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Abounding Love

Philippians 1:3-11


by Tony Grant

I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the letter to the Philippians chapter one and follow along as I read verses 3-11. Hear what the Spirit says to us.

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,

5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.

8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;

10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;

11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.


Paul is praying for the Philippians, and for us, and his prayer is not that we will have more stuff but that we will have more love, that we will love God more and that we will love each other more. Love is the fulfilling of both the law and the gospel. In Philippians 1:9, the Apostle Paul applies love to our thinking. Love he said should "abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment." Love should so permeate our awareness that all our decision-making stems from love, that all our knowledge is based on love.

The kind of knowledge that the Apostle Paul is talking about is not the knowledge of science or technology. He is talking about people and our relationships with people, and, after our knowledge of God, that is the most important kind of knowledge. I read somewhere that success in business is due to 15% technical knowledge and to 85% personal relationships. No one is ever a success just because of technical knowledge. On the other hand, many people are successful without much technical knowledge, simply because other people like them.

When I was in college, the father of one of my roommates was a fabulously successful medical doctor. I visited in his home a few times, and I asked the father one day the secret of his success. He replied, "I try to have the best bedside manner in South Carolina." He frankly admitted that other doctors knew as much or more about medicine than he did. Yet he was far more successful than the average doctor—healed more people, made more money—because he could relate to people. This leads us then to a basic principle for life. If you want a successful and happy life, then you must bring people into your life.

And the way you do that is to apply love. You cannot be a success unless people like you, but people will not like you unless you like them. If you want to be loved, then you must love. No counterfeit will work. In PH1:10 another part of the Apostle Paul’s prayer is that "ye may be sincere"—because if you fake love, then you will know it, and eventually other people will sense it, and despise you for it. You must actually love and then you will be loved.

Now let us suppose that you have listened to everything I have said thus far, and you agree with me. You say, "All right, I need to apply love. How do I do it? Do not just say do it, tell me how." Fair enough. Let me give you three practical things that will cause love to abound in your life.

I. Develop an eye that can see a Different Point of View. I used to like to fish. I have not fished much in the last several years, but I have noticed this about fish. If I want to catch fish, I must bait the hook with something they like: Crappie like minnows; Trout like worms; Bass like lizards. Now I do not like to eat minnows or worms or lizards. I like chocolate cake and pizza—all that low calorie, low cholesterol stuff. But when I go fishing, I do not bait the hook with what I like; I bait it with what the fish like.

This has an application to applied love. If you want to catch friends instead of enemies, then you must develop to show an interest in what other people are interested in. This is a lesson that many people never learn. Let me be as blunt as I can. Nobody cares about what you like. They care about what they like. The easiest way to get someone to like you is to show an interest in what they like.

I remember an incident that happened when I was a child. One of my father's friends was visiting with us, and I had just made my first bow and a few arrows. Now the arrows were not very straight, and did not have feathers. They were just sharpened sticks with a notch at one end. But I was very proud of what I had done. My father’s friend came out into the yard where I was, and I showed him my handiwork, my bow and arrows. He asked me questions about how I had made the bow and how I had made the arrows. He asked me to shoot it so he could see how far the arrows would carry and how true they would fly. I had a wonderful long conversation with that man, and I thought that he was one of the most likeable people that I had ever met.

Now all these many years later, I realize that he probably was not all that interested in my child's bow and arrows, but he knew I was, and he was kind enough to me to develop an interest for my benefit. That is a technique of love.

Henry Ford said, "If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own." Now what Ford was talking about was selling automobiles. What he said was if you want to sell a man or a woman an automobile you have to understand how he or she thinks. You have to gain their confidence. Now I know that you can be hypocritical and can pretend to be concerned and loving in order to sale people anything, but that is not what Ford was talking about because he knew that that does not work in the long run. He meant exactly what he said—that the secret of success is to actually be able to see things from the other person’s angle—and that is the kind of eye that we all need.

Now to have that kind of eye does not mean that you must regard the other person as always right and yourself as always wrong. You may still think they are wrong, but at least you understand why they think the way they do.

So let us apply this. Let us apply it to our worst enemy.

