This week’s passage is a continuation of last week’s passage, but for the sake of thoroughness, I broke them up into 2 sermons. Paul is still very much in his introduction to the Philippians. We pick up this morning in verse 7 as we remember that the occasion of the letter is disunity, suffering and opposition; and the purpose of the letter is learning how to live out the gospel in community while enduring disunity, suffering and opposition:
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers (koinonos; a fellow joint sharer in all things with you) with me of grace, both in my imprisonment (Acts 20:22-23) and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (by way of notes, the word “gospel” appears more times per line in Philippians than in any other book in the NT, 9 times!)
Paul calls his imprisonment and ability to defend and confirm the gospel a “grace”, and he tells the Philippians that they are sharing in this grace with him. Paul considers it to be an undeserved gift to be in prison for the gospel.
Again, Paul is tying back to what he has just said in the first few lines of his greeting. He is a partner with the Philippians and they with him. His chains are their chains. Their freedom to walk about and minister the gospel is his freedom to rejoice in to. It is all not only a part of God’s saving grace of them, but also God’s sovereign grace who directs all things for His glory and for our good.
“Partnerships are usually based upon the ability of partners to share their wealth and skills to accomplish common objectives.”1
And there is nothing else in the universe that can bring together all different sorts of sinners than the gospel of Jesus Christ! The passion of the gospel is what ties people together and it is what allowed Paul to tell the Philippians that he “holds them in his heart”. It is the gospel alone that allows sinners to partake together in the mercies of the Lord God!
8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (again, this shows the union he feels with them and desires for them to know this deep intimate unity in Christ; much like the unity of the Trinity; What a model! Father, Son, Spirit // Christ, Me, Others) 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent (Rom. 12:1-2), and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
This prayer is familiar to the prayer he had for the Thessalonians too: 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thess 3:12
In verse 9, Paul lets known to us his three petitions in his prayer for the Philippians:
1) that your love may abound more and more: Paul does not specify if he wanted their love for God or for people to grow more and more as he does in 1 Thess. I think he left it open ended or unanswered because Paul knew that if their love for God abounds, that meant that their love for people would abound as well. And if they were loving people more and more, then they would be loving God. Horizontal love flows out of vertical love…And this Christ-centered, Spirit-compelled love moves us towards extending grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, and on and on… to others.
2) with knowledge and all discernment: Paul doesn’t have in mind here sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference or a very compelling video that grips your guts. No! ‘I pray,’ Paul writes, ‘that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.’ The kind of love Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgable about the things of God.
We live in a society that satiates the body and starves the soul. Scripture feeds the
soul, leading to spiritual maturation, without it, we are starving Christians. (1 Peter
Paul wants them to be knowledgable about the things of God and His kingdom. Paul sees this knowledge (epignosis; a personal knowledge, profoundly relating to the reality of being human, relational and responsive knowledge) as essential to love God and people (think marriage: the more you get to know the love of your life, the more you will grow in your love and service to them, etc…). The more we know God and His gospel, the more reason we will have to love Him! “A superficial love for God is a sure sign of a superficial knowledge of God.”2
(Think also about KONY 2012) The more you know the more you want to get involved. But God’s knowledge of injustice and the solution for it is much more motivational than the KONY movement, although (minus their non-Christian worldview; hope equals world peace or a safe world to live in) this is a great cause.
3) so that (here’s the big idea) you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ: Paul clearly wants the best for the Philippians, namely because he wants what’s best for the name of Christ. When God’s best is pursued, our good is taken care of. They are partakers with Paul and they are partakers with Christ. He wants them to live that way. Approve to me, yourself, and others what is best for the world…obedience to God. And Paul is not encouraging them to pursue holiness for reputation sake, but for the sake of being holy as they’ve been called to be holy for God’s and the world’s sake (look at the end of verse 11: to the glory and praise of God.) Think of what Jesus’ obedience accomplished.
We know that Paul is not referring to man trying on their own to be an approved workman because of this next verse (re-read vv. 9-10 with this verse): 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Paul’s prayer is that they would labor for the Lord, and be approved by God, and that they will mature and become more like Christ Jesus, but He qualifies that desire with the reality of how it will get done. It will get done if you are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”, not with the fruit of righteousness that comes from yourselves or your own labor. You tracking with me here?
Paul wants the Philippians to partner with him in the gospel and to labor for the Lord in obedience to God, but He doesn’t want them doing it out of their own righteousness or for their own agenda or for their own significance.
Paul so desperately wants the Philippians (and us!) to get that our sanctification (our growth and maturity and obedience) is rooted in the righteousness of Jesus which gives us our approval, not our own righteousness. “A tree that bears fruit is alive. But a tree that is filled with fruit glorifies the gardener’s care!”3
And because of this great news (the fruit of the righteousness of Jesus Christ), Paul breaks out in worship with a doxology: “to the glory and praise of God.”’
So why does Paul go here? Why this kind of prayer. Because like Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Paul knows that “The person who thirsts for God easily studies and meditates on the inspired word, knowing that there he is certain to find the one for who he thirsts.”
His experience revealed to him that the soul becomes like what it desires. If we desire sin, we become sinful, to desire God is to become like God. If our passion is, divided our soul splits (Jam 1:8). If we desire what is perishing and changeable, our souls become enslaved to vain pursuits. You get what you want and Paul prayed that they wanted more of Jesus in all areas of life.
