We often say that our “love grows.”
When we put these two words together, we generally mean that we want our feelings of affection increase or that we want the bond felt between us to become stronger. We recognize that a loving relationship isn’t a static, one-and-done feeling, that it does develop…but I think we’re a little squishy when we try and describe exactly how this happens.
Sure, we’ll say that love grows in a variety of ways: over time, through shared experiences, and being together in the ups and downs of life. If you talk to others about growing in love with their spouse, their closest friends, or with a group of people, what is usually identified as the main driver of growth seems to be surviving a long time without abandoning one another.
In his letters, Paul often told his readers that he was praying for them, but it wasn’t a generic “I’ll be praying for you” platitude. He didn’t just ask God to “help” them with their “stuff”. We’re going to take a close look at not only what Paul told the believers in Philippi that he was praying for them, but also the reasons Paul gave for making his specific prayer requests.
So for starters, let’s look at the beginning Paul’s prayer request:
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment
Immediately, we see that Paul wants their love to grow in two specific areas. We’ll take a look at the outcome of this kind of growth in a later post. First we need to understand what he means by knowledge and every kind of discernment.
The Greek word for knowledge refers to a full, intimate understanding of a subject. Similarly, the Greek word Paul chose for discernment speaks to how we perceive something or someone. The word refers to something deeper than just a sensory perception – sight, touch, smell – instead this discernment relies on the intellect.
Blind love or a love that is dependent upon our emotions is not ground for the growth of a relationship. As our feelings ebb and flow, we can end up doing more harm then good.
True Christian love isn’t shallow or squishy. It is grounded in an clear understanding and has an intelligent direction. This shouldn’t surprise us, because, after all, that’s exactly how God loves us.
Filtering by Tag: knowledge
We often say that our “love grows.”
We are spiritual beings. That’s how God made us. So naturally, we gravitate toward the spiritual aspect of life. We look at design in nature and recognize that there must be a designer. We observe the happenings around us and acknowledge that there is more going on than only what we can see with our eyes. We read history from God’s perspective and marvel at His-story.
However, since we are also fallen and sinful, our understanding of spiritual topics is easily knocked off course.
Human history is littered with wrong ideas about God, what He is like, and how we can know Him. Before we came to know Jesus, our internal desire for “spiritual things” led us down all sorts of paths. The difficulty, then, becomes what we will do with our old understandings in light of our relationship with Jesus?
The believers in Paul’s day had the same issues. Ephesus was a magnificent, melting-pot metropolis. In that town there were numerous Greek gods and goddesses – the people not only worshiped them, but also told stories, explained their history, and held festivals in their honor. The Jewish community had many fantasy stories of angels and how to manipulate them, as well as various speculative “biographies” of Biblical characters.
These are the kinds of topics Paul wants Timothy to tackle head-on.
1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.
These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.
The Greek word for pay attention was used to convey the word picture of bringing a ship to land. It was also used to describe how a person is attached to someone or something, with a level of devotion or even addiction.
One of Timothy’s goals was to weed out these false ideas about God and correct the people’s fascination with myths and endless genealogies. It wouldn’t be easy. Some of these myths were quite popular in the culture. Some Jews would trace their tribal heritage as proof of personal importance or value to God.
However, Paul nails down the problem with focusing on these things – they promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan. Paul knew they couldn’t walk with God while deceiving themselves with feel-good stories or puffing themselves up with information about their lineage. The mythical stories detracted or even contradicted God’s story. The genealogies put the focus on them, rather than on God. Instead, the Ephesian believers were in danger of missing the point – our relationship with God and our ability to live rightly before Him only comes through a faith that is focused on God.
However, on rare occasion, Paul would reference that a philosopher correctly identified a spiritual truth (Acts 17:28), yet this acknowledgment was stepping stone to point others toward Jesus. He didn’t dwell there. To continue the word picture – Paul didn’t dock his ship on the philosopher’s point. Instead, as he continued on in his message, Paul then dropped anchor on the truth of the resurrection (Acts 17:31).
We see this same tendency toward distraction in the modern church as well. There’s a fascination with stories of people who have gone to Heaven and come back. There’s wide-spread speculation about angels and an abundance of feel-good stories. We look for “Bible codes” and try to match up prophecy with the newspaper.
Whenever the next “big thing” comes through Christian-living literature, we must ask ourselves: Does the author promote empty speculations or God’s plan? Where will we choose to drop our anchor?
No one likes a “know-it-all”. Generally speaking, people do not mind if someone else has more knowledge, but the way a person handles themselves in light of that additional knowledge can make or break relationships. Whether it’s among strangers or siblings, classmates or co-workers, no one appreciates being talked down to. The subject matter could be of small consequence or something really important, but how something is communicated is as important as what is being communicated.
