Philippians 1:9-11 “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
Paul’s knowledge of this congregation was better than anyone else’s in the world. He was sure that God had begun a good work in them, and so God would carry it on to completion until the day of Christ. Their perseverance in grace was absolutely inevitable, like the daylight following the sunrise, like the control of gravity. If God begins to work in someone’s life, giving faith and repentance, making everything new, then that work is going to progress by a divinely initiated momentum, and it must come to its own designated climax. It will happen. God has decreed that this shall take place.
So pastor Paul can sit back and do nothing, can he? May he forget about them? Will he just spectate Lydia and the jailer and all the other church members as this work of God carries on in their lives? No! Paul writes a comprehensive letter to advise and teach them, and he also prays for them. So, God is going to carry on his own work in their lives to its very completion, and the apostle is going to pray for them. He talks about all his prayers for all of them (v.3), suggesting that he often prayed for them. Why did he bother to pray? Wasn’t it all predestinated anyway? We pray not because we have resolved the difference between divine sovereignty and human responsibility but because the Lord Jesus has said that men ought always to pray (Lk.18:1). The Christ himself, Paul’s Lord, the enfleshed Sovereignty of God, was pre-eminently a man of prayer. If ever there was a person whom you’d think didn’t need to pray it would be God incarnate, but he was on his knees speaking to his Father. So prayer cannot be redundant for us. Paul’s praying for the Philippian church, like his preaching to them, was a means God used to finish the work God had begun. What greater incentive to praying could there be than knowing this fact, that our asking God to help people is itself the machinery God has designed to start and complete his work in those people’s lives? Joseph Hart says it in such a sweetly memorable way (and if I repeat this twice your ready memories will retain it for ever):
“Prayer was appointed to convey
The blessings God designs to give.
Long as they live should Christians pray;
For only while they pray they live.”
Here are some examples: in the country of Babylon Daniel read the prophecies of Jeremiah and understood that the time to restore Israel back to their land was at hand. What did Jeremiah do? Sit back and watch and wait for it all to happen? No. He set himself earnestly to pray for this to occur (Dan. 9:2&3). When King David learned that it was God’s purpose to establish David’s house he prayed earnestly, “Now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised! . . . Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant . . .” (2 Sam. 7:25-29). Again, though the Lord Jesus himself knew that all that the Father had given him would come to him, and that he would raise them up in the last day yet, in his high priestly prayer, Christ prayed for their preservation. God said they would persevere, but this did not prevent Christ praying that they might. Rather it gave him encouragement that his prayers would be answered!
Paul’s knowledge that God had begun a work in these Philippian Christians and that he would most certainly finish what he had started did not create a spirit of complacency in Paul. It was the very reverse. It gave him hope to believe that his prayers were not in vain. He was praying according to the will of God. So he prayed frequently and fervently for these particular people. He knew that their times were in God’s hands, and that their future consisted of walking with God. “Help them, Lord!” cried Paul. “Encourage them to do what I’m telling them in this letter.”
Imagine a man who gains the heart of a fair lady. She accepts his proposal of marriage, and one day they stand at the front of a church where she promises to take him as her husband to love and obey him until death separates them. She does not believe in divorce. She will remain faithful to him. What does that knowledge and that love do for him? Does he say, “Well, all that is settled. I needn’t pray about my wife and marriage. I can pray about my business and my country and my church and my neighbours, but I possess the love of my wife so I can ignore her.” Of course not. The knowledge that God has given him this wife for all their days together will make her a special object of his intercession.
So Paul is confident that God is at work in their lives, and Paul, in all his prayers, will pray for them. Paul was a man of prayer. When Ananias of Damascus had some reservations about going to see this new convert Paul because of the evil man he had been God reassured him by saying to him that Paul was praying. The first mark of life in a newborn child is that he breathes and cries; so the first act of men and women who are born again is that they pray. The Holy Spirit who makes them alive gives them a voice and a tongue. “Be dumb no longer,” God says. You need mercy every day, and grace to help you on days of need. You feel your emptiness and weakness. You must pray. What Christian in the Bible did not pray? What servant of God in the history of the church did not pray?
