By Roland W. Keith
In the opening of his letter to the church in Philippi Paul told the members that they were always in his prayers. Often when we think to pray for someone it is because of some hardship or worry we have on their behalf, however, when Paul thought of and prayed for the Philippians it was with joy and thanksgiving for the partnership he had formed with them through the gospel (Philippians 1:3-5). As he continued in these thoughts He wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:9-11). Like a teacher with a gifted student Paul was at once praising their efforts to date while letting them know his prayer on their behalf was for still greater things.
How often do we thank the LORD for the opportunity He has given us as individuals or as a congregation and then ask for more to do? How often do we pray for more success to the glory of His name? How often do we pray for greater success against Satan? Remember when Paul wrote to the Ephesians encouraging them to take up the whole armor of God to withstand the devil? Even as he was describing the armor and telling them to prepare themselves for spiritual battle, he included these words, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20). Paul’s instruction for them and us was to pray regularly for ourselves and others and the work that is being done. Even in chains the apostle asked the Ephesians to pray on his behalf, that he might be bold in proclaiming the gospel.
When we look at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, we see a specific list of things he prayed for on their behalf to make them stronger and more productive Christians. First, He prayed that they might abound more and more in love (Philippians 1:9). Love is the foundation for God’s plan of salvation; it is also the foundation for all that we do as Christians. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). John would later remind us that God’s commands are not burdensome for the faithful in Christ (I John 5:3). However, for us to be obedient we must first know what the will of God is (Ephesians 5:17; Psalm 119:104). Even then we come back to love, as Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
For the Christian love or charity or agape is paramount in all that we do. The first law was to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The second was like it, as explained by Paul: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-9). It is through love and obedience that we purify our souls (I Peter 1:22-23). Paul wanted the Philippians’ love to increase more and more along with the second thing he prayed for— their knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9). To be saved we must come to a knowledge of the truth in the things that rightly guide our lives and lead us to godliness and to the depths of our understanding of God and His ways, insofar as we can search them out (I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 1:3; Romans 11:33).
It is only in being filled with love and coming to a correct understanding of God’s will that we can begin to meet our primary responsibility as servants of God. Paul, who understood his role as servant, apostle and teacher, knew that it was his duty to bring others to a “knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1). While it is true that none of us are apostles our responsibility to the lost of the world and one another, and to our own advancement is the same as his was in most respects, as evidenced by Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14). Only by advancing in our knowledge of the LORD and the development of our discernment can we instruct or lead others to Christ, it is the only way to grow in our own faith, or to reflect the light of God to the world, bearing fruit to His glory; it is the only way to attain to the full stature of Christ in our lives (Romans 15:14; II Corinthians 4:6; II Peter 1:5; Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 4:13). This is what Paul wanted for those in Philippi.
Third, Paul prayed that through their growth as Christians they would be able to “approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:10). He did not want them to be numbered with those who refused God’s truth and salvation (II Thessalonians 2:10-12). The world is full of people who call evil good and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20). We seem to be seeing more and more of them in our day and time. Unfortunately, some of them even walk among us even as they did in the first century church, as Paul noted to Titus: “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). What was Paul’s solution for the one who is sincerely seeking the truth? Trust God’s word and apply it to all that we do (II Timothy 3:16-17). Next to that, test all that you are told against His word and hold fast to the truth (I Thessalonians 5:21).
Fourth, Paul prayed that his readers would be pure and blameless on the judgment day (Philippians 1:10). In praying for this he was praying for honesty in their motives, the openness of their hearts, the richness of their faith, and for their wisdom and thankfulness toward God (Matthew 6:1; II Corinthians 9:7; Colossians 3:16). He did not want them to be false in their religion as many had become. Jesus said of such people, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Paul wanted followers of Christ to “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). For those who might fall short Paul advised: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). James gave similar advice in his letter: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Finally, Paul prayed that the church in Philippi would be productive in God’s work (Philippians 1:11), not for the work’s sake alone but for their own spiritual welfare. We have a duty to obey God’s command in spreading His gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). Failure to do so has consequences, as Jesus taught: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit I am the vine… Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:2, 5-6). Each of us bears fruit. Either we are cultivating that which leads to death or that which leads to eternal life, as Paul wrote: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23; see also Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14; Romans 7:4).
One day we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our lives (II Corinthians 5:10). Paul was confident that the Philippians would meet that day as faithful servants (Philippians 1:6). Jesus taught His disciples: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). If we let our light shine and hold fast to the word of life (Philippians 2:16), we too will receive God’s promised rewards as faithful and diligent servants.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.