We all know the famous Beatles refrain: “Love, love, love, all you need is love.” There is a lot of truth to this statement, but it has to be qualified in some major ways. Long before Paul and the boys wrote their song, a more ancient Paul wrote his own mega-hit “Love Song” beautifully describing how “love never fails” (1 Cor 13). Yet love is a very slippery word that is often twisted, cheapened and distorted these days. While it may sound blasphemous at first, I would say that disordered love is the root of all evils (cf. 1 Tim 6:10). What is greed but a selfish love preventing one from giving in love to others? What is pride but an unhealthy love of oneself? Resentment remains when one chooses to love their bitterness toward another rather than choosing to
love their offender enough to forgive the offense. Similar evils stem from a disordered love of money, acceptance, sex, success, fame, status, nation, race, security and so on. So, the Beatles need to clarify the kind of love it is that we really need.
In today’s verse, Paul prays that the Philippians Jesus-followers would overflow more and more with the kind of love that is rooted in knowledge and insight. Why? Presumably because most of the time our love is rooted in something else-say, our desires, feelings, urges and impulses. If we are honest with ourselves, we can agree that we live in a culture where love is sold at discount price anywhere and everywhere.
The cheapest love you can buy is the kind that looks and feels really good at the moment and seems to come with little effort or sacrifice. For example, while true sexual intimacy comes by waiting patiently for one’s wedding night, we often settle by giving in to the temptation during a high school fling. Or, whereas love of ourselves comes naturally, the Christ-like love we are called to imitate learns to love one’s enemies-which is much more difficult. Or, we find momentary pleasure (or love) surfing pornographic Internet sights, when purity comes from sacrifice and resisting temptation.
Paul prays that we will not only love much, but that we will love well. We are called to have our minds conformed to the mind of Christ, so that our mind can tell our heart what is truly good and worthy of our love and devotion. That means that our minds must keep our heart’s desires in line, or else our heart will become captive to our flaky whims and natural desires which are, according to the Bible, marred by sin (Rom 6). The Bible warns elsewhere that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it” (Jer 17:9)?
Well, this is where Paul goes further than the Beatles. Paul desires that we would firmly anchor our affections, desires, longings, aspirations — our love! — all in a deep knowledge of God and what he has accomplished in Christ, and what he is thereby now calling us toward.
What is the point of anchoring our love in a deep knowledge of God and having greater vision into the deeper realities? Paul tells us: “…So that you can decide what is best” (Phil 1:10a). Wow, now this is a counter-cultural aim! Love what is best!? Not what is most pleasurable? Not what feels nice? Not what is easiest? Not what is most comfortable? Not what brings us more gain? Not what makes us look good to others? In a culture that seeks after what is cheaper, quicker, easier, more pleasurable and self-serving, Paul’s prayer for a higher love fits into our culture about as naturally as an elephant in a China Shop!
Paul knows that following the Revolutionary Rabbi is not the easier, more natural, more self-serving route. Yet, in the end, he has a deep knowledge and insight into the larger Story and is convinced that a life rooted “in Christ” is the only life worth living — “the life that is truly life” (John 10:10). Do we have that same knowledge and insight?
Do the things we love and chase after in our daily lives stem from a deeper well of knowledge and insight rooted in God’s revealed truth?
Or are we abounding more and more in the kind of love that is rooted in lesser things — convenience, pleasure, selfish gain, popularity, acceptance, etc?
So, I pray with Paul that we would all learn to choose “what is best.”