Driving into town this morning I listened to a sermon on Phil. 1:9-11. The sermon's theme was discovering God's will for our lives as believers, and the speaker made two points. He said that whatever decisions we make in life must involve moral purity on our part and God's glory on his part. So when I got to Bo's I decided to do a little analysis of this paragraph.
Its basic structure looks something like this.
These verses all form one long sentence in Greek. Clearly there is only one main theme and that theme is love. Our love as Christians should be plentiful, Paul says. We are to "abound still more and more in love" for one another. We are to continue to love, yes, but we are to do it more and more. If you ask "How can you increase something that is already overflowing?" just leave the water hose on and walk away, like I did the other day. Not only did the donkey's water trough get filled up, the pasture got flooded.
So that's Paul MAIN point here. Below I've circled the two points made by the speaker in this morning's message and you will see that neither of them are main clauses. Both points are important, to be sure, but they are subordinate to the passage's main idea.
Of course, I'm pointing one finger at the speaker and three at myself here. I shudder to think how many times I've majored on the minors in a text, only to leave the main idea high and dry. At any rate, I love this passage. And I think we can all agree that love is the hallmark of the Christian life. It is the culminating virtue of the believer. And, says Paul, our love as Christians should be plentiful. Think about it. As believers we have an unlimited capacity to love. Hence we should never become content with the level of love we are currently expressing. None of my kids or grandkids should ever feel love-starved. None of my students should either. Or my friends. To be sure, Paul is not reducing love to mere sentimentality. That's the rest of the paragraph, where he shows us how love is to be discerning, love is to be pure, love is to glorify God, etc. As one of my former mentors put it, "A lump in the throat is no excuse for a hole in the head." But every other clause in this paragraph stems from the one basic idea of overflowing love.
To close, here's my translation of Phil. 1:9-11.
"My prayer for you is that you will keep on overflowing more and more with love for one another while growing in spiritual knowledge and depth of discernment. Then you will always be able to test and approve the things in this life that are excellent and be pure and without offense on the day when Christ returns. This is possible because you have already been filled with the fruit of your salvation -- the truly good qualities that only Jesus Christ can produce, for the glory and praise of God."
Pray for love!