This last week I heard a friend tell of a member in their church who since her conversion in the last ten years has often prayed in their weekly Prayer Meeting, and in private, and at home with her husband. The extraordinary thing about that is that her husband, though coming to all the meetings with her, makes no profession to be a Christian. Yet he admires and loves her, and will say to anyone that there can be no better wife in all the world than his. Over breakfast he is reading the newspaper and she is reading her Bible. She may turn to him, “Bill, I feel so burdened for Mary” (one of their friends). “I must pray for her.” “Yes, yes, dear,” he says to her, and bows his head while she prays aloud for this friend of theirs. One evening recently they were in bed together and he was reading a novel while she was reading some Christian book. “Bill,” she said, “I feel concerned for Rebecca, and ought to pray for her,” (Rebecca is their daughter). “Fine,” he said, and bowed his head and closed the book while his wife poured out her heart for their daughter who lives 50 miles away. Then he went back to his book to be interrupted again in another few minutes by the phone ringing. It was Rebecca! “Hello cariad,” he said to his daughter, “your mother has just been praying for you.” One feels that with such a woman of prayer as his wife it cannot be much longer before this man also becomes a true believer.
Christians pray. The Holy Spirit, who makes us new creations, works in us the feeling of adoption which makes us cry, “Abba, Father.” To those of you who are not yet Christians, pray that you may be willing to be converted. Pray that you may be made very anxious to be converted. Pray that you may be made so anxious that to remain in an unconverted state will be intolerable to you. Pray that God will teach you what conversion is.
So the apostle Paul prayed for the Philippian church, even though he believed that this church was safe in the hands of God and no one could ever pluck them out. Paul was a man of prayer. But our interest is in the actual contents of Paul’s prayer. For what did he pray when he thought of these people? How important for us to know the answer to this question? It is crucial. Some of us may be praying for ourselves, our family and friends, and for our congregations. Good. Pray without ceasing! But are we praying aright? Are we praying as Paul was in this Spirit-inspired prayer? Let us look at this prayer and learn from it how to pray. What was his first petition?
1. MAY YOUR LOVE ABOUND MORE AND MORE.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more,” (v.9). I suppose that we think of the church in Corinth as one enriched in all utterance, and in all knowledge, and yet that their love was weak and faint. Then we consider the Philippian church to be warmly devoted to Christ and his people, but with less of a grasp of the doctrines of the Christian faith. Generally we think of people in the professing church as having more light in their heads than love in their hearts, but that was not the case in Philippi. They were a plain and straightforward group of believers. Paul never disparaged them for that, but he longed for a better balance in their characters. They loved God, and that was a great reality, but Paul longed that their love would abound more and more. In other words, they dare not take the love which they had for granted. They must not even think that they possessed no weaknesses in loving God or in loving one another, that they could rely on that as a constant factor in their lives. “We believe that we’re a very loving church, so we need to focus our praying on the fact that we’ll grow in knowledge of theology and doctrine, and the Scriptures, and so on.” No! It’s a great fallacy and a very real danger, that we may take for granted our strengths and graces and concentrate on our deficiencies. The Philippians did love both God and man, but Paul prayed that that love would abound more and more, and it was at that point that his prayers for them began.
Thomas Goodwin points out how the Greek word translated ‘abound’ is used to describe the bubbling up and flowing out of a spring of water. We had church members who lived in a cottage in the Rheidol valley, and their water supply was a natural spring which never ran dry, even in the driest of summers. It constantly flowed, and it more than met all of their household and domestic needs. That spring kept none of its water to itself. So true love flows out of the Christian to others. God loved and gave. Christ loved sinners and gave himself for them. We love and so we give. Joseph Bayly talks about an American pink and white flower called the ‘arbutus’ which is rare and has an unforgettable fragrance. During his life Joe saw that flower on only three occasions, and the first was the key to his love for this bloom. They were living in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania when Joe was six or seven years of age, and his father travelled a great deal by rail. One spring night he came home with a package under his arm, wrapped in newspaper. “Mary, I’ve brought you something,” he said to his wife and he gave it to her. The children were curious and gathered around. When she opened it the haunting fragrance of the arbutus flower burst out into the room and filled the whole place with an unforgettable scent. The children were silenced by the odour. “It was growing on some cinders on the side of the railway,” Dad told her casually. That night little Joe knew two things, that the arbutus was his favourite flower, and that his father loved his mother. Love abounds. It bubbles up out of our hearts and gives to others.
