“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ…” Phil 1:9
From the musty prison cell where Paul sits comes a prayer for the church in Philippi. When the apostle starts something with, “And this I pray” it is best we tune our ears to those intimate words. Paul felt the need to pray for the small church of Philippi, most likely under 50 members, that their love would abound (overflow) still more and more. When dealing with people inside of a church I don’t think that any of us needs to ask why Paul might have prayed such a thing. We can be very unloving and selfish people! To understand however the love Paul is speaking of we need to revisit the place of where his definition of love would have been conceived––the Old Testament.
The love in Paul’s mind is not ambiguous and certainly not generalized sentiment, but it is a strong and well-defined love derived from his understanding of Who YHWH was in the Old Testament (Tanakh) Scriptures. The prayer that love would abound comes from the idea that YHWH had done and was currently doing this very same thing, and simply mandated for His followers also. For the Christian this might be the hardest process for the Holy Spirit to enact within us. I am rarely found letting love overflow to the people surrounding me.
The most powerful form of love found in the Old Testament is YHWH’s covenant love which in Hebrew is checed חָ֫סֶד . This word appears around 250 times in the Tanakh, always referring to the very specific promises God has made to Abraham and by relation to Israel. In our bibles it is normally translated as lovingkindness but this doesn’t quite emphasize the depth of its true meaning. It literally means covenant loyalty which to YHWH is His bond of love to Israel. When employed, it communicates the idea that His love is so strong and so faithful that the covenant He has made will never be broken on His end.
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love (checed) shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Is. 54:10)
This is an amazing concept, and furthermore, the premier definition of how we as believers in YHWH and His Son Yeshua ought to understand love. YHWH defines His love in simple faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abraham. Furthermore, it gives the clearest context to the meaning of agape love, which is the strongest form of love found in the Greek New Testament. Agape love, in how Jesus and the apostles perceive agape to be when they use it, is most likely directly connected to the idea of the Hebrew word checed since this was the strongest context they would have had to define this type of love. Stemming from this idea comes the exhortation Paul makes above, as well as Jesus’ very simple words that the entire Law and Prophets are summed up in Love (agape) the Lord Your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:40; Gal. 5:14).
When Jesus hangs all the Law and Prophets upon something, we take care to notice the hook upon what He is hanging. It is love – and it is actually the strongest type of love – a tenacious love that is forgiving seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22), turning the other cheek when hit (Matt. 5:39), blessing when reviled (1 Cor. 4:12), leaping for joy when persecuted (Lk. 6:23) and covering a multitude of sins (1 Pt. 4:8). This is why the greatest of these is love – because love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8).
Recently I found myself in a major situation with a close friend whom I love. Over a period of several months however, because of our conflict, I became very unloving. In the midst of the conflict which began to seem unbearably irreconcilable, another friend exhorted me to, “let love abound.” Though I persisted that I felt wronged and that my friend was in the wrong, this was the only exhortation that my friend had left me with – “Let love abound.”
It was the most simple thing he could’ve said but it was the “word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hb. 4:12)… and that is exactly what it did! My heart was revealed and judged before that Scripture and the solution to the problem was simpler than I had ever perceived: Let love abound. The very problem was that I was not letting love abound––I was letting my own will, flesh, and rights abound.
As this verse continued to judge my heart’s intent I became increasingly grieved to the point where I had to write this post. And here is my public confession: I have not lived as a man that has allowed love to abound! To anyone that I have harmed with my intense personality, to every person that I have wronged with my “words of truth” that have cut you, and to every person that I have slandered or back-bitten, I repent. With tears before the Father in heaven I repent!
I want to be a man who loves like YHWH loves lest I never become a man.
YHWH picked the hardest people to love. Just after crossing the red sea, they grumble against Him. While He is there still making the covenant with them at Sinai, they make an idol before His eyes and worship it. After He delivers them into the promised land, they turn away from Him unto other idols. He expels them from the land in discipline and yet He brings back a remnant. He draws near to them in the flesh and they crucify Him. He destroys their temple and casts them from the land again, and yet God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! (Rom 11:1). Simply, “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer. (Is. 54:7-8) Yes, it is true, “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us (Israel); He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old (Mic. 7:18-20).
In the fashion of YHWH we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
I want to love like YHWH. I want to imitate the God of Israel in my love. I want a love that passes over sins committed against me. I want a love that is compassionate in the face of betrayal, and merciful in the presence of judgment. This is YHWH’s checed, His strong covenant love, a fixed love that “shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Is. 54:10). Seeing how YHWH loves Israel in the Bible gives me hope that by His Spirit I can love in this same way. I can be wronged and forgive. I can be hit and not strike back. I can be reviled and pray blessing. This is what is bound up in the death of our great God and Saviour as He “suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21).
I want to follow Him and therefore I will love as He has loved.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
“…may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” 1 Thess. 3:11
Love is not an option that is presented to the Christian, rather it is the very object which makes us disciples of Christ. It is also the standard by which we are judged on the Day of the Lord as both apostolic prayers directly connect (Phil 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:11). I have felt His burning eyes lately staring into my heart to see what’s there. I have heard Him saying to me very gently, “Son, I am not going to ask you about your biblical theology on the day you appear before me.” At this I weep and come back to the simplicity of the new commandment Jesus gave us. I want my heart to be established without blame in holiness before God our Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints! I want to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ! Paul hinges both of these things upon LOVE abounding in our lives. This is our response to His Cross, this is not salvation by works! Therefore, let us continue fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hb. 12:1-3).
The Lamb to the slaughter is leading the way of love and Paul was following Him all the way to his own head being lopped off. This is apostolic––the life laid down in love––as Stephen the martyr mimics His Lord, falling to the ground and uttering the same words as His savior, “Forgive them!”
But love is so hard! Yes, so let love abound. But, that person has sinned against me in the most horrible way! Indeed, let love abound. But it’s all their fault! You might be right, let love abound! We cannot do it by our own strength, so let us not deceive ourselves with such vanity. Rather, let us turn to the Holy Spirit in prayer and cry out for the Helper’s help that we might imitate YHWH and His Son, and abound in love towards each other. This is His command and the highest honor we can give Jesus is by simply following it as best we can.
Rather than my words, let us end with Paul’s exhortation from Galatians 5-6:
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5For each one will bear his own load.
The Lamb to the slaughter is leading the way of love! Let us follow Him though it cost us everything.