Now we're turning for our reading to the epistle to the Philippians, Paul's epistle to the Philippians, and chapter 1. Several weeks ago I found myself in the study longer than usual, and that's saying something because I'm in it most of the week, but for some reason I couldn't understand why I wasn't getting through the study - and now I know, because this is still the first sermon on the book of Philippians that we were meant to have three weeks ago! It has been split into three sermons because there's so much in it really, because Paul is giving us, in his introductory verses of this epistle, all of the themes that he wants to bring out of this book to the Philippians. We've been taking our time going over it as an introduction, and our title has been 'A Pastor's Joy in His People', and this is the third part of that.
Let's read the first 11 or so verses, beginning at verse 3: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 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: 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. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God".
Paul says in verses 3 and 4 that he prays for these Philippians in every prayer of his making mention, specific mention, of each of them and all of their needs, with joy. Of course, we know that this epistle has been entitled by many people as 'The Epistle of Joy' - joy being not the result of certain happenings and circumstances that come into our lives that bring us happiness for a season, but joy which is something that is spiritual, something that is engendered by God's Holy Spirit and transcends even the darkest and most sorrowful circumstances that can enter into all of our lives. It is progress through suffering, not to be translated out of life's difficulties, but to know that as we go through life difficulties there is the personal presence of God Almighty through them in us and with us.
Of course, we've learnt in this introduction that there are five elements of God's Spirit-engendered joy that relates to us, and relates to us as how we relate to other believers. In verse 3 we saw that that joy is brought to us as we recollect the blessings that others bring into our lives. He says: 'I have you in my mind, I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. When I even think of you as my friends and my beloved brothers and sisters in Philippi, it brings me great joy to have you in my mind'. Then we look at verse 4, he says that he makes mention of them always in prayer, and we see that his joy comes to him because he has intercession for others. We saw that one mark of self-centredness inevitably manifests itself in prayerlessness - when you only think of yourself you only pray for yourself, and when you only pray for yourself you never think of others or pray for others, but one thing that marked Paul's joy was that he was selfless, especially in his intercession for others, and that brought him great joy to his heart.
In verse 5 we saw that joy was brought to him because of their participation in the service of the gospel with him. They preached this gospel with him, and when he left them they continued to preach the gospel, but we see in chapter 4 in the book of Acts that when he needed physical ministrations to himself - finance, specifically - these Philippians, who were very poor, ministered to Paul out of their poverty. First of all we see in Corinthians that the Macedonians gave themselves unto the Lord, and because they had already given themselves unto the Lord they gave all that they had financially unto the Lord for the furtherance of the gospel - that's why Paul could rejoice that they were fellow labourers with him in the gospel of Christ. We asked ourselves: how do we sacrifice, how do we give for the cause of the gospel?
In verse 6 we then found that his joy was engendered by an anticipation of perfection - what a verse! We spent the whole of that previous Sunday, before Bill Freel came and ministered to us, looking at verse 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". I know it was a great joy for me to be able to take my eyes off myself for a change and focus my eyes upon Jesus, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Initiator and 'Finishiator' of everything that we are. He has begun the good work, He will continue the good work, and He will ultimately consummate the good work in the day of Jesus Christ, when He will present us faultless, blameless before the throne of His heavenly Father with great - what? Joy!
I hope that brings you great joy too. It is the joy of the sculptor when he looks at a big slab of rock and stone, and you or I with our eyes can't see any beauty or any artistic talent even that has gone into it, but it is the sculptor's eye that sees what it's going to be, he sees what he wants. That is God's plan with us - people may look at us, you may look at other believers, you may even look into your own heart and think: 'Well, how will I ever be perfect? How will God ever make something of my life? Look at the failure that I have even committed in the week that has gone by!'. But I want you to see not from your perspective or others perspective, but from God's perspective: not what you are, but what one day He is going to make you to be! That changes everything.