How much do your prayers long for what Paul longs for (that you and/or others at Kineo would abound in love, knowledge, discernment, for the advance of the gospel and for the glory of He who has redeemed you)? What do you pray for? What do you focus on when you pray? What’s your motivation for justice and mercy. Reaction or Proaction?
And Paul goes on: 12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel (this is the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ; this is a part of my approval that Christ Jesus will surely complete), 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord (having trusted in the Lord) by my imprisonment, are much more bold (courageous, sustained confidence) to speak the word without fear (fearless in their reasoning/declaring of the gospel at will with anyone whom God brought before them).
Among pagans and among Christians, God’s sovereign grace upon his life (his imprisonment) has served to make Christ known to those who were chained to him and did not know the gospel and to encourage those who are preaching or who desire to preach the gospel (encouragement and endurance; Rom 15:4-5).
So beautifully and ironically, Paul’s chains brought to the very center of Roman politics and secular center of that city. Could there be a better plan to get people’s attention? Paul doesn’t think so and he rejoices in it! This is reminiscent of the words of Jim Elliott who penned these words before he died by the hands of the very people he tried to help: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”4
Do you think the cause you live for doesn’t make that big of a difference if it’s not global or at least successful by hundreds of people being on board? Are you content labor ing for Jesus in the way Jeremiah did? Or would that not be as fruitful as you would like? Are you partnering for the gospel for God’s kingdom sake or for your sake? Paul goes on…
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment (Matt. 13:24-30; the wheat and the weeds). 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Phil. 1:7-18)
Paul gives us a glimpse in to how he is so patient with affliction and suffering. He loves God more than life, therefore he wants more than anything God’s gospel to be known by all people. “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.” This sounds very much like his words before he was sent to Rome which we will close with:
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24)
As we close, I want to highlight two cravings that keep us from being faithful to God in the way that Paul is calling us to and then give us four reason why God gives us more to crave than anything else in this world. So here’s two cravings that keep us from being faithful to God: thrill & significance.
One quote regarding teen pregnancy says this: “Teenagers are far more likely to have babies when their lives begin to seem pointless and when the doors to the future seem closed.” There is a very close connection between saying “life has no point” and saying “life has no edge”. Sex, porn, jobs, sports; they all create cheap thrills and false significance. Thrill and significance is what we all long for.
If we put these two deep longings together, I think what it’s saying is this: “I want my life to have meaning that is exciting to me and others. I want my life to be admirable. I don’t want to suck in life; I want more thrill and joy in my life. I want to live for something that I would give my whole life for.”
Think about this: When you define yourself by what you do, then when you don’t do that thing that defines you, you cease to be significant (there’s no thrill for you).
Oddly enough, the 2 things that keep us from being faithful to God are thrill and significance. These are the very things that are satisfied in us when we are faithful to God. ETERNAL THRILL & DIVINE SIGNIFICANCE!
Acts 20:24: “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” In this we see the realities that Paul was living for that are much bigger than life as we know it as well as when he says Phil. 1:18: “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.” These realities were enough to Paul walk right in to the fiercest of battle and risk life and limb to fulfill the reality that he believed in. This is the kind of reality we need to see Scripture through!
Here’s the realities that Paul sought to grow in in all knowledge and discernment:
1) The Reality of God: Since we come from God and are made for God, you can mark it down as absolutely certain: Any list of goals that you choose to live for will leave a deep void in your soul if GOD is not the centerpiece in that list, guiding and shaping all your choices. God was the center and source of Paul’s life, and the glory of God was the light of that enormous cause which led his every step, and all the other aims of his life were like tiny flickers from a dead lighter that would only light if God’s light was there to let it light. This is a driving force that creates a radical edge in life.
2) The Reality of God’s Grace: The power of God’s holiness and justice are unimaginable to us, the only picture we get that could compare is eternal darkness and separation from light and any life for eternity. So now, the grace of God is just as enormous in the opposite direction; eternal light, and reconciliation to the source of light and life. Grace is the center of God’s reality. Grace, or love, is the essential calm at the center of the perfect storm (1 Tim. 1:12-16).
3) The Reality of the Gospel: First, there is the reality of God himself, breathtaking in all his glory. Then, there is the reality of God’s grace, rescuing sinners from the perfect storm of his righteous wrath and giving them a place next to his heart forever in the eye of the storm. Then, the Gospel. The very message of God’s grace to all the world that these things are so and free for those who believe! A great and perfect God truly does exist. He is holy and cannot fellowship with sinners because of His perfection, but there is a way to safety with this God, through the death and resurrection of his Son. All who submit to His Son, Jesus, and trust in His grace will be rescued and drawn into the place of peace and wonder at the eye of his storm. This is the gospel. This is a breath-taking reality that will grow your love in all knowledge and discernment so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
4) The Reality of God, His grace, and the Gospel that transforms us as being our cause to live for: The cause of testifying to the grace of God is bigger than life as we know it because a cause is as big as its source and goal. The source and goal of Paul’s cause was God Himself. This cause is also bigger than life as we know it because a cause is as big as the effects that it has on those who are committed to it. I once was lost, but now I’m found! I was blind, but now I see. I was dead, but I was given life! I was an enemy of the Almighty, all-loving, righteous and perfect God, but He chose me to be His son and redeem my life! I was living for nothing, but now I am living for His kingdom!
The benefits of God are not always as you want them to be, but they are His means of grace none the less. Receive gladly today what God has given you, whether suffering or rejoicing, and seek the benefits of God with eyes that love God’s kingdom more than your own kingdom.
This is how our love will abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment so that [we] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.