And this I pray: that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Paul, in Philippians 1)
So, Paul doesn't pray that I will find a supernatural ability to keep the ten commandments better?
So, Paul isn't praying that I will increase more and more in my personal excellence, work ethic, honesty, integrity, and morality?
If not, why not?
Well, because Paul chooses not to pray for secondary things. Paul, as a wise apostle with the heart of a true pastor, prays for first things. Remember, if you focus on secondary things, you lose both first and second things; but if you focus on first things, secondary issues get tossed in, seemingly for free.
Paul prays that my relationships be blessed to overflowing, as a direct result of both my intellect and my emotions being deeply affected by the power of the gospel of grace.
"But Sheila...Paul said '..that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all judgement.' " That's what I just said. Love is a moot point outside the context of relationship. Without relationship, love does not exist. The knowledge of what Christ accomplished on my behalf contains enough doctrine to keep my intellect busy for an eternity, and it also infuses my heart with wonder, awe, and praise...love and adoration. The knowledge of what Christ accomplished on your behalf causes me to so urgently desire that you personally experience this great salvation, that I'd lay my life down to see you "get it". If I would lay my life down, I would certainly do anything else for you - anything necessary to your revelation of Christ. If that isn't loving you, what would loving you look like?
When first things are put in their proper place, what is the result? What is the result of abounding love-relationships, relationship with God and with people, relationships overflowing in a knowledge and experience of the gospel?
Answer: everything following the word "that". When Paul's first request, the one for abounding love, is answered, the other requests will also be answered - this he knew!
THAT I would discern the things that are excellent. (Not that I would have an ability to find fault. Ahem.)
THAT I would be sincere and untroubled by sin-consciousness until the day Jesus Christ returns, or I go to be with Him. That is what the phrase "without offense" means! It means to be untroubled by sin-consciousness....uh, probably because I'm too busy approving the things that are excellent, to become jaded by your mistakes. Or my own mistakes. Or the mistakes of my present or former church leaders. (Oh, this is huge! I have met people all over the world, who have been hurt in their church experience...)
I want very much to dig into what being "sincere" really means, but that will have to be another blog post for another day. Suffice it to say, being sincere is the opposite of being critical and jaded. The Lord is showing me that sincerity of faith is almost non existent in spiritual leadership today. Those who have managed to guard their sincerity are the cream of the crop.
If you know a leader who is sincere, as opposed to sophisticated or cynical, please give him or her a (sincere) tender embrace, and then pray for that person every day. I promise you, they and their heart of sincerity are the prime target of satan. The devil is out to rob them of their honest and childlike belief in the simple power of the gospel, as proclaimed through the foolishness of preaching it. And since misery loves company, every jaded person in the church wants to darken the heart of the sincere with their quasi-spiritual perspective.
In Paul's own words, the consequence of putting first things first (putting the focus on an abounding love for God and love for the saints) is that I am filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ.
Those are better results, by far, than I would get by adherence to anywhere from ten to six hundred plus commandments.
Wise man, that Paul. A true leader.