It would be absolutely crucial for the church in Philippi that its chiefest grace continued to be its love, and that this love was not just to those people who were naturally lovely and attractive people. The Lord Jesus asks if it’s a big deal that we love those who love us. The distinctiveness of the Christian is that he can love his enemies. The Lord Jesus loved his enemies. Stephen loved his enemies. The apostle Paul loved his enemies. The Philippians also loved, but – oh, that that love might abound more and more! This was Paul’s prayer: “I want you to give more and more. I want you to abound in more patience, and more kindness. I want there to be less and less envying, and boasting, and pride, and rudeness, and self-seeking, and easy outbursts of anger, and less of a spirit that keeps a record of wrongs. That does not serve the end of loving.” An unloving heart imagines a hundred evils to exist in one’s neighbour that aren’t there. “I want you to abound in rejoicing in the truth, and always protecting, and always trusting, and always hoping, and always persevering.” That is what Paul is praying for.
I believe that whenever a Christian prays in a congregational prayer meeting for more love in the church he has to be especially careful. There has to be absolute sincerity in that petition; in other words, he is not using the prayer meeting to castigate the congregation by his intercession, and also there has to be absolute humility. In other words, his concern is not the absence of love in the hearts of others but in his own heart. Alfred H. Vine gets it exactly right when he writes:
“But ah, this faithless heart of mine!
The way I know, I know my guide:
Forgive me, O my Friend divine
That I so often turn aside.” (Alfred H. Vine).
What is the second request Paul makes for the Philippian church?
2. MAY YOUR LOVE ABOUND IN KNOWLEDGE AND DEPTH OF INSIGHT.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” (v.9). Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones points this out: “There are two temptations which constantly confront us, even in the Christian life. One is the danger of living merely on our experiences and on our feelings. There are so many people who have a dislike of teaching and doctrine and dogma; it is something they cannot understand at all. ‘Let’s sing,’ they say when they lead a meeting. ‘Let’s enjoy ourselves.’ And they work up the meeting merely on feelings. They want to give their experiences and their testimony; they want to be talking about themselves, and they stop there. They never want to go on from that. That is their atmosphere of love; that is something that warms their hearts and draws them together. It is all right, on condition that we do not live on that alone.
“But the other danger, of course, is the exact opposite: the danger of becoming interested in doctrine in a purely theoretical and abstract and academic manner, of being concerned about what someone has truly described as the ‘aridities of the logomachy of theology’. This means that you just become interested in words, and turn this glorious gospel of love into a mere philosophy or into many philosophies. You display a purely intellectual interest in the Bible and in Christian truth – it is all in the head and it never affects the heart. You can quarrel with men about it, but you may be denying the gospel you are discussing” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Joy”, Hodder and Stoughton, 1989, pp. 50 & 51).
The way to avoid those dangers is to observe what the apostle says here, that our love is to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. In churches one is often confronted by a depreciation of knowledge, truth, doctrine and man’s intellect and we forget that such depreciation is the hallmark not of evangelical religion but of modernism. Liberal theology goes back to the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher two hundred years ago, and the very essence of his dogma was feeling. He defined religion as a feeling of dependence. I occasionally find myself in students’ meetings in universities where this is the emphasis, on feeling ‘blessed.’ I remember being initially puzzled by a little meeting some students held on Sunday nights in Alexandra Hall, Aberystwyth, and its leaders would tell me that the Holy Spirit was ‘really there.’ Of course, what they meant by that was that a number of them felt ‘blessed’ doing what they wanted to do in their own gathering. Theirs was an emphasis on love and the heart.
Now I am certainly not anxious to demean the affections, or suggest that in the Christian life there is no emotion, because Christian living is emphatically emotional. The affections become exercised to an unlimited degree. I would place no restraint to the height of the believer’s joy, or the intensity of the believer’s sorrow. There is feeling, and there is affection, and there is emotion in all genuine religious experience. May it abound more and more! But may it abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. In other words, it is love always in response to truth and doctrine. It is affection in response to theology. It is joy in response to the glories of the Lamb. It is sorrow in response to discoveries of our own native depravity – “and Peter went out and wept bitterly.”
