Paul’s opening prayer in Philippians reflect what he hopes and confidently expects God to do in the lives of his readers and it introduces the main theme of his letter. From this short prayer, we can learn what we ought to most want for ourselves and for each other.
When Paul founded the church at Philippi, he was beaten and thrown in jail. The jailer and a merchant named Lydia became believers during Paul’s visit and formed the core of the new church there.
Philippi was a Roman colony, its citizens were largely roman and proud of it. There was little Jewish influence. The Philippian church embraced Paul’s ministry and his gospel and almost immediately begin to support him financially of their own free will.
Around 60-62 AD, Paul is once again in prison, this time in Rome. The Philippians have sent him a financial donation and news through Epaphroditus. Paul is sending Epaphroditus back to them with this letter.
Paul started his letter by expressing his joy and gratitude for the what he sees God doing in the lives of the Philippians. Philippians 1:3-8 focused on his gratitude. Philippians 1:9-11 – focuses on what he’s praying for them.
9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11 ESV
In many ways, this short prayer is the theme of the letter. Paul’s main point is choose life by loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him.
- In this context, love is not primarily a warm fuzzy feeling that we have toward each other more often.
- Love is a choice that we make based on how we understand the world.
- The knowledge and discernment in has in mind involves coming to know who God is, who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus has done for us.
- One of the results of this knowledge is that we see each other differently.
- Approving is a choice based on what we believe to be true.
- Wisdom is learning to separate the essential from the nonessential, the valuable from the futile, and the worthwhile from the worthless.
- As we increasingly learn to approve was is excellent, it reveals our faith is sincere and without stumbling and our lives are marked by being filled with the “fruit” that comes from living wisely and choosing well.
- Everything Paul is praying for here — knowledge, love, sincere faith, fruit of righteousness — is a gift of God.
Content of the Knowledge
The “knowledge” Paul wants them to have is a genuine understanding of the gospel. What is the gospel?
- When we rebelled, we cut ourselves off from the source of life (God) and we are stuck with death.
- Death is not just the end of biological life; it is all the tragedy, futility, and brokenness we experience now. Life is the opposite of death; atendency toward good in all of human existence.
- Life automatically and inevitably flows from holiness. Death automatically and inevitably flows from sin.
- God is the sole source of life, because He alone can give holiness.
- When we rebelled, we cut ourselves off from the source of Life (God) and we became prisoners of sin and death.
- The rebellion itself is wrong and deserves punishment. Until God’s justice is satisfied, He will not grant Life.
- Justification is the forgiveness of our debt to justice which qualifies us to receive Life. To be justified is to be in a position where God’s justice is satisfied.
- Justification is a gift from God, is made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and is granted to those who have faith.
Saving faith involves 4 beliefs:
- A genuine desire for holiness in and of itself.
- A genuine understanding that left to myself I am totally incapable of obtaining holiness.
- A genuine understanding that God owes me nothing and I am totally unworthy of any gift from God.
- A firm trust that because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God both intends to and will in fact forgive me and make me holy in the age to come.
Paul’s other prayers:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, – Ephesians 1:16-18
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10
that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,- Colossians 2:2
Philippians, your support of my ministry shows me that God has done a great work in your hearts. You have a genuine love for God and for his people. My prayer to God is that this love would continue to increase and overflow. I want your love to be rooted in a knowledge of God, understanding his promises, his character and his mercy toward you and his will. I want this knowledge to make you discerning about your lives, willing to embrace and value what is indeed true and valuable. When God does this for you, then the sincerity of your faith will become apparent and you will persevere in that faith without stumbling until the end. Then your life will indeed be marked by a godly love and everything else that characterizes the righteous life of a genuine believer. All of this comes about through the work of Jesus Christ and it reflects great glory on the God who sent him.
- Paul wants them to have a real faith and to embrace the gospel, to know and believe it.
- He wants the reality of this faith to show itself in the way they live.
- He wants them to persevere in this faith so that they receive their inheritance when Christ returns.
This is what I ought to want for myself and what I ought to want for you.
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Scripture references are from the English Standard version.