“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 to 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— the glory and praise of God.”
We began the study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians last week, and we looked at chapter 1 verses 1-8. In his introduction, he mentioned many things especially about his prayers for them. He remembered them always, and so he always prayed for them as well. He did so because of their partnership with him in the gospel. The partnership or fellowship which Paul shared with the Philippian church was really special, and brought deep joy to his heart. And he praised God for his work in their lives, confessing one of the most cherished verses in the Bible. He was “… confident of this, that he who began a good work in you [them] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”, (6) for they shared in God’s grace with him. (7) And before he goes on to write the main issues of his letter to them, Paul ends this introductory section with his personal prayer for them. In other words he tells them what his prayer for them was. Read verses 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 to 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.” While Paul loved all the churches with the love of God, he seemed to have a special affection and a warm spot in his heart for the Philippians. And he prays that they might have three things.
First, he prays that their love may abound. He says: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more.” This was already a church characterized by love. Paul is not praying that they might love, but he is praying that their love, which is already very much a Christian virtue among them, may abound more and more. He prays that their love may keep growing and overflowing as a never ending river of love. Even in the loving Philippian church, it seems there were those whose love did not abound more and more, or had not grown sufficiently to the glory and praise of God. As we read on in this letter, towards the end, Paul mentions two prominent women in the church who seem to have had a broken relationship. We really do not know what was the cause of this broken relationship, but it had happened over some obscure issue, and the two had had a falling out. This falling out may have been of such a severity that it may have been impossible to reconcile the two women. Many had tried to reconcile them to no avail. A church divided by two quarreling people is a church whose love and usefulness are severely tested. While all other church functions were going on well, the tension between the two women was eating at the very fabric of the church. Satan had finally a foothold to work his destruction among them. So Paul prayed for that church. He prayed that their love may abound. In other words, he prayed that they may grow in their love for God and for one another. He believed that love is the solution to all their problems. He believed that love, if it grows and abounds, would heal the damages done by the feuding women, and set the church aright.
Love is the central teaching especially of the new testament. Our Lord commanded us to “love one another.” Love enters our hearts the moment we receive Christ and come to know him as our Lord and Savior. The Bible tells us: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8; 4:6) When we know God, we cannot but start loving. But our love cannot remain constant, it must grow. Actually only the Love of God is constant and unchanging because the love of God is perfect, not needing to abound at all. But as for us, our love must abound and grow as we grow in our relationship with the Lord. If love does not abound and grow, it remains immature and faulty and cannot fulfill the Lord’s will. The Philippians had tasted the love of God. They had known Love and had embraced it in their own lives. But their love was not enough to overcome the troubles of the day, especially the troubles that arise when Christians have to live together so closely with one another. The devil knows our weaknesses ad uses them against us to divide us and to set us one against the other. Our love needs to abound if we are to serve God’s will and reflect his glory. For that Paul prayed for these Philippians that their love abound more and more.
Paul prayed that their love abound more and more, but he also prayed for them to abound in a certain type of love. Read verse 9 again. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” In other words he prays that their love abound in knowledge and depth of insight (discernment). At first it seems strange to consider that love should abound in knowledge, and in insight. But if we leave love to grow by itself, in any way or direction it so pleases, it may easily fail to serve God’s purpose in our lives. We know how erratic love can be in our lives, especially in our Christian lives. Someone might think that Christian love is in tolerating kind of love, others might think that Christian love is in accepting kind of love. Christians today are very divided on the issue of love. Some think that to love is to accept or tolerate in love anything and everything. Some Christians’ love is so sentimental and emotional in nature that it makes Christian love inferior to human or worldly love. For this reason, Paul coupled love with knowledge and depth of insight.
Love must be coupled with knowledge. Love must be coupled with knowledge that produces a certain depth of insight or discernment that a Christian needs to serve the Lord and this world. Paul will find it necessary to warm these Philippian Christians of the ever present danger of false teachers and false teachings that the devil spreads in all places to fell the true Christians. The Philippian Christians would make themselves easy prey for such teachers, if they thought that to be loving meant to be uncritical and accepting of such heretical teachings. Someone might say, “let us love them and accept them among us and open our hearts to them, because the Lord commands us to love.” But love must be coupled with knowledge. When Peter tried to dissuade the Lord Jesus from carrying the cross, Jesus did not tolerate such a terrible suggestion even if it were given in love and admiration of the Lord himself. Rather Jesus rebuked Peter with harsh words. His words to Peter were given in love coupled with knowledge. Love with knowledge is crucial for us Christians in an age where the Christian faith has been so watered down and beaten with humanism and worldly notions.
