In the Old Testament period, the Hebrew high priest wore a costly shoulder garment called an ephod which hung over his heart. Over the ephod was the breastpiece. The breastpiece contained 12 precious stones, set in gold, with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel engraved upon them. The high priest would wear these garments whenever he performed his priestly duties. So the priest literally carried the people on his heart when he went into the holy place to pray to the Lord (Exodus 28:15-30).
In the same way, Paul lovingly carried the names of the Philippians on his heart. He cared for them (Philippians 1:7) and longed for them (Philippians 1:8) with a deep, abiding love.
When you love someone you want the best for them. And when you want the best for someone you will pray for them. So the passion of Philippians 1:7-8 leads right into the petitions of Philippians 1:9-11. Because Paul loved the Philippians, he prayed for them. In our text, we see four specific petitions.
A Fuller Experience of Love
First, Paul prayed in Philippians 1:9 “that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.”
There are some who see this as a reference to the love which the Philippians were to have for each other. That is, Paul prayed that the Christians in Philippi would get along better with each other, that their fellowship would be strengthened, that their love for each other would be deepened.
It is true that Jesus admonished His followers to love one another (John 15:12). It is also true that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). It is equally true that one of the problems of the Philippians was some bickering in the fellowship (Philippians 2:1-3, Philippians 4:2) so that they needed to grow in their love one for another. While all of those things are true, this is not what Paul was talking about here. It was not their love for each other that he wanted to increase but their love for God.
He wanted them to have a deeper love for God so that they would be able to endure more for His sake. He wanted them to have a wider love for God so that they would be able to embrace more for His kingdom. He wanted them to have a fuller love for God so that they would risk more for His will.
That they already loved God was evident in their lives. But Paul prayed that this love might abound still more and more, that it might flow in abundance, that it might show a great increase.
But notice the limits. He wanted their love for God to abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment. The Greek word for knowledge means knowledge gained from personal experience, as contrasted to intuitive knowledge. The Greek word for discernment means the ability to apply that knowledge gained in personal experience to the practical details of living. What Paul said was that he wanted their love for God to abound, but he wanted its overflow to be brought within the guiding limitation of knowledge and discernment.
He was not talking about an emotional, ecstatic, uncontrolled kind of love. He was talking about the kind of love which would cause them to know more about God and would create within them a sensitivity to the mind and heart of God. He wanted them to have a fuller experience of love for God. This was his first petition for the Philippians.
A Finer Evaluation of Life
Then, in the first part of Philippians 1:10, we see Paul’s second petition for the Philippians. He prayed, “that you may approve the things that are excellent.”
The Greek word translated “approve” means to put something through the test with a view toward approving it. It was the verb used for assaying metals to determine their worth. The Greek word translated “excellent” literally means “things that differ,” things that pull in opposite directions.
So Paul was praying that these Christians at Philippi would be able to apply spiritual tests to the different views, different appeals, different attitudes, and different actions around them and discern which ones were best, which ones really had value.
The Phillips translation puts it like this: “I want you to be able always to recognize the highest and the best.”
The Moffatt Bible translates the verse to say, “I pray that you may have a sense of what is vital.”
What a need for our day!
Let’s face it: life is filled with difficult, daily decisions. Every day we face a myriad of choices — not just between good and bad, but between good and better, and between better and best. And it is not always an easy task to decide which direction to take.
The world has been likened to a shop window in which someone has shifted the price labels around. The worthless items are often marked with high price tags and the most valuable items often have cheap price tags. It is difficult to know the value of things anymore.
What we need more than anything else today is a sense of what is vital, a spiritual sensitivity to true value so that we will be able to distinguish between the good and the best and, thus, give our approval to those things that are excellent.
How can we get this sense of what is vital? How will we be able to discern between the good and the best? This second element of Paul’s prayer grows naturally out of the first. We develop spiritual discernment by abounding more and more in our love for God. The more we love God, the closer we are to Him, the better knowledge we have of Him; the deeper our understanding of His Word, the sharper will be our spiritual discernment.
A fuller experience of love for God (which Paul prays for in Philippians 1:9) will result in a finer evaluation of life (which Paul prays for in Philippians 1:10).