One old saint of God put it like this: 'The Lord always looks at His people as they will be when they're done' - the Lord always looks at His people as they will be when they're done! Well, there's enough joy there to keep us going through the whole series, I think you'll agree with me, but we have one more to look at before we launch full-speed into the whole of this little epistle. It is simply this: Paul had great joy in his heart because of his affection for his brothers and sisters in Christ, because of his affection for his brothers and sisters in Christ. Specifically that is found in verses 7 to 11 that we're going to look at today. Look at verse 7: 'Even as it is meet', some translations put it, 'Even as it is right for me to think this of you all'. This was something that is more than appropriateness, something that was Paul's duty morally or spiritually, it's more than just rightness - not something that is expected of the saint of God, but something that was required! 'It is required', Paul is saying, 'that I have an affection toward you' - why? 'Because I have you in my heart'. He says: 'It is right for me to think this of you, it's right for me to have an affection of you, and it's right for me that this affection should begin in my heart'. Isn't that interesting, that he doesn't say that this affection comes from the heart, he says it comes first and foremost from the head? 'It is right for me to think this of you'.
That's very interesting, because through the pop culture in which I know that I have grown up in and many of you young people have grown up in, love is portrayed as a feeling. We have to be very careful that we don't have a feeling-less love as Christians, and there is an emotional element to love and devotion, even towards God, and there is something that must have feeling. We must be careful that as fundamental Christians we do not become feeling-less Christians. But we must also be careful to notice where the feelings ought to come from, and where love ultimately ought to stem from, and what the seed of love must be. It always must generate from the mind. Love starts in the mind. A contemporary Christian artist called Don Francisco has a song, and one of the lines within it says: 'Love is not a feeling, it's an act of your will'. Love is not a feeling, it is an act of your will - and that's true, 'charity' in the Authorised Version that you find in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, that is a good translation. It's sometimes misunderstood today, and that's why we often substitute it with 'love', but 'charity' is a good translation - why? Because charity is the thought of love in action, and that is what love really is - it is an action. But you know that an action is only an execution of a thought.
So you see that there's much more in love than just a feeling, before the feeling comes and act of your will, and before that act of your will comes a thought - and that's why Paul goes to the very source of his love and his affection toward these Philippians, and he says: 'It is right for me to think this of you all'. The mind is so important in the Christian life, and sadly today many Christians are encouraged to set aside the mind. We don't really interpret spirituality as being intellectualism, we don't agree with that, we don't believe it's important for you to have degrees in theology to be spiritual or even to preach the gospel or anything like that - but what we must beware of is an anti-intellectualism that sets aside the mind, and that encourages us not to think at all. Whenever we look at the source of all our love, whether it be our love to God and to Christ, and even our love to other brothers and sisters, it begins in the mind! When we contemplate and meditate upon what God has done for us, and indeed what our other brothers and sisters are toward us in Christ, it makes that affection well up within our hearts - but it starts in our mind.
Well, let's move on because he had great joy in praising God because of this deep affection that began in his mind, that started with an act of his will, but he says this - he said in verse 3: 'I have you in my mind', and now he's saying in verse 7: 'I have you in my heart'. There's two things that I want you to see today from these verses. The first is found in verses 7 and 8, and it is Paul's example to us, Paul's example to us with regards to his affection toward his brothers and sisters in Christ. The second thing is Paul's prayer for us in verses 9, 10 and 11, when he prays for us that we would have certain characteristics, certain attributes, that would help us and enable us to love our brothers and sisters the right way in the Lord Jesus.
So let's look first of all at verses 7 and 8, Paul's example to us. He says: 'I have you in my heart'. So they're in his mind, but they have moved now from his mind into his heart - and I want to ask you this question: you may have your brothers and sisters in Christ all around you in your mind on a regular basis, they may even be in your prayers as you're on your knees before the throne of grace, but what I want to ask you - and I'm asking myself this - are they in your heart? That's a different thing. I think it was the founder of OM, George Verwer, that talked about the 18 inch journey that is such a distance for most Christians to make, and that is the journey from the head to the heart. It's probably the longest journey in the universe, but it's the journey that we as Bible-leaving Christians have to struggle with - not just filling our minds with knowledge, but that knowledge is being almost precipitated and falling as rain and dew into our hearts and making us the type of people and creatures that God wants us to be in the new covenant.
