Philippians 1:1-11

I got to know Cary Weisiger through our mutual involvement with the board of Christianity Today, Inc. On one occasion, he shared with me his prayer routine. He mentioned that he had come to a stage of life in which he found it difficult to sleep all the way through the night. He often awakened at three or four in the morning. For some time he tried to fight that, upset that he couldn’t sleep straight through, until he discovered that God had actually given him the gift of a quiet time, freed from all other distractions during which he could pray. He described how each day of the week he has a prayer list. One day is for personal concerns. Another day is for world missions. Another day is for colleagues in ministry and the churches he has served. He went on outlining this, and I began to sense the richness of life and generosity of spirit toward others which is his. Much of it has been cultured and nourished by these times of disciplined prayer.

Do you pray for others? Do you have a prayer list which helps you discipline yourself in systematic concern? Prayer is the language of love and friendship. It cuts away selfishness. It purifies your concerns.
Paul prayed for his friends at Philippi. Prayer was that connective element which held him in communication with these Philippian believers, defying the distance of years and miles. Paul, most likely in prison in Rome, not only prayed for his distant friends, he wrote to them, telling what his prayer was. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he was communicating what God wanted to do in them. The people to whom Paul was writing were already converted people. The whole implication is that they were people who had begun a process. Paul’s prayer was that God would continue that process in a very special way.
Everything is not settled when you come to faith in Jesus Christ. A careful look at Paul’s prayer for his believing friends alerts you to what God wants to accomplish in you.
God has some specific desires for your life. Paul’s prayer gives a special definition of some crucial elements in that process called sanctification through which God is leading you.
God wants to increase your capacity for responsible loving.
I know that I ought to be more loving. You know that you ought to love. How many times have you and I read 1 Corinthians 13, only to end up feeling guilty? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? In its opening verses, Paul blasts away at those who mistake charismatic gifts, theological brilliance, unlimited faith, and acts of humanitarianism as true religion. Instead, he moves beyond these good actions of Christian living to the attitudinal level, setting a standard which seems impossible.
I read 1 Corinthians 13 at most of the weddings at which I officiate. Every time, I feel a little bit guilty when I am done reading it, because I see my own failure to live up to this high standard. Fortunately, Paul doesn’t expect us to have perfect love now. His prayer is, “that your love may abound more and more …” (Philippians 1:9).
You and I have not fully arrived in our capacity to love. This is an ongoing process of God’s Holy Spirit which sensitizes you to what God wants to accomplish in your life. Love can grow or love can be squelched.
One couple, after 15 years of marriage, has depleted their supply of love to a negligible point. Their love is less and less. Another couple finds that their love is expanding and getting greater and greater. They have only begun to realize their depth of affection for each other. You can grow out of love with Jesus. Or you can grow more and more in love with Him. This quality is so important for us to have in our relationship with the Lord.
Even as the married couple has their ups and downs, so do we with the Lord. However, in the process, there can be a steady, forward movement as our love for Him and our affection for the things of His Word increases. Alexander Maclaren stated, “Nothing makes a man more sensitive to evil than a hearty love to God.” So instead of feeling guilty for our failures, how exciting it is to open our lives to the Lord, expressing our love for Him, confessing our failure, so as to move steadily forward in daily growth. This daily growth has its spinoff dynamics for our relationship with other people.
Unfortunately, much of our love-talk is slushy. This is not responsible loving. There is a difference between sentimentality, which makes a display of emotion, and a deep, authentic caring. Love is not meant to be indiscriminate.
Paul expresses two cautioning, corrective qualities which keep true love on track. He writes, “And this is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight …” (Philippians 1:9).
The first quality is knowledge.
A responsible, growing love is one which is going through a constant process of education. It involves an awareness of biblical teaching. This knowledge is confined to divinely revealed moral principles. It involves gearing your life to moving in God’s will, making forward progress in the direction of the goal which He sets before you. John Calvin emphasized that when the Scripture talks about having “all knowledge,” it is not you that is to know everything. Instead, you are to know what is full and complete. There are various kinds of knowledge.
Be aware that there is knowledge which is useless, and there is knowledge which is fruitful. As you immerse yourself in the Scriptures, you have the exciting potential of allowing the Holy Spirit of God to engraft into your life the principles of God’s Word which educate you to a fuller understanding of His love and grace. This will free you to move beyond the theological trivia to a greater personal love of Jesus Christ and others.
Not only can some of us specialize in trivial knowledge. Sometimes our knowledge can be dead wrong.
That’s what happened to Air Force Staff Sergeant Charles Johnson. He was on a training mission on a B-52 bomber. He became convinced that the other five men were no longer on the plane because he could not contact them from his position in the gunner’s seat. Believing he was headed straight down into a crash, he ejected, only to discover that he was at 29,000 feet. He was found later wandering a rural road in Arkansas while his colleagues had landed safely at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
The wrong knowledge, rightly applied, can bring disaster. Or the right knowledge, wrongly applied, can bring disaster. God wants us to have the right knowledge and to correctly apply it.
One of my friends keeps a cassette player beside his bed. The first thing when he wakes up in the morning, he turns it on and listens to tapes of Bible teaching. Another friend carries cards in her purse on which are printed Scripture verses. She memorizes them in those idle moments that occasionally appear in her otherwise hectic schedule. Another has told me that this year, once again, he is reading through the One Year Bible.
