to you that we need to pray this prayer, and the others that are like it found in places like Ephesians 1, Ephesians 3, Colossians 1, 1 Thessalonians 3, and so on. We need to pray this prayer and beg God to answer this prayer IN us, and THROUGH us because of how it relates to what God wants to PRODUCE in us!

Did you know, my friends, did you know that God is in the 'fruit business'? God is all about fruit! Don't believe me? Go back to Genesis chapter one and you'll see it! God is in the 'fruit business'! But, listen – that's not all, did you know, beloved, you really ought to know, that being FRUITFUL is what the Christian life is all about! Read the text with me again and note carefully the emphasis the Holy Spirit supplies along these lines.

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.”

God is in the 'fruit business'. And you, if you are His child, you are the 'trees' – His 'trees'!

Now, how does all of this work out in real life? What does it mean for you and me to be God's 'fruit trees' today – January 30, 2011?

Let's take a look, shall we? Genesis one – I mentioned that foundational text a moment ago, didn't I?

Genesis 1:26-28, “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our ` likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

My Loved Ones, you see it, don't you? Oh, what a powerful message for God's people during this SANCTITY of LIFE month. God is in the fruit business, and His first step in accomplishing His plan has to do with children! Children - brought into this world by His creative power at work in our bodies! And yes, children, brought up in this world, not like wild weeds, but like choice plants in the house of God!

Listen, my friends: God's first step in fulfilling His business strategy is for His people to bring for children and to bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord! I like to call it a multi-generational vision, pursuing and promoting godliness in my life, and through my life in my children's lives and through their lives in their children's lives – and on and on it goes! I think God would call it planning and preparing for future harvests, future harvests – plural.

This prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prayed and written down by the Apostle Paul, is all about a fruitful life! In God's economy, what could be more of a fulfillment, more of an answer to that prayer than for all of us to be all about building families, generations of godly families?

Then, secondly, note with me another fruit-passage, this time in the Psalms. Psalm one – While you're finding that passage, allow me to remind you of the illustration I used in last Lord's Day's sermon: remember? I asked the question of you ladies, “Have you ever made a banana nut cake for a bake off contest?”

I know that, in my little story, the key ingredient missing was the Adam's Bran real vanilla extract. By the way, my children pointed out that I also left out the sugar and the oil! Shows what I know about baking! But listen – stay with me for one more minute on this cake baking story. If God were writing down HIS 'recipe' for a cake like this what do you think He would put in bold type? What ingredient or ingredients do you think He would highlight with one of those yellow markers? Now, what 'business' is God in? He's in the 'fruit business', right? So, what do you bet? I bet that with His heavenly highlighter He would underscore the words, “Don't forget the fruit!”

Psalm 1:1-6, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Paul, what does it mean to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness? How am I to go about living a fruitful life? Step one, depart from ungodly counsel. “Blessed is the man who does not walk...” Step two, delight – I love that word – delight in God's law! Make this Book the focus of your thoughts from morning till evening! Depart from ungodly counsel and ungodly counselors – why? Because you don't want to be like the chaff! Because you don't want your day to end up where the ungodly's way ends up! Depart from ungodly counsel and ungodly counselors, and, delight – take great pleasure in – the Word of the Lord, and the Lord of the Word!

Jeremiah 17 – The fruit-filled life, the Word of the Lord through Jeremiah is a powerful addition to our understanding of what it means to be “filled with the fruits of righteousness.”

Jeremiah 17:5-8, “Thus says the LORD: “ Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.”

How many of you want to be, want your families to be, want this church to be, nothing more than scrawny, little shrubs, struggling to survive in a barren wilderness? Trust in man! Depart from God and lean on man's strength! That's 'shrub business'! But, listen – how many of you want to be a part of God's 'business'? Have I told you recently? God's in the fruit-business! Trust in Him! He'll make you a tree! Put your hope in His strength! He'll cause your branches to be loaded with the fruit of righteousness!

