“This is what I continue praying, that your love may abound still more and more.”—PHIL. 1:9.
SONG 3 “God Is Love“
1. Who helped form the congregation in Philippi?
WHEN the apostle Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy arrived in the Roman colony of Philippi, they found many people who were interested in the Kingdom message. These four zealous brothers helped form a congregation, and all the disciples began meeting together, likely at the home of a hospitable believer named Lydia.—Acts 16:40.
2. What challenge did that congregation soon face?
2 The young congregation soon faced a challenge. Satan stirred up enemies of the truth who fiercely opposed the preaching activity of these loyal Christians. Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten with rods, and imprisoned. After they were released from prison, they visited the new disciples and encouraged them. Then Paul, Silas, and Timothy left the city while Luke apparently remained there. How did the newly formed congregation fare? With the help of Jehovah’s spirit, the new believers forged ahead in Jehovah’s service. (Phil. 2:12) Paul had every reason to be proud of them!
3. As described at Philippians 1:9-11, what did Paul make a matter of prayer?
3 Some ten years later, Paul wrote a letter to the congregation in Philippi. As you read that letter, you can easily discern the love Paul had for his brothers. “I am longing for all of you with such tender affection as Christ Jesus has,” he wrote. (Phil. 1:8) He wrote them that he prayed in their behalf. He asked Jehovah to help them to abound in love, to make sure of the more important things, to be flawless, to avoid stumbling others, and to continue bearing righteous fruit. No doubt you will agree that we can benefit from Paul’s heartfelt words today. So let us read what Paul wrote to the Philippians. (Read Philippians 1:9-11.) We will then consider the points he mentioned and discuss how we can apply each of them.
ABOUND IN LOVE
4. (a) According to 1 John 4:9, 10, how has Jehovah expressed his love for us? (b) How much should we love God?
4 Jehovah expressed his great love for us by sending his Son to earth to die for our sins. (Read 1 John 4:9, 10.) God’s unselfish love moves us to love him. (Rom. 5:8) How much should we love God? Jesus answered that question when he told a Pharisee: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” (Matt. 22:36, 37) We do not want our love for God to be half-hearted. Rather, we want our love for him to grow stronger each day. Paul told the Philippians that their love should “abound still more and more.” What can we do to strengthen our love for God?
5. How can our love grow stronger?
5 We need to know God in order to love him. The Bible says: “Whoever does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8) The apostle Paul indicated that our love for God would grow stronger as we gain “accurate knowledge and full discernment” of Him. (Phil. 1:9) When we first studied the Bible, we developed love for God based on a limited knowledge of his wonderful qualities. Then the more we learned about Jehovah, the stronger our love for him became. No wonder we view regular Bible study and meditation on God’s Word as being among the most important things in our life!—Phil. 2:16.
6 God’s great love for us will move us to love our brothers. (Read 1 John 4:11, 20, 21.) We might think that love for our brothers and sisters will come naturally. After all, we worship Jehovah and strive to imitate his fine qualities. We follow the example of Jesus, whose love was so great that he gave his life in our behalf. Yet, we may at times find it difficult to obey the commandment to love one another. Consider an example in the Philippian congregation.
7. What do we learn from Paul’s admonition to Euodia and Syntyche?
7 Euodia and Syntyche were zealous sisters who had served “side by side” with the apostle Paul. Yet, they had perhaps allowed personal differences to cause a rift between them. In his letter to the congregation where those sisters served, Paul specifically named Euodia and Syntyche and gave them pointed admonition “to be of the same mind.” (Phil. 4:2, 3) Paul felt compelled to instruct the entire congregation: “Keep doing all things free from murmuring and arguments.” (Phil. 2:14) No doubt Paul’s straightforward counsel helped not only these loyal sisters but also the entire congregation to strengthen their bond of love for one another.
8. What is a major obstacle to loving our brothers, and how can we overcome it?
8 Like Euodia and Syntyche, we may face a major obstacle to cultivating a close bond of love with others—the tendency to focus on imperfections. All of us make mistakes every day. If we stay focused on the imperfections of others, our love for them will cool. For example, if a brother forgets to help us clean the Kingdom Hall, we may become irritated. If we then begin to list all the other mistakes we know our brother has made, our irritation will grow and our love for him will diminish. If you find yourself in a similar situation, it would be good to reflect on this fact: Jehovah sees our imperfections as well as those of our brother. Yet, in spite of these imperfections, he still loves our brother and he still loves us. For that reason, we need to imitate Jehovah’s love and keep a positive view of our brothers. When we work hard to love our brothers, we strengthen our bond of unity with them.—Phil. 2:1, 2.
“THE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS”
9. What are among “the more important things” Paul mentions in his letter to the Philippians?
9 Holy spirit inspired Paul to instruct those in Philippi—and all Christians—to “make sure of the more important things.” (Phil. 1:10) These important things include the sanctification of Jehovah’s name, the fulfillment of his purposes, and the peace and unity of the congregation. (Matt. 6:9, 10; John 13:35) When we build our life around these important things, we prove that we love Jehovah.
10. What must we do to be viewed as flawless?
10 Paul also said that we must “be flawless.” This does not mean that we must be perfect. We cannot be flawless to the degree that Jehovah God is flawless. But Jehovah will view us as flawless if we do our very best to deepen our love and make sure of the more important things. One way in which we show our love is by doing our utmost to avoid stumbling others.
