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We continue here our study in Paul's Epistle to the Philippians.
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.
To conclude his introduction to this epistle, Paul offers up a prayer for the Philippians. He prays first that their "love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight." We can never have too much love; we all need more love, so Paul prays that their love would "abound more and more." Love is a "continuing debt" (see Rom. 13:8) that we all bear, a debt to God that we can never fully pay off. Paul focusses his prayer on love because the growth of a Christian can measured by the growth of his love.
Now, our love is not to be mindless, mere emotion. On the contrary, it is to "abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight." True knowledge increases true love. Certainly, our love of God grows through increased knowledge of Him. Likewise, our love for others increases as we gain more knowledge concerning God's love for us. When we truly realize how much God loves us, in spite of our failings, we are better prepared to love others. Love that is based on feelings and emotions will fade away, but love that is based in "knowledge and depth of insight" can "abound more and more." Also, love that is based on knowledge is right love, loving the right things, for the right reasons, in the right way. So often, love that is based solely on our own feelings and emotions leads us to love the wrong things, for the wrong reasons, in a sinful, selfish way.[Footnote #2]
Paul points out that the growth of our love in knowledge leads to two attributes: discernment and holiness. First, our love is to grow so that we "may be able to discern what is best." Discernment is ever our problem. We need this greatly. We need to learn how to make the right choices and how to use our time in the right ways. We need, through knowledge, to discern whose teaching to follow. We need to be able to discern how best to serve the Lord. True, knowledgable love will enable us to "discern what is best." We are constantly faced with decisions and so, in each decision, we need to be able to choose what would most please and honor God.
Second, the growth of our love will lead to holiness. The ultimate purpose of the growth of our love is that we "may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ." This should be our goal: to be sanctified to holiness. Now, this will not happen all at once right away. On the contrary, we will spend the rest of our lives on earth being sanctified, improving with the help of the Spirit of God, becoming purer, more like Christ. Paul speaks on this later in this epistle: "Not that I have already...been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Phil. 3:12).
Paul's prayer that the Philippians "may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ", picks up from the word of encouragement that he gave them in verse 6, when he said that he was confident that "He who began a good work in [them] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." So, in verse 6, Paul gave the Philippians a word of encouragement concerning perseverence; here, he follows up his word of encouragement with a prayer for their perseverence. It is good to lend a word of encouragement to others, but it is more important, and much more effective, to pray for them.
As we become "pure and blameless", we will be "filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ." Purity and blamelessness are internal, invisible traits which will result in the external, visible "fruit of righteousness" in our lives. Fruit is the visible result of the invisible work within us. In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul enumerates the "fruit of righteousness": "[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). Christians must bear such fruit in their lives. Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last" (John 15:16). Also, Paul's prayer for the Philippians was not that they just bear fruit, but that they be "filled" with the fruit--filled and overflowing, always bearing the fruit of the Spirit, showing the world what kind of tree you are, a tree in Christ, belonging to God.
Notice that the fruit "comes through Jesus Christ." It is not fruit that comes as a result of our saintliness. Rather, it is fruit that comes as a result of the work that the Spirit of Christ does in our lives. Christ Himself pointed this out: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Finally, the purpose of the fruit is not that others would see what good people we are, but rather the fruit is for the "glory and praise of God." All that we do should be for the "glory and praise of God." We often pray to God: "Hallowed be Your name", and so we should live our lives to honor Him, in everything that we do.
12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
Having finished the introduction to his epistle, Paul now speaks of his own circumstance. Paul's object in this section is to reassure the Philippians that, even though he is in prison, their contributions to his ministry are still effective. He says: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."
When we see a servant of God undergoing affliction, we must be careful not to jump to false conclusions. We might think, "He can't be in the will of God, since he is undergoing a major trial." This logic is often wrong. In Paul's case, his imprisonment "served to advance the gospel". God often chooses to work through adverse circumstances: Paul in prison, Christ on the cross. "What had happened" to Paul was within God's will.
The persecution of the saints many times ends up in furthering God's work. Joseph realized this when he said to his brothers, who persecuted him, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Gen. 50:20). Also, the persecution of the early church in Jerusalem (ironically headed by Paul, before He came to Christ) served to spread the gospel throughout the whole region: "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria... Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" (Acts 8:1,4). When we see the church facing persecution, or Christians being attacked, we think: "Oh poor God, He's losing again." Silly us. God is in control. We mistake our affliction for God's defeat. Again, we must remember that God chooses to be victorious, at times, through our affliction. "Storms cannot shipwreck the Gospel; they waft it forward."[Footnote #3] Ironically, Paul's adversaries had him put into prison to stifle him and his preaching of the gospel. However, his imprisonment only served to "advance the gospel."
