As Paul begins his letter to the Philippians he sounds a strongly positive note. Though challenges, exhortations, and even admonishments, are sometimes needed, it is always good to be positive. (Am I/are you sufficiently positive? Do I have a reputation as an encourager?)
Paul’s prayers are both constant and marked with joy. (How would I describe my prayers? What are the various elements contained in my conversation with God – and are they in the right balance?)
Paul is glad because of their sharing in the gospel. (How do I share in the gospel? How do I share the gospel? Are those two different?) Living a gospel life should have an impact on everything I do. One of the way that I find most helpful in trying to describe that is to ask to what extent do I demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit which Paul lists in Galatians 5:22 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Would others use those words to describe how I live?)
Paul goes on to talk about God at work in them and, in particular, to mention the influences that stem from God’s grace. (Perhaps this is no different from a question I have already posed, but – how is God’s grace at work, and seen to be at work, in me?)
Then, in verses 9 and 10, Paul’s prayer reaches a kind of crescendo – And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best.
God’s generosity is amazing, and the image of ‘overflowing’ is one of the best descriptions of this. I have always liked how the psalmist puts it – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. I always remember how a colleague illustrated that. She was leading us in a celebration of Communion. She opened a bottle of wine and started pouring it into the chalice. The chalice took so much wine, and then was full, but she kept pouring. Naturally, it overflowed. It was messy (though she had taken precautions to take care of that) – but what an apt illustration of the abundant love of God.
In the end – verse 11 – it is all about the glory and praise of God. How right to come before God with awe and reverence, recognising the multitude of ways in which we experience God’s love. (Is that what drives me? How do I experience God’s abundant grace? How is that seen in how I live?)
Sharing in God’s grace is indeed sustaining.