11. Why must we avoid stumbling others?
11 The instruction to avoid stumbling others is really a warning. How might we stumble someone? We could do so by our choice of entertainment, our choice of clothing, or even our choice of employment. What we do may not be wrong in itself. But if the choices we make offend someone else’s conscience and he or she is stumbled, that matters. Jesus said that we would be better off having a heavy stone tied around our neck and being tossed into the sea than we would be if we stumbled one of his sheep!—Matt. 18:6.
12. What do we learn from the example set by one pioneer couple?
12 Note how one pioneer couple took Jesus’ warning to heart. They served in a congregation along with a newly baptized couple who came from a very conservative background. This new couple believed that Christians should not go to the movies—even to see wholesome movies. They were shocked when they learned that the pioneer couple had seen a movie. After that, the pioneer couple refrained from going to the movies until the new disciples were able to train their own consciences to be more balanced. (Heb. 5:14) By their unselfish action, the pioneer couple proved that they loved their new brother and sister not just in word but in deed.—Rom. 14:19-21; 1 John 3:18.
13. How might we induce someone to commit a sin?
13 Another way we could stumble someone is to induce him to commit a sin. How could that happen? Consider this scenario. After a long, hard struggle, a Bible student is finally able to control his addiction to alcohol. He realizes that he must abstain from it completely. He makes rapid progress and gets baptized. Later, a well-meaning host of a Christian gathering urges the new brother to accept an alcoholic beverage, saying: “You are a Christian now; you have Jehovah’s spirit. One aspect of the holy spirit is self-control. If you exercise self-control, you should be able to make moderate use of alcohol.” We can only imagine what the consequences would be if the new brother were to listen to that misguided advice!
14. How do Christian meetings help us to apply the instructions given at Philippians 1:10?
14 Our Christian meetings help us to apply the instructions given at Philippians 1:10 in a number of ways. First, the program of rich spiritual food reminds us of what Jehovah considers to be more important. Second, we learn how to apply what we learn so that we may be flawless. And third, we are incited “to love and fine works.” (Heb. 10:24, 25) The more we are encouraged by our brothers, the more our love for our God and for our brothers will grow. When these two great loves fill our heart, we will do our very best to avoid stumbling our brothers.
CONTINUE TO “BE FILLED WITH RIGHTEOUS FRUIT”
15. What does it mean to “be filled with righteous fruit”?
15 Paul prayed earnestly that the Philippians would “be filled with righteous fruit.” (Phil. 1:11) No doubt this “righteous fruit” included their love for Jehovah and his people. That would also include their speaking to others about their faith in Jesus and their wonderful hope. Philippians 2:15 uses another illustration, namely, “shining as illuminators in the world.” That is fitting because Jesus called his disciples “the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14-16) He also commanded his followers to “make disciples,” and he said that they would “be witnesses . . . to the most distant part of the earth.” (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8) We bear “righteous fruit” when we actively share in this most important work.
16. How does Philippians 1:12-14 show that we can shine as illuminators even under challenging circumstances? (See cover picture.)
16 No matter what our circumstances, we can shine as illuminators. In some cases, what seems to be an obstacle to declaring the good news may turn out to be an opportunity for us to preach. The apostle Paul, for example, was under house arrest in Rome when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. But his chains did not hold him back from preaching to his captors and to visitors. Paul preached zealously under these circumstances, and this gave the brothers confidence and courage “to speak the word of God fearlessly.”—Read Philippians 1:12-14; 4:22.
17. Give a modern-day example of bearing fruit under difficult circumstances.
17 Many of our brothers and sisters have the opportunity to follow Paul’s courageous example. They live in countries where they cannot preach openly or from door to door, so they find other ways to declare the good news. (Matt. 10:16-20) In one such country, a circuit overseer suggested that each publisher cover his own preaching “territory” made up of relatives, neighbors, schoolmates, workmates, and acquaintances. Within two years, the number of congregations in that circuit increased significantly. We may not live in a country where we cannot preach openly. However, we can learn a valuable lesson from the example of our resourceful brothers and sisters: Always look for ways to have a full share in the ministry, confident that Jehovah will give you the power you need to overcome any obstacle.—Phil. 2:13.
18. What should we be determined to do?
18 At this momentous time, may we be determined to apply the inspired counsel found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. May we make sure of the more important things, be flawless, avoid stumbling others, and bear righteous fruit. Then we will abound in love and bring honor to our caring Father, Jehovah.
SONG 25 Proof of Discipleship
^ par. 5 Now more than ever, we need to strengthen our love for our brothers. The letter to the Philippians helps us to see how we can abound in love, even when we face challenges.
^ par. 54 PICTURE DESCRIPTIONS: During Kingdom Hall cleaning, one of the brothers, Joe, stops working to talk with a brother and his son. This irritates Mike, the brother who is vacuuming. He thinks, ‘Joe should be working, not talking.’ Later, Mike observes how Joe gently assists an elderly sister. This heartwarming scene reminds Mike to think more about his brother’s good qualities.
^ par. 58 PICTURE DESCRIPTIONS: In a country where Witnesses cannot preach openly, a brother discreetly shares the Kingdom message with an acquaintance. Later, during a break at his place of work, the brother witnesses to a workmate.