Paul cites two examples that the gospel had been advanced by his imprisonment. First, Paul states: "[I]t has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to every one else that I am in chains for Christ." Of course, the reason "it had become clear throughout the whole palace guard" was that Paul preached the gospel to "the whole palace guard" (at least, those he came into contact with). Paul, at the time, was under arrest in Rome "with a soldier to guard him" (Acts 28:16). And so, Paul was able to preach the gospel to his guards, thereby reaching people who had previously been unreachable by those preaching the gospel. Many of us who serve the Lord are waiting for the time when God will call us into full time service in the church; however, in our secular jobs, we can reach many people who are unreachable by pastors and full-time evangelists. We must, as Paul, make the most of such opportunities.
Paul was successful in preaching the gospel to his guards. In fact, at the end of this epistle, Paul sends greetings to the Philippians from "those who belong to Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:22), presumably referring to the guards whom Paul brought to Christ. Indeed, Paul must have been a pleasant prisoner to guard, one who did not complain, did not fight, did not spit, did not need discipline. The guard just had to be able to put up with his preaching! In fact, one could ask who the prisoner really was in such a situation. Paul certainly was doing what he wanted (which was to preach the gospel), and the guard was a captive audience, a prisoner of his own sins.
The second way that the gospel was advanced during Paul's imprisonment was that the Roman Christians were emboldened to preach the gospel. Paul states: "Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." Note that Paul says, "Because of my chains...", not "in spite of my chains." His imprisonment was actually a catalyst for the local Christians to begin preaching more. This was a result of Paul's joy and his Christ-like attitude in prison. The "brothers in the Lord" saw Paul's joy in his affliction, and so realized that they too had nothing to be afraid of. Thus, they spoke "the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." This is a testimony to the truth of the gospel. Only the truth could cause the timid to be strong, upon seeing the persecution of their brothers.
Interestingly, Paul always wanted to visit Rome and encourage the Christians there. He wrote in his epistle to the Romans: "I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong" (Rom. 1:10-11). So, Paul desired to go to Rome, and little did he realize that he would go to Rome as a prisoner. He wanted to encourage them in their faith, and he did so, though not in a way he expected: he did so through his chains. God's purpose is often carried out in ways we least expect.
Both ways that the gospel was advanced through Paul's imprisonment were a direct result of his attitude in his affliction. The members of the palace guard were won over (I'm sure) by his joy and Christ-likeness as a prisoner. The local Christians were emboldened to preach the gospel "fearlessly and courageously" by his joy and Christ-likeness as a prisoner. Paul's attitude in chains was a fruit of his faith: faith that God had not abandoned him in prison; faith that God could still use while he was in chains. The true test of our faith are its results when we experience affliction.
One more thought: if Paul can do so much to "advance the gospel" while he was in prison, can not we who are free?
15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Paul here admits that there are some drawbacks to the newfound boldness of the local Christians in preaching the gospel. It seems that there are mixed motives for those who are evangelizing, for "some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill." During times when the gospel is preached freely, there is always a drawback in that there is a prevalence of false teachers and teachers with wrong motives. This is an unfortunate fact, true then and now.
The true evangelists were preaching the gospel "in love", love for God, love for those they were preaching to. The others were preaching "out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble" for Paul while he was in chains. Interestingly, both were spurred on to preach the gospel, but for entirely different reasons. Apparently, many, seeing that Paul was in prison, had the ambition of taking his place as the premier apostle, thus they were spurred on to preach for this reason. Despite these false motives, however, the gospel was being preached. Surprisingly, concerning this situation, Paul says: "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached."
It is an amazing thing that the work of God was still advanced, even through those who had the wrong motives. And certainly, if you think about it, things are no different now than they were in Rome at the time Paul wrote this letter. Many preach Christ for the wrong motives--some for money, some for power, some for prestige, some to display their oratorical skills, some to "make points" with God--and yet, somehow God's work gets done anyway. Fortunately, those who listen to the preachers do not see the motives of those who are preaching, and so they respond to the work of the Spirit of God and the call of the gospel.
Paul realizes this, and so, to his credit, he is able to rejoice in the work of God, even though it is being carried out in a way that is a detriment to his physical safety. Paul cares less about how his circumstances affect him, than how his circumstances affect the preaching of the gospel. For Paul, the top priority is that the gospel preached. Paul's excellent attitude is summed up in his response to the local situation: "And because of this I rejoice." Paul rejoices in the progress of the gospel; he knows that God will judge the bad motives in His time.
This section brings up a truth that is worth noting: it is possible to do good, with bad motives. Because this is true, God judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, as well as the external works. Thus, we must examine ourselves as we serve God, and make sure that we serve Him with pure motives. The ends do not justify the means nor the motives. It is a challenge to all of us to serve sincerely.
So, Father, help us in this. Help us to serve You sincerely, with the right motives. By Your Spirit, fill us with Your love, so that love may become our motive for serving. We praise You that You choose to work through fallable man. Continue to use us, purifying us and our motives for service as You use us. In the name of Jesus, we pray these things, Amen.
2. Just as love without knowledge leads to error, so knowledge without love is undesirable. See I Cor. 13:2; I Cor. 8:1.
3. Meyer, Devotional Commentary on Philippians, pg.42.
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