For those of us that have been following Christ for a length of time, there is a tendency toward smugness that will cause problems. When we get comfortable going through the motions of living the “Christian life” instead of focusing on our relationship with God, we grow stale. Our mindset and interactions with others will twist until we end up presenting a conceited, self-righteous version of Christianity.
A telling symptom of this stale-ness is found in how we interact with those outside of our Christian family. What is our general attitude toward non-Christians? While we know that they need Jesus, do our actions and attitudes invite them toward Jesus or push them away? Do we speak at them with a lot of Christian-ese? Do we belittle them because of their sin?
After spending most of his letter describing the wondrous relationship we now have with God and praising the Colossian believers for their great love for everyone in God’s family, Paul took a moment to give them a warning:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
Those outside the faith need our wisdom and our gracious speech, not arrogant attitudes and put-down talk. Being “better off” doesn’t make us “more important”. In fact, many of the Bible’s authors gave warning against such self-righteous thinking.
Instead, gracious speech comes from a grateful mindset. That’s why Paul has spent so much time writing about the greatness of Christ and the priority He should have in our lives. When we have our relationship with God in its proper place, then our interactions with outsiders will begin to look and sound a lot like Jesus’ interactions with others.
Looking and sounding like Jesus will draw a lot of attention, people will take notice of the difference. In order to be ready to answer each person, we should take the same attitude Daniel had when God told him the meaning of the king’s dream:
As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but in order that the interpretation might be made known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.
Can you hear his humility? Can you see how Daniel shifted the focus from himself and gave the credit to God? When we have the opportunity to share the gospel with others, we should have the same attitude:
I’m not a Christian because I’m better than anyone else. One day, someone told me that God loves me enough to die for my sins. He loves you, too. I’m just glad that I get to be the one to tell you about it.
We don’t like the feeling of “not knowing”. We try to figure out a story’s plot and guess who the villain is long before it is revealed. Riddles bother us if we don’t get them right away. Not satisfied with the information we’re given, we often look deeper, expecting to find people’s hidden agenda or motivations.
We are bothered the most when we don’t understand our current circumstances – when bad things happen to (seemingly) good people, when natural disasters ravage the land, or when nothing in life goes as we expect. The desire to find meaning and understanding within the difficulties of life can make a person desperate enough that they listen to almost anyone who claims to have an answer or explanation.
This uneasiness is often preyed upon by other philosophies and religions. They will claim that someone must go through their secret ritual initiation before they are accepted. They claim that God is mysteriously distant or uninterested, unless we make ourselves good enough and devoted enough to get his attention. Preying upon people’s feelings of inadequacy, they claim that only a select few – only those with secret knowledge – could understand the mysteries of God.
While their words may sound like help…they will actually take you hostage.
Paul had the same concern for the believers in Colossae. He did not want their relationship with Christ to be usurped by manipulative teachers. As you read Paul’s warning against these false teachers, look for how the Colossian believers are to protect themselves:
I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ. In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.
A little later, Paul warns them again:
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
There are tons of nice-sounding ideas about God that are floating around the world. Since most people understand that there is a spiritual aspect to life, many of these nice-sounding ideas pop up in our day-to-day conversations.
How do we combat them all? We can’t realistically study each one and find “the perfect rebuttal” to every philosophy and theory that comes along. Instead, Paul directs believers to focus all of their attention back to one person – Christ. In Jesus, we will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Not in the next Christian-living best-selling novel.
Not in the next formula for how to make God answer your prayers.
Not in the next preacher who claims to heal everyone who has “enough faith”.
Remember that Satan quoted Scripture when he tempted Jesus. Therefore, just being able to quote Scripture isn’t enough to protect us from false teachers. Instead, we need to heed Paul’s advice and ensure that our wisdom, our knowledge, and our philosophy of life are based on Christ.
That is the check we need to use. When presented with a nice-sounding concept about God, take an objective look at it, and ask:
Does this idea match up with who Jesus truly is…or is this idea based on a person’s tradition or maybe even their own wishful thinking?
Love. Love. Love.
We are very fascinated by the word, and the implications of what we think it is supposed to do in our lives. We write songs that say we could live on love instead of money, or food, or air. However, I would challenge anyone to pay their light bill with “love” and see how well that goes over. Or better yet, try to sustain your body on “love” and skip your next 10 meals. Similarly, we already know what would happen if we gave up breathing air and tried to breathe only “love”.
Each of these examples demonstrate the importance of context. Nothing can be correctly understood outside its proper context – and “love” is no exception. In fact, nowadays, we use “love” to mean such a wide variety of things, that our intended meaning can be easily misunderstood:
“I love chocolate.”
“I love your hair.”
“I love my wife.”
“I love politics.” (sarcasm there)
So clearly, “love” is only understood within the proper context. As you read Paul explain his desire to have all believers reach full maturity, look for love’s context in the life of a believer:
I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ. In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.