So while the apostle begins with a prayer that the love of the Philippian church might abound more and more, yet he is saying that that love has to be informed and elevated by their minds, by knowledge and insight. There was information which Paul gave to Lydia and to the jailer concerning their own condition before their Creator and Christ the welcoming Saviour who would receive them to pardon and cleanse them of their sins. Paul instilled in this church great events and mind-blowing teaching that had all come from Jesus of Nazareth. The apostle wanted to instil in their hearts certain great foundational convictions. He was concerned to see them grasp certain theological propositions. He wanted them to be persuaded that what Jesus Christ had done by his life, death and resurrection was absolutely sufficient for all that God could demand of a sinner. All they had to do was plead his glorious name and ask for mercy! That is true knowledge: “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Faith is first and foremost the assent of one’s mind to certain theological propositions. It begins with knowledge, and then there is growth in one’s depth of insight.
The Philippian church had some of this, but they needed more and more knowledge and insight, but Paul’s concern was that their progress might be divorced from love. There is a problem in so many Christian lives that at first there is growth in understanding, behaviour, devotion and evangelism. We become members of a church; we enjoy assurance; we refer to ourselves as the Lord’s people – and of course we are. But it is apparent that a stagnation can settle in. There is no growth in love nor in knowledge. I am speaking here of our delight in the Bible, and its great teachings, and hearing them preached to us beginning to wane. I am talking about the person of Jesus Christ, his nature and his offices. I am referring to the great truths of justification, and sanctification, and adoption, and union with Christ. These doctrines are not for theologians but they are the stuff of believing meditation. They comprise that great body of truth that sanctifies. They are the source of our doxology, of the hymns of Toplady and Newton and the others. We all know that it is possible to forget what once we knew. We had knowledge at our finger tips for our school exams, but once we passed those subjects we didn’t keep up our interest, and now we have forgotten everything we knew at that time. Our knowledge of those sciences, and those languages has shrunk to one per cent of what material we were once utterly familiar with, because we haven’t kept up their study.
So it is with many Christians: they have left their first love; they have ceased to marvel at the glory of Christ; they have stopped exploring great truths; they have ended their searching of the Scriptures. Paul is concerned that the Philippians’ love as well as their knowledge abounded together. For example, to comprehend the love of Christ, and to stand before it with wonder saying, “the height . . . the depth . . . the length . . . the breadth . . . it passes knowledge.” Is this your desire? To comprehend God in his glorious love? To know the love of Christ that passes understanding? To lovingly grow in knowledge and depth of insight? Is there increase? I am talking about a growth in terms of emotional delight in the knowledge and depth of insight which we have gained. We exult in him. We rejoice in the Lord. The truth fills every part of our beings. Certainly it fills our minds, but our hearts and affections and wills are also affected. In other words, the truth does not lie in the remote and unfrequented corners of our understandings, but our very personalities are abounding more and more with this knowledge, and we love these truths. They are our joy! We ponder on them and meditate upon them day in and day out. That is the mark of the growing and mature Christian, that he mediates on these things. That is the difference between him and the merely nominal believer who is stagnating.
Let me put it like this: in those moments when our minds relax, where do they settle? In other words, where our treasure is there our heart will be too. What is the inevitable gravitation of our hearts in moments when there is no pressure of duty? When we have no exterior responsibility, in what direction do our affections turn? Is it true that at the top of our minds lie the great truths of the Word of God? Is the Lord Jesus Christ the greatest reality for us, and abundantly so as the years go by? Are we abounding more and more in knowledge and depth of insight? I am saying that knowledge is foundational, and in whatever other direction Christians are growing there must be progress in a love that is educated and elevated by growing knowledge and depth of insight into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
What is the third request Paul makes for the Philippian church?
