Lesson # 2: Thanksgiving and Prayer: Part 3 of 3
by John Lowe
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,
The affection progresses into a prayer that their love and understanding of the truth will continue increasing, for even Christian love may go badly astray unless it is correctly directed. That love, which was not merely a sentimental thing was to grow in knowledge and in sensitive perception so that they would be more and more able to distinguish between right and wrong. The apostle prays for more love, because love impels us to act righteously in all things, even in the minor affairs of life.
To their “love” they must add “knowledge” (of God) and “discernment (1:10)”―all spiritual perception. Love is always the way to knowledge. Paul wants heart and head to grow together. If we love Jesus, we will want to learn more and more about Him and about His truth. If we really love Jesus, we will be more sensitive to His will and His desires; the more we love Him; the more we will instinctively shrink from what is evil and desire what is right. Here is a test that every Christian congregation might profit from. Are we growing year-by-year (a) in Christian love and (b) in understanding of the Gospel? And if not, what do all our increases in money and members signify?
Paul’s prayers for the churches not only provide the pattern on which their own petitions are to be modeled, but also encourage them to follow the council they contain; in other words, that they might express their love in ways that show both knowledge of how to obey God’s will generally, and, more specifically, of how to make moral decisions based on God’s will in the give-and-take of everyday living.
Knowledge and depth of insight denote perfect knowledge (Eph. 1:17; 4:13) and universal discernment. The one deals with general principles, the other is concerned with practical applications. Paul says to let your love abound more and more, but let it abound in judgment; let it abound in being able to discern. Christian love is to abound in knowledge and discernment.
10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
The purpose of it all is that they may “be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” There are two translations of this verse currently in use: “approve what is excellent,” and “test things that “differ”―that is, distinguish between good and evil, or perhaps between what is good and what is better (see Romans 2:18). In either case, it is a prayer that they may know what is essential in religion. It is a call to put first things first. We all know Christians who get “worked up” about nonessentials to the neglect of fundamentals.
It does not require much discernment to discriminate between what is good and bad. It is far more difficult to decide what is really excellent and worthy of adoption (4:8, 9). Paul is praying that his readers may be able to discern and practice those virtues which are vital to the peace and harmony of the church (2:1-3). Such devotion to the Gospel will keep the Philippians “pure and blameless” until the final day when they are called to stand before Christ (1:10) and will ensure that they bear “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”
“The day of Christ” has reference to His coming for His own. This is the second time the Rapture is mentioned in this epistle. A child of God should walk in the light of the imminent return of Christ all the time.
The Christian that is devoted to the gospel will become pure and will not cause another to stumble. The Christian character can withstand any light that is cast upon it. On that basis, the Christian character is cleansed of all evil until it is altogether pure.
Discern what is best refers to the ability to distinguish “the things that really matter” from a variety of competing possibilities.
Sure and blameless might mean either “without stumbling (Acts 24:16)” or “not causing offense (transgression).” Friend, I don’t believe we can live the Christian life without offending somebody.
11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
What does Paul mean by “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”? He means what he calls elsewhere “the fruit of the Spirit”; love, joy, peace, and the like (Galatians 5:22). The righteousness which exalts man honors God. It is a practical manifestation of the grace communicated through Jesus Christ, and adorns the doctrine which is according to godliness. Paul had no time for a righteousness―an acceptance with God―which did not come from good works and lovely virtues. Faith, he said, should work through love (Galatians 5:6). Tabitha of Joppa as described in Acts 9:36, was one such example: “She was full of good works and acts of charity.” Her faith had flowered in love. However, there are people who are themselves faultless, but who are so legalistic that they drive people away from Christianity. The Christian himself is pure, but his love and gentleness are such that he attracts others to the Christian way and never drives them away from it.
Finally, Paul writes down the Christian goal; it is to live a life that brings “glory and praise to God.” Christian goodness is not meant to win credit for a man himself; it is meant to win praise for God. The Christian knows, and witnesses, that he is what he is, not by his own unaided efforts, but only by the grace of God. Too many Christians try to “produce results” by their own efforts instead of abiding in Christ and allowing His life to produce the fruit. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
The fruit tree does not make a great deal of noise when it produces its crop; it merely allows the life within to work in a natural way, and fruit is the result. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The difference between spiritual fruit and human “religious activity” is that the fruit brings glory to Jesus Christ. Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to brag about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.