There are many who do not understand love at all. Especially Christians who do not understand the meaning of love at all. They think that God is love and therefore we must be loving towards all indiscriminately. There is no discernment nor depth of insight with the love that they carry in their hearts. They misunderstand love for tolerance and acceptance of all things, when love is neither. Love is God and God is love. And God is also grace and truth together. When we grow in love, we must grow in a such knowledge and understanding. This word “knowledge” or understanding is the “knowledge of God” . Unless we have a deep knowledge of God— who God is, it is hard for our love to grow and mature into something powerful that can serve God’s purpose. Unless we grow in this knowledge it is hard for our love to grow and abound in such a way that it overcomes all the devil’s attacks. This kind of knowledge in love, is the only way to honor and glorify God and serve his own purpose in our lives and in the lives of others. Love must be coupled with knowledge so that we might love the right way— not the wrong way— with God’s love. This kind of love builds up the church. It’s the kind of love has the courage to say to someone “You have sinned against God and need to ask God’s forgiveness”. It is the kind of love that can confront two feuding Christian women who have divided and hurt the church: “Repent and reconcile and serve God’s purpose over and above your own feelings and pet peeves”. It is the same love that can say to an enemy I forgive you. We call this insight or discernment.
Look at verse 9 again. Depth of insight (or discernment) is cultivated by love and knowledge together. Such perception or discernment or depth of insight comes not by chance or by magic, but by life’s experiences. As we grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus, we also grow in love, and our love matures through many trials and errors, through many failures and defeats and struggles and hardship and repentance, and faith and recovery. That is when love abounds in us in knowledge and in depth of insight. But why do we need insight or a depth of insight, or why do we need such discernment? In other words, we need discernment or depth of insight for what purpose, to what end? And this brings us to Paul’s second prayer topic for these Philippians.
Second, that you may be able to discern what is best. Read verse 10. “So that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” So that you may be able to discern what is best! The Christian life is full of choices. It begins with a choice. We choose to believe the gospel. We choose to trust the Lord and what he has done. We choose to repent of our sins. Even though the Holy Spirit has to intervene to accomplish that, still the Lord has given each of us a free will to choose. And after we have chosen the Lord and his grace, we arte still confronted in live with choices. The world is full of temptations. We choose to deny our desires for the world, and we choose to cling to the cross. We choose to stop reveling with godless friends, and we choose to share the gospel with them. And we choose to live a life based on the gospel truth rather than on the lies we have been taught by the world. And when we have made our choices in the Lord, we still have to choose. But as we grow and mature, our choices are no longer between good or bad. Our choices can also become what is best among the good we choose from. In other words, if I have a situation with two godly choices, to discern the best choice for the glory of God. Paul prayed for them to abound in love and depth of insight so that they might be able to discern what is best. To make the right choices in our Christian life, we have to discern what is best and choose it. That is why we need depth of insight that we may know or discern what is best and then choose it our lives.
What then is the best? Another translation for “best” is “ excellent”. Discerning what is excellent in life and choosing it. Sometimes it is not easy to discern what is excellent or what is best. Some people can distinguish the best in music, or some can distinguish or discern what is best in art; some what is best in sports. There are scouts that go around to discern who among the high schoolers are best in this sport and that sport so that they might choose them for this team or that team. It is easy to discern or distinguish an excellent basketball player. But it is not always easy to discern what is best and excellent in our Christian lives. Some Christians have no depth of insight to see what is best. They cannot discern based on their knowledge of God — because they do not know God so well. You may choose or distinguish a career based on your love for security for example— that is not the best or excellent thing for you. You may choose something out of your selfishness— and that is not the best for you nor is it an excellent thing. Lot made the wrong choices. Judas made the wrong choice. They had no discernment. But others whose love has grown to know God well, can discern better. They discern what is best and they choose it and follow it. We need to discriminate and discern between what things in life are worthy of the gospel and what life is not (Colossians 1:9-11). We need to choose to cling the cross, rather than cling to the world. We need to discern what is best and excellent. Most of all we need to discern the will of God that we might follow it in our lives, and do what is best for God and for the church and lastly what is best for me.
