As I have been reflecting on our current events, I find myself regularly praying through a beloved prayer found in Philippians 1:9-11. As I rehearse Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, my reflections serve as reminders that I am an imperfect person in need of many things. Perhaps as you will also resonate with these reflections and reminders from the Apostle Paul’s prayer...
I need increased empathy.
“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…”
I have occasionally reflected on the seldom-discussed ethnic stereotypes, discriminations, and sufferings imposed upon my olive-skinned Italian American relatives and ancestors (from southern Italy). However, for God’s love to abound in me it must overflow beyond me, my family, my preferences, my comfort, my ethnicity, my heritage, my skin color, and my prejudices both conscious and unconscious. I must remain aware that God the Son, without sin, entered into my/our human plight and empathetically manifested the abounding love of God to humankind. Christ-centered empathy helps me relate to those of other backgrounds, ethnicities, experiences, and races in a manner that readily sees God’s image, equal love and equal desire for an eternal relationship with them. Though I have lived cross-culturally as missionary, speak other languages and enjoy an ethnic and racial diversity of relationships, I am painfully reminded that there is much more room for Christ’s compassion to increase and overflow from me.
I need informed love.
“…with knowledge and discernment…”
Though it goes against the grain of popular culture, God has not called his people to express undiscerning love. In a season when people are expressing all sorts of desires and emotions secretly, openly, passionately, truthfully, deceitfully, and/or with reckless abandon, I am telling my teenagers (and also reminding myself) how vital it is that our expressions and responses of God’s love be rock-solidly rooted in the truth of God’s word, even in the heat of struggle, societal pressures and pain.
I need incessant Christ-centeredness.
“…so that you might approve what is excellent."
As a Christ-follower, I am reminded that excellence includes not drifting from our Christ-proclaiming mission. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) It is vital that we all keep Christ central to our preaching, our pulpits, our living, and our daily conversation. It is imperative that Christ and His word be central and that we resist societal and political temptations to divert our churches and personal witness into something less than the excellence of Christ-centeredness.
I need irreproachable preparedness.
“…and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”
My wife has placed an extra-large sign on our refrigerator that screams, “Jesus is coming back!” Admittedly, there have been times when this truth has waned from the forefront of my attentions, but many of you are probably like me, as I join with creation’s groaning in an ever-deepening desire for Christ’s return. I want to be prepared for Christ’s return today with all purity and blamelessness! Therefore, let us not compromise purity and blamelessness, be it encouraged either through internal or external pressures, by aligning with those holding anti-biblical views on a host of matters including a biblical understanding of marriage and family, biological gender, or the rights of the unborn. As we address local, national or global injustices, racial reconciliation, and pursue all things “on earth as it is in heaven”, let us also commit to doing so through gospel-centered alliances that serve to promote and preserve our biblical purity and preparedness for the Day of Christ.
I need infatuation for fruit.
“…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ Jesus…”
In this verse, the state of being filled with the fruit of righteousness is actually written as a Christ granted outcome of the of the afore written qualities of abounding and informed love that approves excellent things and remains pure and blameless. I don’t know about you, but I want that fruit! As I long for this fruit in light of our present societal tensions, I am reminded of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). I first thought to myself just how much this seems loving, excellent, pure, and blameless, and how it even agrees with our Heartland District psyche. Wouldn’t you agree? However, as I reread the entire passage in context (1 Timothy 2:1-7), it becomes clear that this “peaceful and quiet life” includes constant prayer for EVERYONE, as well as an active evangelistic desire for the salvation of ALL MANKIND pursued with the passion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all… even murderers, rioters, racists, rogue officers, me, and everyone else born into sinful depravity. I am reminded that my infatuation for the fruit of righteousness must be fervently missional in both prayer and evangelism.
I need immaculate motivation.
“…to the glory and praise of God.”
I am reminded that my motivations are too often sullied with aims that are far lower than the praise and glory of God. I once again discovered this when conversing with my wife and kids about the killings, riots, and tensions in our nation. Our understandings, resolutions, and emotions were raw, unrefined, and diverse. As discussion evolved into debate, I found that my motivations were sadly not to advance the praise and glory of God, but rather to advocate for my point of view, to be right and to win the debate. Even though I may be able to wax eloquent with spiritual language, our secret intents are open before God and He soon convicted me of my pride. Perhaps you can resonate with this. Perhaps not. I am increasingly accepting that the greatest degree of influence I have is over my own responses. This begs the question of how I will bring God glory and praise in my personal responses, including my responses to current social issues, personal relationships, or even disagreeable responses from others proclaiming Christ. May God grant us humility and conviction to recognize when our motives are lower than His praise and glory.
Jim Capaldo, District Executive Minister
Jim Capaldo is District Executive Minister for Converge Heartland.