John chapter 15 – What a marvelous ending to this look into God's business, the fruit tree business. Let's read some of this important chapter, shall we?

John 15:1-8, ““I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

To be filled with the fruit of righteousness, fruit that Paul says comes by, through the agency of Jesus Christ – guess what? I must, I must be connected to Him – to Jesus! Why? Because He's the Vine, the Tree Trunk, the Root! He is my life source! And this 'branch' is foolish to think that I can bear fruit without Him! To be fruitful, I need Him! I need Jesus! To be fruitful, I need Jesus' word, His 'good seed'! I need it to be where seeds are always found in fruit, at the very core! And, yes, I need Jesus' Father – I need the Vinedresser, the True Pruner, to cleanse me, to cut away the 'sucker branches' from my life that keep me from being as productive, as fruitful as He wants me to be!

A prayer, your prayer and my prayer, for a more perfect church; a prayer, our daily prayer, for a more fruit-filled life! Do you see where a prayer like this one ends up? What is the outcome, when God answers a prayer like this prayer in you and through you – what is the outcome of such a prayer?

Jesus put it this way: John 15:8, “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples...” God is glorified! The Vinedresser, the 'Orchard Owner', receives the accolades!

A prayer for a more fruitful life, and a more perfect church, my Dear Ones, I don't want to be simply and only someone who prays this prayer, I also want to be someone who earnestly seeks to be one of God's ANSWERS to this prayer. How about you? I yearn for these descriptions to be more and more true of me. I yearn for these descriptions to be more and more true of others, whom God influences through me! And, one more things to keep in mind.

Listen – This is a prayer, a petition offered up to God, a request laid at His feet for Him to accomplish, why? Because apart from Him, it will never, ever happen! The fruit of righteousness comes BY and THROUGH Jesus Christ! Yes, this is a prayer! And the answers to this prayer that I trust are forthcoming are not reasons for me, for us, to boast in ourselves, but always and only reasons for us to boast in Him – in God!

Let's pray. “Father if any pruning needs to be done, then we accept that. Help us to be focused on having Your Word in us, so that the leaf, the blossom, and fruit may be produced. I pray that You will be gratified to see how Your Spirit has worked in our lives, as the fruit is produced to the glory and praise of God.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Passing Heaven's Taste Test

Image credit
Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, January 23, 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… Have you been praying this prayer recently? Philippians one, verses nine through eleven, a prayer – our prayer – for ourselves, for our families, for this church; a prayer for every day of the year.

So far, in our look at this marvelous prayer the apostle Paul offered up to God in behalf of the church at Philippi, this prayer God’s Spirit led him to record for us, we have examined the CONTENT of this prayer. Paul asks God to cause Christ-like love to abound, to increase in the lives of God’s people, he prays that Christ-like love, the Christian’s ‘crown jewel’, might be evident in every area of our lives personally and congregationally. And, he prays this way, he beseeches God for this abounding Christ-like love because he knows how Christ-like love, when its influence is as strong as it should be, it will result in sweeter fellowship, richer prayer, more practical need meeting ministry, and wider, more caring outreach.

A prayer for a more perfect church, a church marked by Christ-like love, abounding in its midst - is that the kind of congregation you desire to be a part of? Here’s a model to use in asking God for that very thing!

Then, we looked at what Paul said here about Christ-like love abounding in knowledge and depth of insight, Paul’s prayer, he wasn’t simply asking God that the Christians at Philippi would be well-educated… no! Education is fine, sure. But education, if knowing Christ, knowing Him and being more completely conformed into His image, if knowing Christ, grasping His wisdom, attaining to His understanding and insight is not the goal, is not at the heart and center of the curriculum, then, ultimately, such education is worthless!

