1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.”
9 (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.
Even the most basic studies of Paul’s letters to the Churches in the New Testament will quickly reveal how much emphasis he placed on spiritual growth, both for the Church in a corporate sense, and also for individual believers.
And nothing has changed during the last 2000 or so years. It is of vital importance that we grow in our faith and understanding of the nature of God, for the simple reason that the opposite of growth is decay. Drifting away from God as our faith slowly but surely weakens can happen even without us realising what is happening. Sadly, we see this happening all too often, as some people who once seemed to be so close to Jesus are now so far away from Him, one wonders if they will ever be able to get back to where they once were.
I wrote in the bulletin today that we should jealously guard our faith in Jesus. The word jealous often has negative connotations, but God Himself says that He is a jealous God. In fact, in Exodus 34:14 He says, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
So in the context of our relationship with God, asking Him to help us jealously protect our faith in Him is a good thing.
Paul understood the challenges we all face, and this is the reason for his prayer in Philippians 1: “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.”
Hebrews 3:12-14 says, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”
The early Christians in Philippi that Paul was writing to had grown tremendously in their faith and work for the Kingdom, but Paul prayed for more progress.
He prayed first for a growth in their love for each other. Most of us know that the Greek language has three words for love: eros (romantic love), phileo (brotherly love), and agape (Godly love).
It would be natural for us to assume that Paul would pray that their phileo love for each other would deepen, but the word he used for love in verse 9 was agape. The agape of God is quite distinctive, and is much deeper than eros or phileo love, yet this is precisely what Paul prayed for the Church – that we would deepen our love for each other to such an extent that we would even love each other in the same way that God loves us.
He also prayed for this love to “abound.” This is not just a one-time event, but rather a continual activity. He speaks of the way God loves us in Romans 5:5. “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” There is an abundance in these words, and the love that Christians are to have for each other is to be the same.
When we love each other with God’s agape love, we move our relationship with each other to a whole new level. It directly confronts the me-first attitude of the sinful heart, because agape love is an others-centred love. It looks for needs in the lives of others and seeks to meet those needs with no thought of expecting favours in return.
It is also a love which is characterised by knowledge and discernment. This is such an important point that we often miss. Many people today want to focus on love with no discernment. That’s the way of the world, especially today.
The world has got love all wrong, because to the non-believing world, love means tolerance, and accepting anyone and everything without questioning right and wrong. This does not mean we are to hate those who stand opposed to God’s truth. Remember, Jesus died for them too. He loved us first, and He loved them first, and it is love that will bring the lost into the Kingdom. For far too long the Church has been critical and judgmental of others, rather than an instrument of the love of Christ.
Once people have had their eyes opened to the truth and have accepted salvation in Christ, the task of the Church is, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. What this means is that the correcting and training happens within the Church as we grow in faith and love together. Those who are on the outside need to be loved, rather than have stones thrown at them.
Love must be based first and foremost on truth. Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Hate what is evil, not who is evil. I think we get that the wrong way around far too often.
Again, agape love must be based on truth, which leads to verse 10 in Philippians 1, where Paul prays for a deeper discernment.
He understood the struggles we face in our choices, and so he wanted believers to evaluate the things of life correctly. Many things in life have no ultimate, eternal value, and the Bible reminds us that to find the real worth of things, we must weigh them in the light of eternity and approve the things that are excellent.
If only we would learn to have the question, how important is this in the light of eternity, in the forefront of our thinking when making decisions. We would undoubtedly make much wiser decisions than we often do!
There must be an ultimate standard for us to follow – a standard not to be found in the varied philosophies of mankind, but arrived at only through a knowledge of God’s Word. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Genuine, mature love, when making a decision, asks questions like:
• Does the Bible speak against it?
• Will it glorify God?
• Will it harm me physically or spiritually?
• Could it cause others to stumble?
• Would I make that choice if Jesus were standing right here?
It takes a tremendous amount of spiritual maturity to not only ask ourselves those kinds of questions in the first place, but also to arrive at a different decision than we would have, had we not asked them.
It’s quite simple if you think about it. The closer we are to Jesus, the more we are in tune with His will for our lives, rather than our own.
Paul goes on in his prayer when he prays for righteousness in the Church.
He prayed that we would be pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness. You can sense Paul referring here to the opening verses of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
God wants a bumper crop of righteousness in our lives. This is not self-generated or self-produced fruit. It only comes as we remain grafted into Jesus, the true vine, as He describes Himself in John 15. Righteousness does not come naturally to the sinner. It is something we can develop and nurture only by walking in step with God.
I love the way Paul ends this brief prayer. Here he tells us the purpose of it all: The glory and praise of God.