When we in God’s family are encouraged and joined together in love, these actions and relationship characteristics are the riches of our assured understanding. Growing in our own relationship with Jesus means that we grow in our understanding of who He is and what He means to us. As this maturity happens, our actions will take on the love that He demonstrated. The outpouring, or riches, of our understanding is found in the love we give to other believers.
And just to be clear…what is our understanding? The Greek word used here carries the idea of a running or flowing together – much like the visual of two rivers flowing together. What Paul is trying to convey is our assured understanding comes from our thoughts and choices merging with God’s flow and direction.
Paul’s words for the Colossians are also an echo of what Jesus told His own disciples:
By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
In its proper context of our knowledge of Christ and our relationship with God, love brings forth an unmistakable richness in believers that is so unique that it is recognized by everyone.
Let’s make sure our understanding and knowledge are grounded in Christ, so we can keep the most important love of all in its proper context.
Spiritual gifts are meant to have physical impact. God doesn’t give us grace, peace, wisdom, etc so that we can sit back and be comfortable. Paul demonstrates this as he describes to the Colossians his prayer requests about them. Look at the verses below and notice what Paul is requesting from God, but also look for why Paul wants God to give them these things:
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.
Paul requested that God would fill the Colossians to the brim with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. As comforting as that sounds, Paul expected that there would be a practical, physical result of these believers growing closer to God – namely, that their lives would begin to reflect their relationship with God. To walk worthy of the Lord means that the believers in Colossae would conduct their lives in a way that would point to God and bring honor to Him.
Shortly after my oldest son started his first job, I received an Instant Message from a co-worker I had never met. Her message was both short and striking:
Good afternoon, I wanted to let you know that I met your oldest son today on my lunch break. You should be very proud – he is a great young man.
After interacting with my son, she was so impressed with his conduct and helpfulness that she felt the need to seek out his father. When our children follow through on the instruction we’ve given them, they bring recognition and a good reputation to our family name. When we hear back from others – whether it is from people we know well, or from complete strangers – that our kids are making wise choices and are conducting themselves in this way, we receive honor as their parents.
The spiritual parallel is obvious. Our walk and our fruit in every good work need to point others back toward our Heavenly Father. Paul knows this, and as such, he prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of His will. When we know God well, we know how to represent Him well – and those around us will take notice and seek the God we serve.
Paul’s desire for the believers in Colossae to walk worthy of the Lord mirrors what Jesus said during His sermon on the mount:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Do others see our Father in heaven based upon how we walk through each day? If not, what are we being filled with…the knowledge of His will or something else?
Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness –
We saw last time that Paul identifies himself as both a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ; however, he doesn’t end his letter’s introduction with just this statement. After identifying himself with God the Father and Jesus Christ, he also explains the out-flowing purpose of his association with them.
Paul is a servant…for the faith of God’s elect and an apostle…for…the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. These two dynamics – strengthening the faith of believers and making unbelievers aware of the truth of Christ – are Paul’s driving mission in life.
If any of us gave that kind of Mission Statement for our lives, we would likely be applauded by those in the church and the statement wouldn’t be questioned further. However, Paul does not stop there. Instead, he explains where the faith and knowledge find their source:
Titus 1:2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time
“Hope” is a term that is thrown around a lot; however, in this context it’s not flippant as in “Gee, I hope it doesn’t rain.” Rather this hope is a confident expectation of future events. When I placed my hope in my wife’s pledge “until death do us part”, I confidently expect that she will fulfill her promise. This kind of hope can be either strong or weak…because it doesn’t depend on the person who is hoping; instead it depends on the person that is being hoped in. We’ve all seen marriages where vows are broken and the hope for a life-long relationship was unfulfilled. Paul’s hope of eternal life is sourced in God’s ancient promise of a Messiah, that a Redeemer would one day come to the earth.
Curiously though, Paul adds a qualifier to his explanation of hope, namely that God is someone who does not lie. While it might seem a little odd to us for him to say that, a quick look at the Cretan culture reveals Paul’s purpose in emphasizing this character trait of God.
This description of God is in direct contrast to both the deserved reputation of Cretans and the Greek/Cretan gods. If you remember any of your Greek mythology, the most powerful gods were better tricksters and liars than the lesser gods. The Greek gods routinely deceived the Greek people and each other – often on a whim or out of some corrupt desire. Paul is stating from the outset that the one true God can be trusted, for he always speaks and acts in perfect truth.
We’ve made it to the foundational basis for Paul’s identity, his motivation, and his actions – he takes God at his word, that in contrast to the world, God is trustworthy. And because of this trust, Paul was able to partner with God in incredible ways.
How is our partnership with God? Do we find the basis for our identity, motivation, and actions in him? If not, is it because we are not fully taking God at his word?