Paul’s prayer, our prayer for a more perfect church, is not a prayer for a better educated church, loaded with Ph.D.’s and M.D’s and so on. Rather, his prayer, our prayer, is to be that expression of simple, child-like faith, “Jesus, I want to know YOU! I want to be, to become, what You want me to be…”

And this is my prayer, that your love may abound still more and more, in knowledge and depth of insight.” That’s the CONTENT of Paul’s prayer, WHAT he prayed for the Philippians, and for us.

But then – what’s next? Next Paul shows us why he prayed this way - we looked at this part of Paul’s prayer last week, didn’t we? He asked God to move upon the hearts and minds of the Philippians to move upon our hearts and minds – why? Not only so that our THINKING might be aligned with the mind of Jesus, but also so that our DECISION-making might be so aligned! “And this is my prayer, that your love may abound still more and more, in knowledge and depth of insight…” Why? “So that you may be able to discern what is the best…” “So that you may APPROVE, that you may prove, put to the test and prove in your day-to-day lives, those things that are excellent, those things that really matter as far as Jesus Christ is concerned.

This part of this amazing prayer, what is it concerned with? What is it that Paul is trying to say to us here? He’s urging us, he’s nudging us in the direction of priorities, He’s challenging us to align what we consider most important with what God considers most important! “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…” That’s a statement of priority, isn’t it? And that’s the kind of thing Paul had in mind in this part of his prayer.

But, now look at the next section of this prayer. Paul has told the Philippians, “I am always praying for you, joyfully petition God for you…” (verse 4) And, in verse 9, he tells them what? He asked God for in their behalf: “that [their] love might abound still more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, in all spiritual discernment and understanding…” But, then in verse 10, he moves the focus of his prayer from CONTENT to OUT-come. “I am praying for you, my Dearly Loved brothers and sisters in Christ at Philippi, praying that you might grow in Christ-like love and increase in your knowledge of Jesus Christ.” Why? Here’s the hoped-for, the prayed-for, outcome: “that you may be sincere and without offense – that you may be blameless and pure – until the day of Christ and filled [overflowing] with the fruits of righteousness that come by Jesus Christ.”

How many of you ladies have ever baked a pie, a cake, a batch of cookies, or maybe even a casserole, a main-course meat dish or some unique salad or side entrĂ©e, and submitted it to a ‘bake-off’ contest or a ‘tasting bee’?

In my experience with 20 years of delicious fellowship meals here at Northwest, a lot of you ladies could very easily enter and win such a contest.

Ladies, let’s say you decided to enter such a contest. And so you work hard perfecting your recipe, and the precise details regarding oven temperature, time in the oven, cooling time and so on. And, then, the bake off day arrived. Time to make good on all the practice efforts. So you send your husband to the store, with explicit instructions to purchase the exact ingredients you need – nothing more, noting less. So, your husband heads off to Kroger®, and he gets a bunch of Dole®-brand bananas – you see, you’re going to make a banana-nut cake. And, he grabs a package of Diamond®-brand walnuts, and a bottle of McCormick®-brand cinnamon, and a dozen of Pilgrim’s Pride® large-sized eggs, and a gallon of Borden’s® brand whole milk, and a 5-pound sack of gold medal, unbleached, pastry flour. Check – check – check, he gathers every last ingredient that you asked for – except… Except for the one ingredient that is most essential: the Adam’s® brand vanilla flavoring. Kroger® was out of it. So, he takes out his trusty cell phone and calls you with the good news, “I’ve got everything on your list – I’ll be home soon.” “Did you get the Adam’s® vanilla?” you inquire! “No, honey – they’re fresh out of it at Kroger®.” “Well, would you mind checking at Brookshire’s® for me, please?” “I will.” And, off he goes to scour the shelves at Brookshire’s®. “No Adam’s® brand vanilla. Do you want me to try Walmart®, maybe Albertsons® or Sam’s Club®…” “Yes, honey – please. I’ve got to have Adam’s® brand vanilla, or my cake won’t taste right.” Your husband, who loves an adventure, checks all the other stores and ends up - I know the suspense is killing you – he ends up empty-handed. There’s not a drop of Adam’s® brand vanilla to be found in all of McKinney. “Hmmm! Well, thank you, honey, for all your extra efforts. I guess I’ll just have to settle for a teaspoonful of the store brand instead, and hope it all works out…

Two hours later, after the cake is cooled and ready to be frosted, you slice off a portion for your husband to sample – “Mmmm, mmmm! Just as delicious as always.” he remarks. “Oh, honey, you’re my biggest fan. But, what will the judges think? Maybe they won’t taste the difference, because I’m sorry to say, I do!”