There are many Christians that we may be able to say of: 'I have you on my nerves'! But it's hard to say: 'I have you in my heart'. Let me please make you aware that Paul isn't being pretentious when he's talking like this, this isn't an arm round your brother or sister and saying: 'Oh, I love you', and it's really hot air, there's no depth to it. This is not hypocritical, and what proves that it's not pretentious or hypocritical is the fact that the apostle is bursting with it - he can't hide the love that he has for his brothers and sisters in Christ, and it overflows in the great joy that he has as he prays for them, as he thinks about them, and now as he expresses to them the love that is deep down in his heart.
Now we're very good, as New Testament believers, at listing for everyone on Sunday the evidences of salvation: you've to leave sin, you've to repent of your sin, you've to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and have believed in Him by faith - of course upon the foundation of grace alone. We know all of this, and we're not to add to the Gospel and we're not to take away, and that is what the Gospel is. Then we go on to the proof of salvation: we need to have a love for the Lord and follow Him and obey His commandments - but so much of the time we forget that one of the fundamental evidences of salvation in the life of the human being is love! It is a love that is expressed not just to God, but to our neighbour and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of these days, it's in the back of my mind, I hope it's there from God, maybe I'll get round to doing a series, I would love to do a series - and don't one of you do it now that I've told you this! - a series on our neighbour.
Well, 1 John chapter 3, here's a verse we could start on: 'We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren'. We know! When? 'How do I know I'm saved? I mean, I'd be turning up Romans 10:13 'Him that calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved'' - what does John say? You know that you're saved - do you love your brother? It's challenging stuff, but really what it's saying is that this love between one another is a spiritual lubrication that keeps the machinery of life within the church running smoothly. Paul expresses it by saying: 'It is meet to think this of you all'. He doesn't separate any particular clique or group that meets for supper on a specific night - it's 'you all'! He loves them all, he doesn't want to leave any of them out, and at least nine times in this epistle he uses this phrase 'you all'. It's an inclusive love, an all-inclusive love.
Now here's the proof of his love, and this is tremendous because it's not just in his head and it's not just in his heart, but it's something that overflows in his actions towards them. You go on and read in verse 7: 'Inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace'. 'Ach Paul, you've told us you're praying for us. Paul, you've told us that you have us in your head, you've even told us that you have us in your heart - but how do we know that you really love us?'. 'I'm in prison for you! That's how you know that I love you! I am the apostle unto the Gentiles in the bonds of Jesus Christ for you all! When I stood up and preached the Gospel and defended it I was stoned, when I stood before the court and defended it I was whipped and beaten and left for dead, on occasions I was so many days and nights in the deep for the Gospel - that's how you know that I love you!'.
Love is not something that is to be talked, but something that is to be practised. How is it to be practised? Well, we've many evidences in scripture, but what I want you to see specifically today is that this is not something that you walk out of the Iron Hall this morning and say: 'Right, new slate! I'm going to love everybody', and you go out and kiss everybody and hug everybody, and you come back tonight and bring presents back to everybody and wee cards telling them that you love them so much - this is not something that you can work up. We know this because Paul says this, that he has this love in his heart, but he attributes the source of this love as being the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 8: 'For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ'. This isn't something that you can just decide to do, although there has to come a time in response to obedience to God that you decide to do it, but it's something that is supernatural in its origin and in its source. It must come out of a fellowship, a communion, and a joining between you and Jesus Christ - because ultimately it's not your love, it's the very affection of Jesus Christ!
