What We Really Need - To Become Like Christ
Every parent knows that what a child needs most and what a child wants most are often two different things. Children tend to be ruled by a desire for short-term gratification rather than a desire for long-term wellbeing. As a result, our children need us to help them see "the big picture". Sometimes, it is even necessary that we withhold the thing that they desperately want in order to give them what they desperately need.
Friends, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this example often proves true in our relationship with God. What we most desperately want from God is not necessarily what we desperately need from Him.
My body can be shackled with disease and I may have trials beyond number and I can still enter the kingdom of heaven. I may be hated by multitudes and treated as an outcast by society and still enter the kingdom of heaven. But I cannot get into heaven without a Divine pardon. I cannot get into heaven without having a faith in Christ propped up within my heart.
What we need more than anything else in the universe is a relationship with the God who created the universe. To have this relationship, we must first obtain forgiveness for our sins. To be reconciled with God we must place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour.
As God's children, however, we must not be content to merely gain God's favour. Forgiveness is but the first step in our relationship with Christ. And as we turn to Paul's letter to the Philippians and to the Colossians, we see that there are other necessary pursuits for the Christian.
Beginning in Philippians 1, verse 3, Paul writes, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all".
What, do you think, is the content of Paul's prayers for the Philippians? The answer is given in verse 9 and following, "And this I pray, that your love may abound still 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".
The first part of this prayer comes as no surprise to us--Paul wants our love to abound. We've heard this before--Christ commanded that we love the Lord our God and that we love our neighbour as ourselves (Lk. 10:27). I suspect there is no one here who is surprised to read that Paul prayed for the Philippians' ability to love.
But then we come to the second part of the prayer. Paul doesn't pray for just any kind of love. This isn't simply handholding, kumbuya-singing, love, but this is love overflowing with "knowledge and all discernment". Friends, Paul is telling us something very important here: true love must always be accompanied by knowledge.
It baffles me when I hear people say, 'I don't care about theology, I just want to love Jesus.' My question for that person is, 'How can you love Jesus unless you first know Him?' Even Jesus, when He gave the command to love the Lord your God said that we are to do that "with all (our) heart, with all (our) soul, with all (our) strength, and with all (our) mind."
Paul's prayer for the Philippians, and my constant prayer for all of you, is that you might grow in both your love and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what makes Sunday service so important. This is what makes daily Bible reading so important. This is what makes group Bible studies so important. When it comes to our relationship with Christ, the old cliche does not prove true--absence does not make the heart grow fonder. The more we know Christ, the more we will love Him.
The Reformer, John Calvin agrees. Calvin writes, "the greater proficiency we make in knowledge (the more) our love (will) increase."
And why does Paul want us to grow in our knowledge and love? His gives an answer in verses 10 and 11, "so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
'Paul, can you put that more simply? Why do you want us to grow in our love and knowledge?' 'I want you to grow in love and knowledge so that in the day of Christ you might become like Christ.'
Ultimately, Paul's fundamental prayer for the Philippians is that they become Christ-like. And, in becoming Christ-like, it is "to the glory and praise of God." Everything Paul prays for leads to this end. Paul wants their love to abound so that they may become more Christ-like. Paul wants the Philippians to abound in knowledge and discernment in order that they may become more Christ-like.
Friends, this is what we really need. Sure, there is profit in being physically healthy. Certainly, financial stability is a good thing. Of course, we want meaningful personal relationships. But Paul points us to something greater. What we really need is to grow in our Christ-likeness, and so this is what Paul's prayers focus on.
And just so you don't think that Paul's prayer for the Philippians is unique, I turn your attention to his letter to the Colossians. After telling them, in verse 3, that he is "praying always for (them)", Paul reveals the content of his prayers in verse 9 and following, "we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God".
Paul understood that we cannot love God rightly unless we know Him. The Bible makes it clear, from Genesis to Revelation, that God desires to be loved and worshipped in a particular way.
Paul understood that we cannot "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord" without first knowing what manner of walking God expects of us.
Ask the average Christian whether they strive to love God more, and you will surely get an emphatic "Yes!". Ask the average Christian whether they are trying to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, and they will surely answer you in the affirmative.
But if you ask the average Christian how much time they spend reading their Bible, what kind of answer will you get?
We fool ourselves if we think we can grow in Christ-likeness without growing in our knowledge of Him. Paul tells the Colossians that he is praying that they be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding".
Paul is calling us to thoroughness in our relationship with Christ. It is not enough that we have some knowledge of Christ and of the Bible, Paul wants us to be "filled" with it. It is not enough that we understand a few Christian doctrines, Paul prays that we would have a comprehensive knowledge of God's will with "all spiritual wisdom and understanding".
Keep in mind, Paul does not want us to have knowledge for knowledge's sake. Paul understands that right thinking leads to right living. Knowledge of God is intended to transform us. This, I suspect, is why Paul makes reference to knowledge "in all spiritual wisdom". "Wisdom", Spurgeon writes, "is knowledge rightly used." Wisdom is love abounding in knowledge. Wisdom is using knowledge to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. If we allow knowledge to transform us, Paul writes that it will help us to "please (the Lord) in all respects"(Col. 1:10).
If we are serious about our determination to glorify God, we will not neglect the study of His character. If we are serious about our desire to please God, we will not be lax in our study of His holy will.
Tell me that you want to love Jesus more, tell me that you want to be more like Jesus, and I will tell you to take up your Bible and read. I will tell you to gather with other Christians to study God's Word.
If we get off track here we will fail to please God. If we do not study the Bible, we will not know God's will. And, if we do not understand God's will, we will not walk in a manner worthy of Him. And, if we do not walk in a manner worthy of Him, we will displease Him. If you are to follow Christ rightly, you must first be prepared by His Word.
That preparation begins here. On Sunday, the Scripture is prayed, preached, read, and sung. Being prepared by God's Word begins here, but it must not end here.
Life is too hectic, it is too challenging and, at times, it is too painful, to go forward without being prepared by God's Word.
Take up and read. And may your soul be nourished, and your love for Christ increased. Amen.