Have you ever wondered what it will be like to have your life ‘tasted’ by the ‘Master Chief’, the King and final Judge of heaven? When Paul prays this prayer, he asks God to so work in the lives of God’s people, to so order and combine the ‘ingredients’ of Christ-like love and depth of spiritual insight and Kingdom of God-oriented priorities in and into our lives, that the outcome, the finished product when we’re DONE with our time in this ‘oven’ (earth), is not a “I’m not sure whether the presence of second-rate ingredients in my life will be acceptable.” But rather, a confident, “God, my Maker, You have made me, worked mightily in my life and combined in me all the right ingredients so that – now – here I stand before You, blameless and pure, sincere and without offense…”

My friends, my Dear Loved Ones in Christ, do you understand, do we grasp the seriousness of what it will be like to take part in HEAVEN’S tasting bee? We may be able to pull one over on human judges, but not on the Judge of heaven! When He tastes our lives, what will He say? And how will that affect our eternal destiny? “That you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” This part of Paul’s prayer ought to stop us short, because it points us in the direction of a Day yet to come, the Day of Judgment!

But, you know there’s a second aspect, a second level of application to our lives that flows from this part of the prayer. And that is this: what effect on others, spouses and children and parents and siblings and the person across the aisle from you at work or down the row from you in this sanctuary, what effect do second-rate ingredients mixed into our lives have on others’ lives?

In chapter two of this incredible letter, Paul moves from praying for the Philippians, to exhorting the Philippians along these very lines. Philippians 2:14-16, look what he says:

Philippians 2:14-16, ”Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.”

The blameless life, the life of Christ-like purity, it’s not just for God’s eyes to observe, it is meant for everyone else’s eyes, too! The Christ-like life, lived without admixture, not only does it hold forth promises in the life to come, remember Jesus’ beatitude: “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…”? Not only does a life of sincerity, a life of good and godly ‘ingredients’ mixed in us through and through hold forth promise in heaven - listen – it also has power, great power to INFLUENCE others for God’s Kingdom – now!

Let me ask you a question, if I may: “How many of you have ever been God’s servant to baptize someone into Christ?” Now, let me ask this: “How many of you have ever conducted a funeral of someone who apparently drank himself to death, who stepped into the baptistery with you fifteen years earlier?” I have – yesterday.

How did that happen? What went wrong in the life of my young friend, D. L.? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not God, nor do I have all the answers and insight that He has – but listen, I wonder that if a part of why D. died in the horrible way in which he died, is because somehow, somewhere, he saw ‘cakes’ that had inferior ingredients and he couldn’t reconcile the truth of what he read in Scripture, with the hypocrisy that he saw elsewhere!

Does that statement hit you between the eyes? It hit me between the eyes yesterday, as I stood next to D.’s casket.

Paul’s prayer here and this emphasis on the blameless life, the pure, faultless, sincere, no-admixture, life, in view of the Heavenly tasting bee, and in view of the earthly impact of such a life, reminds me of these familiar words from a cherished hymn – and with these I will close:

“When He shall come with trumpet sound,
oh, may I then in Him be found
dressed in His righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before His throne
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sanctity of Life Sunday

Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday which remembers the legalization of abortion in the United States beginning in 1973.
Life. Love it. Protect it.
" Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them."
(Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)
"For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them."
(Psalm 139:13-16 ESV)
"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."
(Psalm 127:3-5 ESV)
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
(Malachi 4:5-6 ESV)
"but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 19:14 ESV)

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!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Prayer for Every Day of the Year

Image credit.
Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, January 9, 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.”