Saddam Hussein was born in a small Iraqi village in April 1937. He was raised in an atmosphere that was fervently anti-British and anti-Western. At college in Baghdad, he joined the Baath party—and was exposed to more anti-western thought. He spent years in exile for trying to assassinate the prime minister. He spent years in jail for revolutionary activities. Finally in 1979, he became President of Iraq. He immediately executed dozens of his rivals.

President Saddam Hussein defends his oppressive dictatorship by arguing that nothing else will work in Iraq. With the Kurds in the north, Sunni Muslims in the center, and Shi'ia in the south, Saddam says that terror is the only way to keep the nation together. Some years ago, a European interviewer nervously quoted reports that the Baghdad authorities had tortured and killed people. The reporter asked if this was true. Saddam Hussein seemed surprised by the naivete of the question. "Of course," he replied. "What do you expect if they oppose the regime?" But his tactic of imposing his authority by terror has gone far beyond the occasional arrest and execution of opponents. In attempts to suppress the Kurds, he has systematically used chemical weapons. And in putting down a rebellion of Shi'ia in the south he razed whole towns to the ground.

In 1980, Saddam ordered a surprise attack on Iran. We should note that this was done with the approval and support of the United States and of all the other Arab states in the region. In those days a widespread coalition backed Saddam against the Ayatollahs. But Iranian resistance was stronger than Saddam had imagined. Eight years later, with hundreds of thousands of people killed and the country deep in debt, the Iranian war stumbled to a halt.

To solve his financial crisis, Saddam invaded Kuwait. This led to the 1991 Gulf War. During and after that war, Saddam Hussein displayed the qualities that make him an adored figure in the Arab world. On the streets of Arab cities, he is admired as a leader who has defied Israel and the United States. Saddam is thought to be a symbol of Arab steadfastness in the face of attempts to force Western Civilization on the whole world.

One thing is for sure, Saddam’s grip on Iraq is far stronger than anyone thought it could be. Somehow he survived the debacle of the 1991 Gulf War. You may remember that Saddam described that war as the "Mother of All Battles." As he tells it, Iraq won that war. I suppose that shows that he is not living in the same world as the rest of us.

Now as we are in the process of invading Iraq in the second Gulf war, Saddam boasts that Iraq can shrug off any Western military attack, that they will win. In some ways, Saddam seems like a clown. It is obvious that the Iraqis are not going to win this war. But he is a viscous clown who has killed thousands of his own people.

[this information derived from A BBC story By Middle East analyst Gerald Butt]

Now having given you that little biography of Saddam Hussein, I do not suppose that it has made you like him. That was not my intention. The point is that if we do not realize where he came from and how he was raised, we are never going to understand him, and we will continue to make mistakes such as we did in the 1980’s when we supported him. Knowing more about Saddam Hussein’s angle, as Henry Ford would put it, does not make us love him, but it certainly does help us to deal with him.

And we can apply this same principle not just to national affairs, but to our own lives. Develop a genuine understanding for what others are thinking and doing. If you have that then others will have confidence in you because they realize that you relate to them where they are. Think again about the doctor I mentioned who had the good bedside manner. Why did people have confidence in him? They were convinced that he was concerned about what they were concerned about. They wanted to get well. He wanted them to get well. That is what people respond to.

Have you ever wondered why most of us have such fond memories of mother. Mother cared about us. She put her arms around us and listened to us and saw our point of view, and that is abounding love, and if we are to love in fact as well as in theory that is what we must do.

II. Let us turn now to another element of applied love: The silent mouth of criticism. I once participated a prison ministry with some other ministers. Once a week, we would visit the county prison to talk with the inmates. I well remember one day sitting at a table talking with four or five prisoners. They all told me they were innocent. They all got a bum rap. They were victims of circumstances. Now, this went on for some time, and then a young black prisoner broke out laughing. He said to me, "Aint none of this so. You know, we wouldn’t be here if we wuz innocent." One honest man. But notice this: Most of those prisoners did not think of themselves as bad people. They rationalized away their misdeeds and put the blame on everyone else, and saw themselves as pretty good folks.

