Summary: Paul's love for the church of Philippi motivated his prayers for them. What does this demonstrate for us as we pray for our churches today?

This past Wednesday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day. So it seems appropriate that we talk about a prayer about growing love since the idea of love is on people’s minds. I had to chuckle when I saw this meme on Facebook and shared it with someone who had posted to see if anyone would like to be their valentine this year. I think sometimes we try too hard to find love by looking in all the wrong places.

Now, how do you feel when someone tells you, “I love you?” I googled the question and found that someone had already asked it on Quora and had a number of interesting responses. It comes down to who is saying it, when they’re saying it, and how they’re saying it, right?

Your reaction may be different depending on whether it’s your significant other, a friend who genuinely cares, your crush whom you didn’t think was even aware of your interest, a person who is looking for a favor, or a child in the middle of getting in trouble. Depending on the situation, your reaction may be a warm and fuzzy feeling, you may get suspicious, feel affectionate, angry, or even awkward.

A couple weeks ago after youth group, a small group of teens were standing around talking. When one of them got ready to leave, they told the others, “I love you.” After a moment of silence, another teen responded, “You need to add, ‘In Christ,’ that way it’s not weird.” I later had to explain to one of them that yes, we’re commanded to love everyone because we are Christians, and yes, we should be able to simply tell each other, “I love you,” but the people in that group wanted to make sure that no one was taking what they were saying as a romantic gesture.

Our reaction comes down to understanding the intent of the person who is expressing their love. As we look at our text today, we see that Paul’s motivation to pray for the church at Philippi is love. He begins by telling them in verses 3-4 that he gives thanks to God and is full of joy as he prays on their behalf. What motivates him to pray this way?

We see in verse 5 that it’s the partnership in ministry between Paul and the church of Philippi. Luke shares about the beginning of this partnership in Acts 16 when he writes about Paul’s time in Philippi, how the Holy Spirit had prevented Paul from going to Asia and other areas before having a vision of a man calling him to come to Macedonia. Once there, Paul and Silas met Lydia at a place of prayer near the river and led her to Christ. When they cast the demon out of a slave girl who was telling everyone to listen to their gospel message, her owners get upset and have them thrown into jail. While singing God’s praises in jail, an earthquake releases all the prisoners, but the jailer finds that none have left. He tends to Paul and Silas and is baptized into Christ.

The Philippians partnered with Paul with financial gifts, even when no other church was helping him out. While he was in prison, they sent him Epaphroditus to tend to his needs. Paul partnered with Philippi by sending encouragement and advice in this letter and is making plans to send Timothy to continue the work. This partnership brings thanksgiving and joy to Paul as he prays.

In verse 6, Paul describes his confidence of how God is working in the church. I think this is a good reminder for us today. (read Phil 1:6) God has been working in us and through us and will bring that work to completion when Christ returns. Paul has seen what the church has been doing and he is encouraging them to keep going.

In verses 7-8, Paul tells of his affection for the church. He holds them in his heart. He recognizes how they’ve been with him through it all. They were there for him while he was in prison, they were there with him in proclaiming the gospel. So now, as he’s writing from prison, his desire is to be with them in Philippi.

Having shared his motivation, Paul proceeds to pray for the church in verse 9 that their love may abound more and more. Just like our youth felt the need to be clear what they meant when they said, “I love you,” Greek has a few different words to describe different nuances to love. The word that Paul uses here is agape. It carries the idea of being a selfless love, the kind of love that was demonstrated by Christ on the cross.

Paul describes this love a little more deeply in chapter 2 as he encourages the church to humbly put others ahead of themselves and follow the example of Jesus, who was willing to give up His place in heaven, take on human form, and be obedient even to death on a cross. The result was that God exalted Christ so that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is the example we’re to follow.

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