God doesn't do this in us, specifically, Paul is saying that this is something that God does through us. One translation puts it well: 'in the affections, or in the love of Jesus Christ'. It's not the fact the Holy Spirit is getting across that Paul's love was channelled through the name and the person of Christ, but rather Christ's love is being channelled through the personality and the individual of Paul the apostle! Now sometimes in the quaint translation of the Authorised Version there are some statements that are very hard to grapple with, and this is one of them: 'I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ'. You think to yourself sometimes: 'Oh, surely there's a better translation than that?'. Sometimes there may be, sometimes words have changed, and we can change this to 'affection', change it to 'love', but sometimes when we change these words we lose the real impact of what is being said in the ancient world. The reason I say that is because the bowels were seen in the ancient world as not part of our digestive production, but rather not part our eating system, but the seat of the affections, the place where we loved from, the real guts of our personality, our being, where we have our deep emotional reactions - they're supposed to register, according to the ancient mind, down here in the bowels of the human being. It's a kind of centre of our sympathetic nervous system, our physical sensations of shock and nausea and compassion and love come from it - and you can testify to that even yourself, at times when you see an awful scene, or you feel afraid, or you get a great shock, you feel your tummy going - and I can feel it going even this morning, but it's not because of that, it's for other reasons! You can feel that there are affections and movings that come here from down deep in your being, and what Paul is saying is that it's as if that part of Jesus Christ physically was taken and translated into something spiritual and was transplanted into my body, that I am longing and loving after you with His affections!
Well, this is something else. Have you ever experienced that? I can say that I've experienced love, I would hope that I've experienced maybe the love of God through me to another, but I wonder at times have I really experienced the actual love of the Lord Jesus Christ being administered in me, through me, to other people? That I am actually feeling His emotions? We're on holy ground today, and I have to be very careful, but this thought is just coming to me now that in Hebrews it talks of our Lord Jesus as being a Great High Priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but this really turns that on its head for a moment, doesn't it? We become touched with the feelings of His infirmities, as He looks on human nature and human beings, and even as He looks on other believers in Christ whom we are joined to in His own body, and He loves after them as He has deep affection over them - that we feel it?
Romans chapter 5, I think, really speaks of this when it says: 'God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us, He has shed His love abroad in our hearts'. Well, that's what Paul says, but have we experienced that? That's Paul's example to us, but I want to take you on further to Paul's prayer for us that we might have this as our experience in our lives. His example is: 'I have you in my heart', but his prayer is: 'I have you in my prayer'. The first thing that he prays for, you'll find, is in verse 9 and that is that the same love: 'that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment'. First and foremost, now note these down - and please, if you're coming to these meetings, bring a pen and a paper with you. I have no fear of being taken for granted, but I'll tell you this: when I labour in the study and before God, I would hate to think that these truths are just going in one ear and out the other, and you're forgetting them all - so bring a pen and a paper and jot this down.
This is what Paul wants you to pray for yourself, so that you can love other believers, and what he was praying for you: one, an abounding love, an abounding love. Mr Ways (sp?) translates it like this, this whole section that we've read, and this is tremendous, listen: 'This is a love that rises higher and higher to its fullest development in recognition of the truth, and in a comprehensive grasp of its application; thus furnishing you with a sure test of what is true excellence, so that you may remain untainted by error, unstumbling amidst obstacles, till the day of Messiah's appearing, bearing the while a full harvest of righteousness attained through Jesus our Messiah and redounding to the praise and glory of God' - now that's tremendous! He prays for a life filled, penetrated, permeated, by such a love that will eventually lead you to be a mature Christian in the way that you will have most sensitive virtues toward other believers, and you will have the highest knowledge of God and men that is possible - and that is only possible, Paul says, if you have love!