That was Paul’s goal, and it should be ours too. Again, the world has it all wrong. In our sinful state we think it’s all about I. It’s my life, and I want to have the freedom to live my life the way I want to. Well, the world has tried that philosophy, and it is continuing to try it. Do you think it’s working? What does the state of the world teach us?
Everyone is doing exactly as they please, and all it’s doing is adding to the misery and heartache we already have enough of.
As Christians who are growing in grace and love, God is opening our eyes to the truth that we were created by Him, and for Him. As He changes our hearts and our minds, we learn just what it means to live for His glory instead of our own. It’s a long process which lasts an entire lifetime because we remain stubborn. We are slow learners, but when we see this prayer in Philippians 1 as God intended us to see it, the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 will begin to make sense: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and think that just because we’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer, everything is right in our lives. There are dangers around every corner. I read a story once of a man who asked his minister if it was ever possible to overcome and defeat the sinful nature completely. His minister replied, “I wouldn’t trust myself until I’d been dead for at least four days.”
The dangers we face are real, and the stakes are immeasurably high. We just cannot afford to relax and think that we’ve got this whole spiritual warfare issue sorted. We have to keep growing. The alternative is to go backwards – back into our old lives where we become so desensitised to God’s truth, that we can no longer discern the difference between His truth and the devil’s lies.
I know I’ve used this illustration before, but it does explain the concept of growth and maturity so well: Two people did the same job in the same company. The first person had been there for 10 years, but just did the job that was required. He took no initiative in learning more about the job than he needed to know. He just did what was expected of him and lived for 5pm each day and payday each month. The second man had been there only 5 years and was doing the same job, but he took an interest in his work. He asked questions of his superiors and made it a priority to learn more about the company and their products. The time came for one of the managers to retire, so his position was advertised among the rest of the staff. Both men applied for the promotion, and the second man got the job. So the first man went to his boss and said, “That’s not fair. He’s got only 5 years’ experience, while I’ve got 10 years’ experience, so I should have been promoted.” His boss replied, “That’s where you’re wrong. You don’t have 10 years’ experience. You’ve got 1 years’ experience ten times. You’ve learned nothing and have made no effort to show any initiative or to grow.”
It is up to us to take the initiative to seek to grow. God will give you the tools you need, but you have to ask Him first.
We need to deepen our walk of faith with Jesus. If you want to grow, you will. But you need to take the initiative of asking Him to do that.
Peter ends his second letter with a command to grow. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Listen again to Paul’s plea for the Church in Ephesus in chapter 4: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort (in other words, there is something we need to be doing) to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
As you read through the New Testament letters, you’ll see this recurring theme. Spiritual growth is not an optional extra for the Christian. It is meant to be a vital component of our daily lives.
2 Peter 1:5-8 says, “Make every effort (there it is again) to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the three verses we’ve looked at in Philippians 3 today, the Bible sets a standard for each of us in several areas. And it is no coincidence that in this case, these principles are in the setting of a prayer.
This should serve as a reminder to us to pray for these characteristics to be realities in our lives.
Pray it for yourself. But you can also take it further. Have you ever wondered how you should pray for someone else? We’ve all promised at one time or another to pray for other Christians. Sometimes the need is obvious, and we need to pray into those specific situations, but what about the times when so-and-so just says to you, “Please pray for me?”
Philippians 1:9-11 is a wonderful prayer that you can use as a model to pray for others. Have you ever found yourself just saying, “Lord, bless this person,” because you weren’t sure what to pray for? Paul gives us a model in this prayer for spiritual growth and progress.
So I’d like to challenge you this morning. If you promise to pray for someone, or if they ask you to pray for them, if the circumstances mean that you pray there and then, then do so. But later on, when you have time on your own, pray for that person again, and use Paul’s prayer on Philippians 1. Just try it, and you may be surprised at how your own prayers will deepen in their meaning and maturity, and you will also be praying a wonderful prayer for that person and their needs.
Pray these things for your children, your parents, for your friends, for your fellow church members, and of course, don’t forget to pray it for yourself. Make up your mind, and make every effort to prayerfully grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Philippians 3:12-14
When talking about being faithful to God, Paul uses the analogy of an athlete straining towards the finishing line.
The implication is that it takes effort and hard work to grow in grace.
Why does spiritual growth not come as naturally as physical growth?
In which ways do you think we drift away from Jesus?
What are some of the warning signs and the consequences of not growing spiritually?
Share with your group some of the personal challenges which you face in your spiritual walk.
Read Philippians 1:9-11
Discuss the areas of growth described in this brief prayer.
How can we use it to pray for a) Ourselves, and b) Others?
Close by using this prayer as a model as you pray for these qualities to grow and mature in your small group.