'There's no such thing as a perfect church' – my sermon last Lord's Day confronted us with that startling statement and with the depressing reality that sometimes goes with it; but not so as to leave us bewildered and discouraged. But, hopefully, to spur us in the direction of the goal of becoming a more perfect church. To challenge us to pray this prayer, the one Paul prayed for the Christians in the church at Philippi, and to encourage us to let God answer this prayer, today, this week, this year – through us!

I'm calling this look at this passage of Scripture from the first chapter of Philippians, 'A Prayer for Every Day of the Year: A Petition for a More Perfect Church'. I'd like to invite you to take another look at it with me this morning.

Have you ever desired, longed for, yearned for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself? Something that would stretch you and drive you to reach for new heights? Something that would otherwise seem unattainable?

Before we go any further, allow me to let you in on this one huge secret – that's what the Church is all about! That's what this gathering here today is all about! And, yes, that's the direction, the focus, of this prayer! A long, long time ago, the apostle Paul, led by the Spirit of God, prayed this prayer, and, through his recording of it in this letter to the Philippians, he offered this prayer, to that end! That something bigger, greater, more long-lasting, even than himself, might be attained to. In the words of Jesus' great model prayer – that one we call the 'Lord's Prayer' - Paul prayed, and we should always, ultimately aim our prayers, to the end that God's name be hallowed – praised – set up as highest and holiest (“Hallowed by Thy name”), that God's Kingdom might be extended (“Thy Kingdom come”), and that God's will, what He desires, might be accomplished (“Thy will be done”), on earth, in me and through us!

In other words, Paul prayed this prayer, and he offered this prayer for the Philippians to use, for us to use as a guide, to build God's kingdom, to do the part God wanted him to do in this something bigger and greater!

As we noted last time, he petitioned God for Christ-like love, for an ever-increasing amount of Christ-like love in the church at Philippi – why? To accomplish the something greater! To sweeten the fellowship within that congregation, to enhance the unity within that congregation, to increase the ministry, the practical, need-meeting ministry of that congregation, and then, through all of that, to build the Kingdom of God, to widen the reach, the caring outreach of God's people at Philippi to places and people BEYOND Philippi.

In case I didn't make it clear last time, that's why God would have us pray this prayer for increasing love this year! Sweeter fellowship, enhanced unity, richer prayer life, increased meeting of needs, broader outreach, a congregation growing in Christlike love, adding to what God supplied in us and to us last year – this year – will help bring those bigger, greater things to pass!
But, then there's more, look with me at the second leading edge of growth God intends for us this year. I'm talking about the areas of knowledge and understanding. Read the text with me again, 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.”

Why take part in as many of the services of this congregation as possible? Much more, why open that precious Book – each day – with the simple, childlike petition, “Father, teach me today...”? That you and I might KNOW Christ!

Beloved, did you know that it is God's desire and plan to so fashion your life that when people look at you, when people listen to you, when people watch your life, they will see Jesus? Romans 8:29, “For those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Jesus Christ) that He (Jesus Christ) might be the First Born among many brothers (and sisters).” God's desire and plan is to so fashion your thinking, your words, your mindset, your behavior, that people will see Jesus in and through you! Isn't that exciting?

But, listen, how is that ever going to come to pass, if we don't increase in our knowledge of Christ?

Philippians chapter three – What was it that drove Paul to pray a prayer like this one in chapter one? What was it that propelled him to challenge the Philippians with the God-sized goal – talk about being a part of something bigger than oneself – of having the mindset of Jesus Christ? (Philippians 2:5ff) What was it that caused him to erupt, after having described the learning/growing process in the area of contentment through which he had passed, with the words, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength”? (Philippians 4:13) Here's what: Philippians 3:7ff – Knowing Christ. Everything else, even those things that previously he had considered pluses on the balance sheet of his life, Paul said, none of it compared to knowing the One who hung on that great 'plus sign' (the cross)!