Third, that you may be pure and blameless. Paul’s third prayer for these Philippian Christians is that they may be pure and blameless. Read verse 10 again. “So that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” Why did Paul pray for them to discern what is best? So that they may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ— to be and to remain “pure” and “blameless” until the Lord’s return. Being pure and blameless from now till the Lord returns is a glorious prayer for the Philippians and for us. Paul wanted them to grow in love, and to learn to discern what is best and excellent in life, so that they might always be pure and blameless until the Lord returns. No one is pure and blameless. Only the Lord Jesus through his blood makes a man or woman pure and blameless in the sight of God. Apart from Jesus no one is or can be pure and blameless. But Paul is not talking about being pure and blameless in the sense of our standing in God. In Christ we stand pure and blameless. But Paul is also talking about being pure and maintaining purity in this world while we wait for Christ to return. He is talking about being blameless and remaining blameless in the sight of men as well.
Even though Paul was in prison, he knew very well that he had done no wrong. So did the Philippians to whom he writes. His life had been a life lived in the sight of God, and in the sight of men, in such a way that he was not blameworthy of anything. He was blameless in the life he lived. He lived a pure life. And he wanted them to live a pure life as well. This was his prayer for them. When can they live a pure and blameless life? When they can discern what is best and choose to do what is best in the sight of God. Purity here is a lack of contamination. Paul was not contaminated by the world around him at all. He did not allow the world to make him compromise his faith nor the life of faith that Christ had given him. How many Christians daily allow wrong and bad choices to contaminate their lives! How many let anger and hatred and jealousy and such to contaminate their heart. How many let the material things of this world contaminate with greed and desire. How many are contaminated by the filth of this world from day to day. Some even know what is best, yet they choose what is not just so that they might be a little more comfortable. Some know what is best but choose what is not in order to be more at ease with the world around them. Eventually, they have no purity of heart and life because they have allowed so many temptations to overcome them. God calls us to be pure and blameless in this world so that we might influence others towards the gospel of Christ. We cannot live contaminated Christian lives and expect that we would bear any fruit for righteousness.
Read verse 11. “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God.” Paul’s hope for them as he prayed for them is two fold. One, that they might fulfill their purpose in Christ, which is to be filled with the fruits of righteousness. And Two, that it may all be to the glory and praise of God. Paul wanted them to be pure and blameless in their daily Christian lives, so that their lives might be filled with the fruit of righteousness. When Paul lived a pure and uncontaminated or unpolluted life in this world, he bore the fruits of righteousness all the time. Even now in prison, there is no anger or complaining in his heart, only thanksgiving and hope and joy and love and prayer for these Philippians. He was indeed a man filled with the fruits of righteousness. Paul knew that this fruit of righteousness comes only through Christ Jesus. When he lived in Christ, and grew in the love of God, he naturally bore all kinds of good fruit in his life. He was most loving, and gentle and gracious as the Lord Jesus. And he prayed for them to be the same. He believed that if they only learned to discern what is best, and grew in love in the knowledge of God, then Christ himself would naturally bless them to remain pure and blameless and bear the fruit of righteousness in and through them.
Read verse 11 again. “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God.” All things are for the glory and praise of God. That is Paul’s point in writing letters, encouraging, rebuking, struggling, enduring, faithfully teaching, or praying. It was all for the glory of God and for his praise. Our lives are for the glory of God. We do what we do for the glory of God. We live the way we live for the glory of God. We endure hardship for the glory of God. Some of us have forgotten that. Some who forget that all things are for the glory of God, relapse thinking that some things are for their own glory. So when they love and they are they are not loved in return, they whine and complain and eventually turn sour and turn their face against God. God did not make us who we are, nor did he call us, nor rescued us from sin for our own glory. He did it for his own glory to his own praise. If we understand this, then we can love without expectation. Then we can love and our love will abound, because as our love grows in knowledge, it also grows in depth of insight, so that we clearly see many things as they are in the light of God and his truth. We see how love is the answer to all things. We see how love honors and glorifies God. We see how we can give our lives in the cause of the gospel without looking back. When we know that all is for the glory of God, then we rejoice and gladly pray together with Paul that our love abound.
This is what Paul prayed for them. Paul prayed that that they may bear the fruit of righteousness to the glory of God. He prayed that they might live pure and blameless lives in the sight of God and in the sight of man. He prayed that they always discern what is best. And he prayed that they may abound in love more and more in knowledge and in depth of insight. But all these prayer topics seem to be related with one another because Paul’s prayer is one prayer for the church and its members. If we abound in love we will experience all these things in our lives. This should be our prayer for ourselves and for others as well and for the church.