The lesson then is that if people in jail do not think that they are all that bad, how do you think other people look at themselves. They certainly do not think that they are bad. They see themselves as the good guys in the white hats. We all do. No one likes to think that they are evil or incompetent, and so if you accuse someone of being evil or incompetent, then they defend themselves, and they rationalize, and they do not like you.

Which is why most criticism is either useless or harmful. When you criticize people, you set yourself up as their judge. You put them on trial, and they respond to your judgment by defending themselves. You hurt their pride; their natural reaction is to do the same thing to you.

Consider this sample conversation: Wife to husband: "You bum, all you do is sit around dressed like a slob watching TV." Husband: "What do you mean? You are the slob. Look at the way you keep house." Think about that little exchange. The wife may have been right. The husband may be a slob. Does her criticism change anything? Not at all. All it does is provoke a counterattack. Now you begin to see the wisdom of Jesus when he said, Judge not that ye be not judged. Judge not because it is not going to do any good any way.

This is not to say that you should never speak your mind. It is OK to make suggestions and give advice, if you do it with the right attitude. If the person realizes that your suggestion, your advice stems from an attitude of love then that person may accept what you have to say. But criticism that puts down another person will never be accepted.

Abraham Lincoln was a man who learned a similar lesson. In 1863 after the Confederate Army was defeated at the battle of Gettysburg, General Meade, commanding the Union forces, had an opportunity to destroy Robert E Lee's Army of Northen Virginia, but Meade did nothing and Lee escaped back to Virginia, thus prolonging the war for another two years. When Lincoln learned of this blunder, he wrote General Meade a bitter stinging letter of rebuke. But Lincoln did not mail the letter. He wrote it and filed it, and it was not discovered until after his death.

Why did Lincoln not mail the letter? First, because he could see Meade's point of view. Meade had been through an awful battle. He had stopped Lee's advance into Pennsylvania, and Lincoln realized upon further thought that Meade and his army were probably just too tired and too spent to do anything. Secondly, there was no point in sending the letter, because Lee had already escaped. That situation could not be changed. All that Lincoln's rebuke could do then was to make Meade into a personal enemy, and Lincoln saw no reason to do that, so he applied love and did not send the message. Even so, we should apply love and not send messages of judgment and criticism.

III. Let us conclude then with a third thing that will cause love to abound in our lives—the word of appreciation. William James said, "The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated." The fact is that people will do almost any deed, will even risk their lives just to be appreciated. Now generally this drive for appreciation is good, and all the advances of our civilization derive from it.

But like anything else this drive can be distorted. Someone living a petty, frustrated life can try to gain appreciation in the wrong way—which may be the best explanation for why Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy. Oswald got a kind of distorted appreciation out of that despicable act in that no one today would remember him at all if he had not assassinated the President.

Now you might say, No one would want that kind of appreciation. Do not be foolish. Many people are so starved for any kind of recognition that even negative recognition is an improvement on their condition.

To take a less drastic example: Why do some kids disrupt classes in school? Because when the teacher pounces on them and chews them out, that is more attention than they get anywhere else in their lives. Now you might say, that is the wrong kind of attention. Yes, it is, but it is something. And William James was right. The desire to be appreciated is so strong that it has to be satisfied in some way. Which shows us how we should apply love. We should be lavish with our appreciation. That is a practical means of making us loveable, likeable people. If in a genuine, sincere way, you tell others something good about themselves, then they will like you. Tell them enough bad things about themselves, and you will start to wonder after awhile why so many people do not like you.

If that man who had the conversation with me when I was a child about my bow and arrows had ridiculed me, if he had said, "This is not going to work," or 'That is just a kid's toy," then I probably would have solved that problem by simply going somewhere else. Then the man would have said, "0h, what a rude child!"

But my father’s friend was not that way. He was a man who applied love to me. Now you might say, "That was a minor thing he did. He was nice to a kid. No big deal." But think on this: I remember what he said to this day—which shows you the power of love. You need to have this power in your life. You need to let love abound in your life. You need to develop the sympathetic eye, the uncritical mouth, and the word of appreciation. Amen.



If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last modified 4/22/03