Philippians 3:4-11, “though I also might have confidence in the flesh. 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.”

Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, getting to know Him better that He might be seen more fully in and through us! Does that bigger-than-you-are-goal excite you?

Knowing Christ – I'm not talking about knowing about Christ, knowing facts about Who He is and so on, I'm talking about, Paul is talking about, knowing HIM! This theme is all over Paul's letters. Take a look – back just a few pages in your Bibles is Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus – Ephesians chapter one – another one of Paul's marvelous prayers and prayer models left for folks like us.

Ephesians 1:15-21, “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.”

Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, a prayer example he left for us, “God, would you give me, give us, the spirit of wisdom and revelation, that we might know you better. Would you give light to our eyes, that we might know this hope, this rich inheritance, this exceedingly great power, at work in us!”

Colossians one – just a few pages after our text in Philippians chapter one, Paul's letter to the church at Colassae. Once again Paul offers up a powerful prayer, and, God would so ordain it a powerful prayer example for us.

Colossians 1:9-14, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

Once again, what is at the core of this petition that Paul offers up for the Colossian Christians? Knowing Christ - “That you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding...”

The pursuit, the achievement of the something bigger, the something greater, the yearning in the direction of becoming a more perfect church – where doest it begin? What key ingredient must always be present? Knowing Christ. Growing, increasing, expanding in our knowledge of Christ!

But, we might ask: “How?” How do we gain this knowledge, this depth of insight? What steps must we take for it to increase and abound in us? Great question. Let me suggest at least three important steps.

Number one: ask! In preparing for this message, the Lord directed my attention to an interesting, and down-right, convicting related passage found in Luke's account of Jesus' life.

Luke 9:43-45, “And they were all amazed at the majesty of God. But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, “Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”

Knowing Christ, knowing what He intended to accomplish, and, if you look at the very next section – Luke 9:46-62 – aligning themselves with what Jesus intended, what was at stake for Jesus' disciples at that time and place. And, yet – look at what the text says. It tells us that the disciples did not understand. What Jesus meant and intended by His words was hidden from them, so that they did not perceive it. And then, most penetrating of all, most convicting of all, the text tells us that Jesus' disciples were afraid to ask Him about it! How else were they going to know and understand if they didn't ask?

Surely having this kind of predicament in mind, James, the servant of the Lord, urges us to ASK.

James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

Growing in one's knowledge of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:9-11), what do we have here, in this our main study text? We have written all over these three verses the word, A-S-K. Ask! Ask God to make a way for you to know His Son better. Why? Ask, because, just as that passage in Luke 9 indicates, not only is God the concealer, the One who kept things from the eyes of the disciples, He also is the Revealer, the One who will open our eyes to see and to know - if we will but ask!

Ask, that's the first step we must take, if we want to know Christ better this year.

Second, I would urge you, Scripture would urge you and me, to ABANDON anything that would get in the way of knowing Christ better. Philippians 3 – the passage we looked at earlier. Paul, he had a lot of things, a lot of seemingly good things accrued to his spiritual account. But, when he came to know Christ and as he pressed forward in that knowledge, in that relationship, what did he come to realize?

All of these others things, all of them are rubbish, a big MINUS on his spiritual balance sheet compared to knowing Christ!

Do you want to know Christ, I mean really know Him more, and better this year? Then, ABANDON anything that gets in the way of that pursuit.

Then, last of all – like a champion athlete and an alien whose citizenship is in some other place than this place, press on to attain that for which Christ has laid hold of you. Set you affections, not on those things that 'belly-worshipers' love and long for, but set your affections on a citizenship, a salvation – and best of all, most important of all – set your affections on a Savior, from that OTHER place, that place called heaven! (Philippians 3:2-21)

A prayer for every day of the year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Prayer for the New Year

Image credit
Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning
, January 2, 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.”