3. MAY YOU HAVE AN ABILITY TO DISCERN WHAT IS BEST.
“So that you may be able to discern what is best” (v.10). We are living in days where there is an absence of discernment in the professing church. There is abundant gullibility and naivetê. Men’s visions, voices, feelings, promptings, suggestions are all attributed to God the Holy Spirit. The most important need of the hour is the ability to discern what is best. We are told, “The word translated ‘discern’ in classical Greek refers to testing something or someone. It is the technical word for testing money to discern whether or not it is counterfeit. It occurs in a political context for the testing of a candidate for office. Herodotus uses the word for the testing of oxen by Egyptian priests to see whether they are fit for sacrifice (Histories, II, 38). This is the word used by Paul when he says that Christians are to be renewed by the Holy Spirit so that they may “test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom.12:2) (James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians,” Baker Books, 1971, p.46).
How do we become discerning as Christians? Two requirements, Paul says. Abundant love is the first necessity, and knowledge and depth of insight is the second. Both these graces are essential for discernment. There is a famous episode in the history of the 20th century church when in 1905 the American student J.Gresham Machen begins his studies in Marburg under the professor of theology Wilhelm Herrmann. Machen described is first encounter with this man as an ‘epoch’ in his life. He said, “Such an overpowering personality I think I almost never before encountered.” The man was a modernist mystic whose emphasis was that the Christian life was a life of service and that spirituality was essential. For him the cross is the great model for Christian service. It was not the Lamb of God making a substitutionary atonement for sinners. But Herrmann had charisma and a shiny-eyed intensity of devotion to his Christ. If Machen had not had knowledge and depth of insight from a study of the New Testament he would have been another of the evangelical casualties that litter the first century. His future usefulness to the church would have been terminated, but biblical knowledge gave him discernment, especially of human ardour and affection.
Think of the of the zealous love of James and John for Christ. The disciples enter a Samaritan village but the people there did not welcome them and the brothers have their noses put out of joint. They turn to Jesus and they ask him, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Lk. 9:54). The Lord Jesus said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of” (Lk.9:55 mgn.). Their zeal for him must be instructed. Love must be regulated by light.
However, knowledge alone is not enough. There has to be love too. Think of Peter’s fall and restoration. Both Peter and the Lord Jesus had orthodox knowledge. That was not the problem. “Peter, do you believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God?” “I do,” Peter would say immediately. But what was needed in transforming and restoring Peter to usefulness in the church was not knowledge but love. The Lord Jesus loved him, and focused his questions on Peter’s love for him. It was when a threefold assurance of love was given that the Lord Jesus exhorted Peter to feed his sheep and Peter was restored. For the grace to discern what is best we need both love and depth of insight. Without both of them together the church either becomes as straight and hard as the barrel of a gun, and just as empty, or it becomes a slave to religious feelings.
What is the fourth request Paul makes for the Philippian church?
4. MAY YOU BE PURE AND BLAMELESS UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST.
“Pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (v.10). The devil will tempt us in so many ways, and one approach he will use in the lives of us all is to make purity and holiness seem extreme. He will encourage us to become resentful about an emphasis on blameless living, saying, “That’s all he preaches about, separation from the world, and being holy.” He may bring into our lives something from that movement called ‘religionless Christianity’ which said, ‘Look at the patriarchs: Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, Jacob was a deceiver. They were real men. Look at the kings of Israel and Judah, and see how they fell into different sins. Think of how the apostle Peter fell. God was their God. Isn’t salvation of grace? Why this obsession with living a pure and blameless life?’ That is what that movement said. It despised what it called ‘puritanism.’
We answer thus, when the Bible describes the behaviour of these men so graphically it does not mean that it commends what they did. It also tells us what grief and judgment came into their lives because of their behaviour. We emphasise purity and holiness because of the Sermon on the Mount. The Saviour summarises it, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). We emphasise purity and holiness because we face the Last Day: we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. We emphasise purity and holiness because we are indwelt by the divine Spirit of holiness and we shall not grieve him. We emphasise purity because the opposite is impurity, and who admires that? We want pure water to drink, and pure gold, and pure drugs from our pharmacist. So too we admire a pure woman, or a pure man.
