Partakers of Grace
Now Paul becomes very personal, and there is a reason for this. Paul had so many struggles as an apostle. He provides a brief list of these in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33: Imprisonment, beatings, stoning, constant dangers and threats from both Jews and Gentiles, and to top it all, brothers in the churches which he founded who later turned on him and questioned his apostleship. He was, no doubt, often lonely in his ministry. Surely, had it not been for the Spirit’s presence in his life, he would never have persevered.
But there was one church out there, one church that encouraged him and supported him. I have heard (no one knows exactly where these sayings come from) that it takes seven occasions of encouragement to make up for one occasion of destructive criticism. (I wonder if this says as much about ourselves as people who tend to wallow in self-pity as it does about those who tear us down.) No wonder Paul valued this church so highly. In all of his struggles, they were there. He mentions in 4:15-16 that only the Philippians had “entered into partnership with [him] in giving and receiving,” and that when he was in Thessalonica, they had sent him help for his needs “once and again.” Using a form of the word, κοινωνια, which we discussed yesterday, the Philippians had become partakers with Paul in God’s grace, “both in [his] imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” Is it any wonder that Paul yearned for them with the affection of Christ Jesus?
And so now Paul prays that their “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that [they] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Here we see that love and knowledge go together in the Christian faith. Love is the impetus that makes us want to do the good deed; knowledge is the means whereby we discern what the good deed is. “Love” is a word that is used far too haphazardly today and usually equated in the world with notions of “tolerance” for sinful lifestyles. Love must be informed with knowledge which makes us to seek moral purity and blamelessness before the day of our Lord’s coming. Knowledge makes us to know how to rightly apply love, where, and for what needs. Love is not promiscuous; it is discerning—that is what Paul tells us here. And these Philippians hit the target in their expression of love for an apostle who greatly needed it.