2010 was a good year for us here at Northwest Christian church, and we thank God for all the ways in which He worked in our midst to make it a good year.  But, 2010 is now history, and here we are, at the start of a New Year, anxiously anticipating what God will do in our lives, in our families, and in this church family in 2011.  It’s kind of exiting, isn’t it, to stand where we stand today, one, nearly two, days along, in this 365-day journey with our Lord.  However, as we begin this walk with Christ, step by step through the moments and milestones that will make up this New Year, what is it that we need as we begin? 

We need Him!  Our great big, incredibly gracious and patient God, we need Him!  That’s why I think it is all together fitting that we begin this year, this journey with our Lord, in prayer.  Prayer – some has asked, “If God knows everything, and is going to carry out His will anyway, why pray?” 

To me, the best answer to that intriguing question is this: prayer is an expression of our humble acknowledgment of Christ’s Lordship – an overflow – a joyful outpouring of gratitude for His wisdom and mercy and power at work in our world and in our lives, and, an eager willingness to be conformed, to line oneself up with God’s will.  That’s why we prayer, because we need Him!  Because, hopefully, our yearning IS for His name to be hallowed, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done – on earth – in us, as it is in heaven! 

A New Year, our great big God, and us!  That’s quite a combination if I do say so myself.  But what brings all three together, in the way our Savior intended, is what we have before us in this passage of Scripture - a prayer - a prayer for the New Year. 

One of the many things that I appreciate the most, that I praise God for the most, as far as Scripture is concerned, is that this Book, God’s Book, does not merely tell us TO do certain things, it also shows us HOW! 

Prayer is a perfect example… Time and time again we read verses like, “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “continue in prayer, and be watchful in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).  Repeatedly, we are exhorted to pray, and, for the reasons I listed a moment ago.  But, then, to move us from the exhortation, to the application (to the how?), we have passages like this one.  Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, it’s a passage that, if we will use it as a guide, as a model, it will direct us in the carrying out of the exhortations to “pray without easing”, it will show us how.  Take a closer look at it with me, will you? 

I certainly don’t claim to know all that was in the Apostle Paul’s mind as he wrote this letter to the Philippians, although, I think that if you and I study letters like this closely, we can begin to discern what his thoughts and intentions were by what he has written.  So, don’t let the incomplete nature of your knowledge to keep you from studying it.  But, listen – even though I don’t know or understand all that Paul had in mind when he wrote this letter, I do, however, believe that he must have had a least one thought going through his head as he wrote these words; and that is this: “There’s no such thing as a perfect church.”  This church at Philippi, they, like we, were tempted to trust in their own righteousness, their own supposed goodness, rather than the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ – chapter 3:1-6.  And, they – like we – were faced with the enticements and allurements of fleshly lusts, worldly, ungodly, unholy desires, to make their belly their god, and to set their affections on earthly things, rather than on the heavenly Savior, salvation and citizenship they had available to them in Jesus Christ – chapter 3:17-21.  And they – like we – faced the problem of brothers and sisters acting like brothers and sisters sometimes act; not getting along, not seeking to be of one mind, and of one spirit, in the Lord – chapters one and four.  As much as Paul loved the church as Philippi – take a look at his tender, affectionate words with which he begins this letter, Philippians 1:3-5 – and, as thankful to God as he was for them, and for the generous assistance they rendered to him in his work (chapter 4:10-20), nevertheless, Paul knew as surely as you and I know, that there really is no such thing as a perfect church!  But does that mean that we should shut off the lights, lock the doors and go home?  Does that mean that the New Year isn’t so bright and hopeful after all?  And, most of all – there’s no such thing as a perfect church!  Ouch!  But, listen, please – does that mean that we should not strive to BE one, today, this year? 