You hear the saying: 'Love is blind', and that may be true of an airy fairy, silly affection, but I'll tell you this: this divine love brings not blindness but the highest knowledge of divine truth that is possible. Paul is saying that through this love we enter the most exciting exhilarating experiences of the highest expressions of love that are possible in life! An abounding love...well, how can we tell that we're abounding in love toward other believers? Well, the first thing is that you'll be concerned about them. I haven't time to go into all this, but let me leave you with a verse, 1 John 3:18: 'My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth'. You will be concerned about other people. Another thing: you will be willing to forgive other people - that's a hard one for some people to swallow. First Peter 4:8: 'And above all things have fervent charity' - love - 'among yourselves: for charity shall cover a multitude of sins'.
Paul put it probably the most succinctly in 1 Corinthians 13 verse 5 when he said this, and one translation puts it like this: 'Love keeps no record of wrongs'. Do you keep a record of wrongs of what your brother and sister in Christ has done to you? 'I can never forgive them for that!'. If you can never forgive them for that, you will never love them because of that. An abounding love, we must move on: he prays for a perceptive love. Now this is interesting because love is not all-inclusive of error, it doesn't mean that you just have to love everything whether it's true or false, but it's something that the translation that Mr Way gave that I read out to you, he translates it like this: 'This is a love that remains untainted by error and unstumbling amidst obstacles' - it's a discerning love. I believe what Paul specifically means in this context is that this is a love not only that will enable you to perceive error and truth, but it is a love that will enable you to perceive how best to love other people. A love that will tell you how to best love others!
Paul says: 'I pray that you will increase in knowledge and depth of understanding', that literally could be translated: 'in all judgement, depth of insight, that you'll be able to discern what's best for other people' - to distinguish the things that are really good for a person and the things that really matter from a variety of competing possibilities. It can all be summed up in this question: do you know how to love someone? I mean, if we all went home and made a list out on 'How could I love my brother?' - usually the answers, I would imagine, that would be given by most of us would be: don't be cruel to him, don't say nasty things to him, don't give him angry looks - it's all negative! But it is positives that Paul is talking about: 'Oh that God would give us an abounding love, but oh that God would give us a perceptive love that would see the needs that there are in other people's lives, so that we could love them positively, love them intelligently, and meet the needs that they have'.
We must move on, a sincere love, he says. He says that you will be sincere: '...That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be', verse 10, 'sincere and without offence till the day of Christ'. The English word 'sincere' comes from the Latin which means 'without wax'. Carpenters, not too good carpenters mind you, but in olden days they used to carve things out, and if they made a fault or a flaw they used to conceal it with wax, and when the wax hardened they painted over it and varnished over it. Even a sculptor, when he was sculpting out of the rock, he would fill in the cracks and the faults and his lack of skill with wax - it would be just furnished over - but 'sincere' means 'without wax'! Without faults, without insincerity, to be pure, to be unsullied, it means to be transparent in your love for others, to be known on the outside for what you are on the inside, to be seen through and through - it is the exact antithesis and the opposite of what it is to be a hypocrite!
The word 'hypocrite' comes from the Greek which means to be an actor, and there are people that come in - probably the greatest theatre at times is the church, where people come on the stage with their Bible and with their great suit, and with their great oratory, and their flowery theological language - but the outside is not a reflection of what is on the inside! If there is true love, and if we love in the bowels of Jesus Christ, there will be a love that is transparent. Secondly there will be a love that is truthful, Abraham Lincoln said: 'I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light that I have. I must stand with anybody who stands right, I must stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong'. It must be a transparent love, it must be a truthful love, it must be a real love!
During the war there was a radio play that was conducted by actors, and they were called 'The Free Company', and one of the players was heard to say over the airwaves one day to a companion actor: 'You sound like a preacher, only it sounds real'. You sound like a preacher, only it sounds real! What perception are we giving to the world in our airwaves? What are we communicating to them? What am I communicating through the pulpit? Am I communicating that this is a role; that this is something that I do on a Sunday; that this is something that I just have to get through for half an hour, and you've to get through, and then we all go home and we go through the motions again? Is that what we are? Is it like watching the television? 'That was a good show today', and we'll go home and we'll talk about it? Is it transparent? Is it truthful? And is it real?