Now Paul does not begin his prayer by praying for their holiness. He begins by praying for them to have knowledge and insight, but once they know the gospel and believe it then there are implications for your daily life. A Christian knowledge leads to a Christian walk. That is one of the most important things for us to know, that intimate connection between knowing and living. For the Christian there can be no practice without knowledge, and there can be no knowledge without practice. We can sing the chorus, “Trust and obey, For there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.” But we must insist there is no other way to be in Jesus than by trusting and obeying. A pattern of lawless living leads to no other conclusion than one has never trusted in Jesus. Happiness isn’t the fruit of optional obedience for the Christian. Obeying is the necessary fruit of salvation. Saving knowing leads to saving living. The buzz words are ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘orthopraxis.’ So Paul began with a concern with knowledge and love, but now he is concerned with how they apply that day by day, with their outward behaviour.
Is their life a worthy response to the God who began a good work in them and is maintaining it until now? Is there purity? Is there blamelessness? That is my standard and longing. It is not that I can ever attain absolute purity in anything I do. But that is still my goal. It is not the goal of the natural man. Think of the analogy of a cat and a pig. If a cat falls into mud, she immediately begins to lick and clean herself to remove every trace of the mud. That is the Christian. If a pig wanders into the mud he will gladly wallow in it. That is the worldling. He has found his own element. The Christian falls seven times a day, but he is always picking himself up and aspiring to be pure and blameless.
Paul says that he has his eye on the day of Christ, that great event that will end the world. He wants to please the Lord he is going to meet there. He is seeking the ultimate commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Our minds are not on what the world wants, or even what the majority I a congregation wants, but on what the Lord wants and how the Lord will judge. To live pure and blameless until that great day.
When the curious world watches us isn’t this what it expects of us? I have a ministerial friend who has been witnessing to a former Welsh rugby international player and his wife for years. The wife has become a Christian and often her husband comes to the services with her and the boys. There is a growing interest in Christianity and contentment to be in the company of disciples of Jesus Christ. But he is conscious of the cost of following the Saviour. In a recent conversation with the pastor it is clear that he is looking for something he calls ‘reality’ in Christians, and that he know must be in his own life if he professes to be Christ’s man. There is a fellow international rugby forward who plays in the same team as himself and he has made some profession about being a Christian, but our man says about him to his wife’s minister, “Is he real?” “What do you mean?” said my friend. “Well, members of the team with our wives went out for a meal a few weeks ago and he made a joke about saying grace. Is his Christianity real?” Then he talked about another Welsh rugby coach who gives his testimony and speaks about the faith: “Is he real?” he said. “What do you mean?” asked my pastor friend. “Well, we were playing against them last year and he was running up and down the touch line shouting to his team . . .” He paused. “And he was swearing?” My friend finished the sentence for him. “Yes he was,” he said. The minister paused for a moment and said, “You have to remember that he is not getting good teaching on Sundays.” “But so-and-so,” this rugby international player said to the pastor, “he is real. I shared a room with him on a Lion’s tour and he is real.” My friend said, “If we brought him to speak at a Men’s Breakfast here . . .?” “I would bring the whole squad to hear him,” he said with a smile. I refer to this conversation to underline this fact that the world is watching us and is sensitive to any hypocrisy in us. It may make fun of us as ‘puritans’ and ‘fundamentalists’ but at the same time it looks for reality of life. That is what Paul is praying for when he refers to the Philippian Christians in the midst of a decadent squalid culture being ‘real’ by living in a pure and blameless way.
What is the fifth request Paul makes for the Philippian church?
5. MAY YOU BE FILLED WITH THE FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.
“filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (v.11). Paul is still dealing with the Philippians living a pure and blameless life. He is talking about the imparted righteousness that is coming to them from the fulness of Jesus Christ’s love, joy and peace. As Christians we are branches in that true Vine, and his life flows into us, so there is the fruit of righteousness in all who are joined to him. Fruit is not like a chocolate orange which you tie on a Christmas tree. A real fruit grows out of its union with the branch. It is spontaneous. It is the inevitable consequence of what it is. So it is with the believer. Love, joy and peace are not virtues stuck onto a Christian by the hands of a bishop. They are the inevitable self-expressions of Christian standing and Christian being. They are the consequences of the reality of the new man in Christ. He is love, and he is joy, and he is peace because these things are fruit. They are the organic consequences of being a new creation.