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, this passage of Scripture we have before us this morning, what is it?  It is a Holy Spirit-inspired and, indeed, a very lofty solution to the problem of the im-perfect church.  A game plan, a road-map meant to guide not only our prayers, but our minds, our hands, our feet in the direction of becoming a more perfect church – today, this year!  Take a look, where does this prayer begin?  It begins where the Philippian congregation needed it to begin, with a fervent request for love, Christ-like, Philippians two, kind of love, to abound, to increase in that church. 

Hold your place, and move your finger down through the rest of chapter one, to the start of Philippians chapter two.  Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, a prayer for Christ-like love to increase more and more, in that first-century church, a prayer that could well guide us this New Year toward becoming the church God wants us to be – what is Christ-like love all about?  What does it look like?

Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Christ-like love, it is a matter of humility of attitude, and of action toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Christ-like love, esteeming others as better than one’s self, it was manifested, lived out in Paul’s day, and before the eyes of that New Testament congregation, through godly men like Timothy and Epaphroditus.  Yes, Christ-like love, looking out for others’ interest, not only one’s own interest – it was modeled, perfectly – where?  At the cross – Philippians 2:5-11. 

This prayer, a heaven-sent road map for our journey towards becoming a more perfect church this year, it begins with Christ-like love.  “And this is my prayer, that your love may abound still more and more…”  Why do you think it begins with Christ-like love? 

Well, for the Philippians of Paul’s day, perhaps the reasons were obvious.  Leading members of the congregation were at odds with one another, and because of that, the work of God was being hindered.  But, what is so significant about this initial request, this petition for God to increase Christ-like love – for us?  Someone has described Christ-like love as the ‘Christian’s crown jewel’.  Perhaps, we should begin our search for an answer to our question about the significance of this petition for us, by asking ourselves, “Is my life, are my thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions adorned by this jewel?”  “Am I aiming at esteeming others better than myself – today, this year?  Am I ready and willing, like Epaphroditus was ready and willing, to walk down a path marked death (death-to-self), not regarding my own life, that I might be God’s agent to meet someone else’s need?”  What is so significant – for us – about this initial
request for abounding, increasing Christ-like love?  John 13:35 – Jesus answered that for us, didn’t He?  He said, “All men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Christ-like love, this is not something meant for a select few!  No!  It should mark, be that wonderful adornment that should mark every one of our lives!

And, what happens when it does?  We don’t know the end of the story for the Philippians – whether or not Paul’s prayer for them came to fruition.  But listen, as we make this petition our fervent prayer, our longing for our lives, our families and our church – this year – guess what?  Then, we can stand back and watch the mighty and merciful hand of God at work ANSWERING this prayer!

Would you like to see the sweetness of our fellowship, the satisfying aroma of brothers and sisters dwelling together in UNITY (Psalm 133) increasing this year?  Pray this prayer!  Paul told the Thessalonians that God wants to teach His children to love each other like this.  Oh, God, teach us, would you, please? 

Would you like for our prayer lives, as individuals, as families, and as a church family, to be richer, fuller, more meaningful and powerful this year?  It’s hard, I admit it, it is hard, very hard, to pray sincerely, fervently, consistently, for people you don’t love!  But listen, what if your love, what if Christ’s kind of love is increasing in you, what are you going to want to do for those people?  You are going to want to pray for them!  Growth in Christ-like love is critical!

And, how about this?  When Jesus talked about building His church, extending His kingdom, accomplishing His will, on earth (Matthew 6:9-15; 16:13-19), was He talking about bricks and mortar?  Steeples and signboards?  No!  He was talking about PEOPLE, people praying this prayer!  People saying, “God, use me as an answer to this prayer,” that the hungry might be fed, that the sick and imprisoned might be cared for, that the naked might be clothed, and that the lost might be found! 

There really is no such thing as a perfect church, I agree.  But listen, as I begin this New Year, I want to be one of God’s answers to prayers offered up by His people in the direction of this church becoming more perfect, increasing in Christ-like love – how about you? 

So, here’s my challenge to you: will you make this prayer, and others like it scattered throughout the pages of the New Testament, your prayers for yourself, for your family, and for this congregation this year?