If it's sincere it will be without offence, without falseness, it will never make anybody stumble to the day of Jesus Christ until we stand before the judgement seat - and fourthly and finally it's a fruitful love. Verse 11: 'Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God' - a fruitful love! This is a love that will give you a holy character. This is different than the fruits of faith, this is not in relation to our service or our activity for God, but this has got to do with our personality, got to do with our character that is dominated by love - not what we do for God, but who and what we are for Him. Love is the root of all righteousness, righteousness is the fruit and love is the root - the root is idealistic, what we believe; but the fruit is realistic, what people see that we are!
What a love Paul had for these believers. F. B. Meyer said the apostle had got so near the very heart of the Lord that he could hear its throb, he could detect its beat, nay it seemed as though the tender mercies of Jesus to these Philippians were throbbing in his own heart! As if the heart of Christ dwelt in Paul! Because he had the heart of Christ his compassion was transformed in all of his human relationships, and it placed his love from a natural and emotional plain onto a supernatural and divine plain - and it enabled him, like God, to love people who are unlovely, to love the unthankful, to love the indifferent, and compelled him even to pray for those whom he loved.
The three themes that we have looked at in this introduction all tell us how to be joyful Christians, and how to be a joyful church. Now listen carefully as I close here today, because this is important: one, the unity of the church will bring us all joy. Do you see if you're a divisive spirit? Stop it or get out! The unity of the church brings joy, the faithful partnership in the Gospel as we work together brings joy, and the growth of our knowledge one toward another as we try to find out how we can love one another better - all of this will bring great joy as we fellowship with one another! Do you remember what they said about the early Church? It marked them: 'Look how they love one another!', it's almost said sarcastically today: 'Look how they love one another'! Our impact on this generation today, I believe, is dependent on how the church gets on with each other.
Paul said: 'Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mystery, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not charity, I am nothing'. You know that I love poetry, and I want to read you a poem as we close, it just epitomises and summarises everything that we've learnt so far, and especially what we have learnt this morning. Listen carefully, it's a prayer, I don't know who the author is:
'There was a time when in my daily prayer
I asked for all the things I deemed most fair,
And necessary to my life -- success,
Riches, of course, and ease, and happiness;
A host of friends, a home without alloy;
A primrose path of luxury and joy,
Social distinction, and enough of fame
To leave behind a well-remembered name.
Ambition ruled my life. I longed to do
Great things, that all my little world might view
And whisper, "Wonderful!"
Ah, patient God,
How blind we are, until Thy shepherd's rod
Of tender chastening gently leads us on
To better things!
Ah, Love divine, how empty was that prayer
Of other days! That which was once so fair --
Those flimsy baubles which the world calls joys
Are nothing to me now but broken toys,
Outlived, outgrown. I thank Thee that I know
Those much-desired dreams of long ago,
Like butterflies, have had their summer's day
Of brief enchantment and have gone. I pray
For better things.
Thou knowest, God above,
My one desire now -- Teach me to love'.
Let's pray, and let's ask ourselves as we bow our heads: do we really know that experience in our hearts of the love of God being shed abroad, poured into our hearts? Do we know what it is to feel with the emotions of Jesus Christ, because we have the thoughts that He thinks through the word of God? Can we pray for that abounding, perceptive, sincere, and fruitful love? And will we go away from this meeting now and pray that we will find ways, ingenious ways, of loving our brethren and sisters?
Father, we thank Thee for the love of Jesus, how deep is the love of Jesus - vast, unmeasured, boundless and free - that four-dimensional love that we cannot measure. Lord we pray that it would be poured into our hearts, that it will overflow not only to Thyself as His great love did when He was on the earth and as it still does in glory, but our Father, that it would overflow to those around us in Christ, in the church, and those around us in this district - that they would see the love of God in us, that they would see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. Oh, breathe on us breath of God, fill us with life anew, that we may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth tape in his Philippians series, titled "A Pastor's Joy In His People Part 3" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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