Sermon Summary - Gospel Centered Praying - Philippians 1:9-11
In your daily walk, when you feel your spiritual immaturity, your lack of desire for fellowship with God, your lack of love for fellow believers, here’s the sermon: pray for yourself and others. Prayer works because God has ordained to work through petitionary prayer. Every Christian should memorize this short prayer and pray it over and over for our own souls and for each other.
First, note the connection between verse eight and nine: the word “and”. Paul interprets his love for the Philippian church to be Jesus’ personal care for them manifesting in his heart, which then leads him to pray this prayer. Paul knows the results of the prayer are guaranteed because of what he just said in verse 6 (Phil. 1:6).
Looking specifically at verses 9-11, first notice in verse 9 that Paul does not say specifically your love for God or your love for one another. He doesn’t want us to restrict it to just one or the other. And he prays for this love to grow, which implies there is real love for God and others already happening, yet always room to grow. Paul also prays that their love would abound with real knowledge. This knowledge refers to knowledge of ultimate realities connected with the knowledge of God. This is not just head knowledge, but also means having a close relationship with God (see Prov. 1:7). This knowledge is also connected to God’s commands and knowing His will. In other words, this knowledge comes with loving God and loving others.
Paul wants our love to grow with knowledge, and secondly with all discernment. This means something like growing in the sphere of insight or grasping reality. Paul wants our love to grow with practical wisdom in interpersonal relationships with others, which means reading people, thinking of the other person. Thinking about this from a different angle, you really can’t grow in real knowledge and all discernment if you’re filled with ongoing bitterness, selfishness, and unloving behavior. You can’t try and grow in theological knowledge, but then not be obedient to it. Likewise, you can’t try and grow in loving others, but ignore the Scripture. It has to be both.
Next, Paul gets to the reason he prays this way: “in order that you may approve what is excellent.” This means making choices, not just knowing the good from the bad, but choosing the best. Paul then gives the reason why it’s crucial for every Christian to grow in love with knowledge so that we are making choices accordingly: in order that you would be ready for judgment day. He wants us to be standing before Christ one day pure and blameless. Blameless in this context could either refer to our own stumbling or causing others to stumble, but probably means not causing others to stumble. Paul is saying that our choices will substantiate that we really did approve what was excellent. But there is also an implication that if we call ourselves Christians and choose to remain indifferent to loving God and loving others, we may not do well on judgment day. But because of verse six, Paul is confident here that this won’t happen to every born again person. Notice that he affirms this again in verse 11: “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness.” This is something that is done to us, not something that we do. It began in the past and continues on throughout your walk. The fruit (as opposed to your work) is what flows from the imputed righteousness of Christ. This righteousness refers to the righteousness of Christ put to your account at justification. And the fruit is not owing to us ultimately, but “comes through Jesus Christ.” And then Paul concludes the prayer with “to the glory and to the praise of God,” which has been his point consistently (see Phil. 1:3, 6, 9). Our salvation from beginning to end is radically God-centered.
What does it mean to approve what is excellent? The best way to go is to look back at Philippians, where Paul lays out a few examples with himself as a model of what that looks like. First, in Phil. 1:20, Paul says that the preservation of his own physical life is not above his preference that Christ would be exalted, even if it cost him his life. In the midst of persecution, will you choose to save your life, your reputation, or like Paul have courage and say, “that Christ be honored in my body whether by life or by death”? The second example is in Phil. 3:4-8, where Paul throws his cultural heritage in the trash because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ. The third example is in Phil. 1:21-25, where Paul approves of what is best by doing whatever needs to be done so that others may experience progress and joy in the faith. Finally, in Phil. 1:15-18, Paul put the gospel’s advancement in Rome above his own personal reputation, which was taking some hits.
So this prayer is here for us to pray constantly for ourselves and for each other. It’s radically gospel-centered, radically God-centered, that we would grow in loving God and loving others.
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