A Fairer Example of Living
That leads to the third petition in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, also in Philippians 1:10. Paul prayed, “that you may … be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”
The word “sincere” has a couple of possible derivations, the most likely of which is “tested by sunshine.” When the ancients made porcelain vessels, the pottery would often break or crack. When that happened, they would mend the cracks with wax. Sometimes when you just looked at a vase, you would not know if it had been cracked or not. There was one sure way to know whether the object had been patched and that was to hold it up to the sunlight. The wax would immediately become visible. When the objects were not patched — that is, when they were pure — the merchants would advertise them as being sine cera, without wax, and that is where we get our word sincere. To be sincere means to be pure enough to stand the test of sunlight.
In Philippians 1:10, Paul also prayed that they may be blameless. One New Testament scholar says that the word Paul used here comes from the Greek word skandalon. Originally, that word was used to name that part of a trap to which the bait was attached. It was a snare which caused an animal to fall into a trap. To be blameless means not to be a stumbling block or a snare which causes someone else to fall.
In these two words, sincere and blameless, Paul was referring to the inward and the outward parts of our character. As concerns ourselves, we are to be pure. As concerns others, we are to be blameless. Paul said, “That is the kind of example I want you to be.”
How can we be that kind of example? How can we be inwardly pure and outwardly blameless? The third element of Paul’s prayer grows naturally out of the other two.
We are able to be pure and blameless (Philippians 1:10) because of our ability to discriminate between the good and the bad, between the better and the best, and give our attention to those things that are excellent (Philippians 1:10). And we will be able to discriminate between the good and the bad and give our attention to the things that are excellent (Philippians 1:10) when we experience a deeper love for God (Philippians 1:9).
A fuller experience of love will lead to a finer evaluation of life which will result in a fairer example of living.
A Further Exaltation of the Lord
That leads to the fourth petition in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians in Philippians 1:11. Paul prayed, “that you may be … filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
We hear a great deal in our day about our roots. Everyone is trying to discover his roots. But the Bible says that more important than our roots are our fruits. The desire of God for everyone of us is that we may produce fruit in our lives that will bring glory to Him.
We are to magnify God, we are to glorify Him in every part of our lives. That means our hands are to be employed in happy service, our lips are to bear happy testimony, our feet are to be happily running His errands, our knees are to be bent in prayer for His kingdom, our families are to be reflections of His concern. We are to bear fruit for Christ and thus glorify God. That is to be the purpose of every Christian.
A certain group of boys were going to do something they should not do. One of the boys resisted the pressure of the group and said he would not do it. They teased him saying, “Scaredy-cat, you’re afraid that if your father finds out, he’ll hurt you.” The boy answered, “No, I am only afraid that if he finds out it will hurt him.”
That is the point of Paul’s petition. We should seek to glorify God with our lives, not because we are afraid that He will hurt us if we don’t but because we are afraid it will hurt Him if we don’t. Paul prayed that their righteousness would produce fruit which would bring glory and honor to God.
How can we do that? How can our lives glorify God?
This fourth element of his prayer grows naturally out of the other three. We bring glory to God (Philippians 1:11) by exhibiting in our lives the kind of holiness that can be described as sincere and without blame (Philippians 1:10). We exhibit this holiness in our lives by discerning between the different opportunities before us and giving ourselves to that which is best (Philippians 1:10). We are able to determine what is best because of our love for God (Philippians 1:9).
A fuller experience of love will lead to a finer evaluation of life which will lead to a fairer example of living which will result in a further exaltation of the Lord.
What beautiful thoughts Paul expressed in his prayer! What a prayer for our day! And how naturally each element builds upon and grows out of the previous element.
Attached to Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1758 was a little poem:
“A little neglect may breed mischief. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse, the rider was lost; for want of a rider, the war was lost. All for the want of a nail.”
You had to start with the nail. If there was no nail, there would be no shoe; no shoe, no horse; no horse, no rider; no rider, no victory. Each was a natural progression from the other.
This is the truth that Paul proclaims in his prayer. So many are trying to get at the Christian life from the wrong starting point. You have to start with a love for God. If there is no love, there will be no sense of what is vital. If there is no sense of what is vital, there will be no pure and blameless life. If there is no pure and blameless life, there will be no glorifying God. It all begins with our love for God.
That is why, when someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He began with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:36). There will be no perception, and thus no purity, and thus no pleasing God without that.

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