You see this marvellously clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells them. This is their status. They have this nature, created by Almighty God. Then, based on that, there is the imperative – “Let your light shine before men!” Do you see the glory of that? Why does a believer shine? Because God has made him light. Why does light shine? Because it is its nature to shine. Light must shine, absolutely spontaneously, because of what it is, in the glory of a life that adorns the great work of divine redemption. So you cannot attach righteous works to a Christian in some sort of sanctimonious or pietistic way. The life of righteousness has a naturalness and originality about it because it is God-given fruit.
But Paul’s prayer is that they be filled with this fruit. What large-heartedness, compared to the parsimony of those who pray and scarcely get beyond thanking God that “we are all there today.” What a cramped spirit! How limited the scope of such praying! It is nothing but unbelief which limits the bounty of God to bestowing trifling favours.
“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.” (John Newton)
The plea of our unworthiness is no valid reason to justify the poverty of our bringing petty requests to him. Which Christian has ever gone to God and said, “I am asking you for this because of my great life”? No church has ever asked God for blessings because it thinks it’s a fantastic church! The best of men go to God as debtors. He supplicates only on the grounds of the marvellous grace of Jesus, and that is how Paul approaches God and boldly cries, “Fill them with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ!” That must be our prayer too.
There are some years you go to your fruit trees at the end of the summer and you find a very poor crop. There are branches without any apples at all, or maybe the apples are the size of cherries. You are talking to your son on the phone and he says, “How are your fruit trees this year, Dad?” You cannot say that the trees are full of fruit. There is enough fruit for you to tell that it is an apple tree, but that is all. Paul longs that the church in Philippi to be like an orchard in a good season – “filled with the fruit of righteousness.” He doesn’t pray that it be filled with activity and music and laughter. He prays that it be filled with the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
What is the sixth request Paul makes for the Philippian congregation?
6. MAY YOUR LIFE BE TO THE GLORY AND PRAISE OF GOD.
“- to the glory and praise of God” (v.11). That is the great end of the Christian, of everything he is and does. You know one of the most profound doctrinal utterances is this: ‘Theology is grace: living is gratitude.’ What is the goal of every single thing I do? To glorify and enjoy God. Paul is praying that that will always happen with the Philippian Christians in all things. Think of the psalmist: “Every day will I praise you and extol your name for ever and ever” (Psa. 145:2). You ponder that for one moment. Consider its ordinariness as a concept of human duty. Every day will I praise God. Some days it is easy: some days it is not so easy: some days it is well-nigh impossible. Yet there is this obligation that every day we live to the glory and praise of God. There are days we rise to a dull ache of emptiness and loneliness. There are days of frustration and irreparable loss. There are weeks of profound anguish and bereavement. Those days too are to be to the glory and praise of God.
Why? Because of Jesus Christ. It all comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God, Paul says. Gratitude to him for the privilege of redemption. As I rise each day that privilege is mine, to live that day to the glory and praise of God. Jesus’ praise shall continually be on my lips. Though I lose every earthly possession, though every earthly bond is severed and I feel dreadfully alone, though all my treasures are destroyed by moth and rust, or by thieves breaking in and stealing them, though my heart and my flesh shall fail, Jesus Christ will never fail me, and every day I rise I will remember that. I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
I may face the enmity of the whole world, and say to myself, “How shall I get by? How can I survive?” Then I say, “O my soul, you are forgetting that nothing shall separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ my Lord.” I might seem to be poor: I am poor, and yet what am I? I am an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ. Every day, and every moment of each day, though frequently I am in heaviness through manifold temptations, I must recall to myself my knowledge and depths of insight. I am in Christ. Chosen in him, redeemed in him, justified in him, preserved in him, and glorified in him. So every day I can be to the glory and praise of God.
What a prayer for Christian people: “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” I know a man for whom that prayer has been answered in the past year. He was a solid enough member of the church, but then his marriage was tested. There was a certain selfishness and thoughtlessness to those who loved him most. Through that providence he had to look at his career, and examine his whole life, and the church has witnessed a remarkable change in him. His pastor said, “There is no one so hungry for God in the church at the present time. His praying and involvement in evangelism excels everyone else. He has given up his highly paid office job to work in a Christian school. More than anyone else in the church he is on fire for God..” That rugby international, so near to the kingdom of God, would say of him, “He is real!” What might happen to us if we pray this prayer and work out the consequences of what we are asking God every day?
23rd June 2002 GEOFF THOMAS