Each of these persons is bombarding his or her thoughts with the positive input of God’s Word. In the process, they are influencing their subconscious to the glory of God. They are growing spiritually. They are increasing in constructive spiritual knowledge by putting God’s Word into the mainstream of their lives.
The second quality is depth of insight.
This is probably one of the least talked about but most important spiritual qualities which you can have. Nonbelievers call this “common sense.” From a spiritual perspective, it’s the capacity to apprehend between right and wrong. There is even a more subtle dimension to this. Depth of insight describes a person’s capacity to distinguish between degrees of right and degrees of wrong. In many cases, what is right and what is wrong can be quickly ascertained. However, it is much more difficult to know which of four legitimate courses of action is the most correct. What loving response is the most appropriate? Some of the translations use the word “discernment” to translate this phrase.
Solomon was blessed of God as he cried out for “‘a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?'” (1 Kings 3:9). That was Solomon’s prayer to God.
The Bible says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The ability to discern, to have a depth of insight, is a special gift from God which is available to help us live the lives that God dreams for us to live. It gives you a perspective on how to relate to others. It helps protect you from what is selfish and impure. It gives you the ability to apply right moral principles to specific circumstances.
Each of us has watched brilliant men and women squirm when their actions and decisions have been put under the bright lights of congressional investigatory committees. We have seen presidents, senators, and supreme court nominees who, in spite of their great knowledge of foreign affairs, understanding of political realities, and vast judicial experience, have had serious questions raised about their ethical sensibilities. Could the problem that has discredited some of these otherwise intelligent, successful persons be one of discernment? Could it be that a person with great intensity and intellectual brilliance finds his or her career derailed because they have missed that special God-given, morally-stabilizing, discerning spirit? The price paid is enormous when a president is discredited, or a senator is forced out of office, or a supreme court nominee is embarrassed for past discretions. Not only is a nation dragged through a political and ethical nightmare, but also the positive contributions of that person become eclipsed.
Before we become too critical of others, we must face up to the fact that our lives, too, move fast. We can get caught up in a swift current as a bunch of logs are pushed downstream. You and I can be just one of those logs, unaware that a mile or two down the river there is a waterfall. All the rest of the logs are going in that direction. What seems loving can be unloving as it goes undisciplined by the spirit of discernment which the Lord wills for you and me to have as we are open to Him. Part of the process of sanctification is that sensitizing by the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of discernment.
A footnote in the New English Bible gives a variant reading of this phrase which expands our understanding of discernment. It reads: “And this is my prayer, that your love may grow ever richer and richer in knowledge and insight of every kind, and may teach you by experience what things are most worthwhile.”
Discernment does not come easily. Wisdom is achieved through years of experience as you are buffeted by the tough experiences of life. The Apostle Paul came to his “depth of insight” learning lessons the hard way as he faithfully sought the mind of the Lord.
What is the by-product of this love tempered by knowledge and depth of insight? There are three by-products, each of which emerges from God’s continuing, sanctifying process in your life. Paul states them this way in Philippians 1:9-11:
And this is my prayer: 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.
By-product one is the making of correct moral choices.
God wants you to be a believer whose moral reflexes are developed, a Christian who approves what is excellent, what is best. He wants you to be prepared for Christ’s second coming, living a life which is sensitized to what is right. As you are growing more and more in love, increasing in knowledge and depth of insight, your moral reflexes will become increasingly alert.
One of the most important tasks of a coach is to train the athletic reflexes of players into a winning pattern. You and I have watched coaches like Don Shula and Joe Gibbs take young, undisciplined teams and shape them into winning machines. It takes time to develop a winning attitude. It takes time to mature.
This by-product of making the correct moral choice is not that of a legalistic lifestyle. We are not trying to produce Eagle Scout Christians who win merit badges as they complete a list of set requirements. That’s a sterile, moralistic approach to Christian living. That style gets you into trouble. Don’t try to live the Christian life by a set of laws. The Scriptures give moral guidelines. They make clear what is right and what is wrong in many situations.
We dare not neglect the theme of obedience. It is important that you and I be obedient to what God has revealed in His Word.
Gordon MacDonald illustrated this by quoting an entry in Frank Koch’s Institute of Naval Proceedings: “Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
“Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, ‘Light, bearing on the starboard bow.’
“‘Is it steady or moving astern?’ the captain called out.
“Lookout replied, ‘Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
“The captain then called to the signalman, ‘Signal that ship: we are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’
“Back came a signal, ‘Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.’
“The captain said, ‘Send, I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’
‘”I’m a seaman second class,’ came the reply. ‘You had better change your course twenty degrees.’
“By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, ‘Send, I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’
“Back came the flashing light, ‘I’m a lighthouse.’
“We changed course.”
Obedience is important. I am not talking about a legalistic approach. You and I can have our consciences seared to the point we rationalize our way around the legal system, tiptoeing with technical precision in a way which is legally correct but denies the Spirit of Christ at work in our lives.
What I am trying to say is that the Christian life is not primarily a list of “dos and don’t.” It’s a wholeness of existence. If you see it as a list of legal standards you will miss the joy of Christian living. You will find many occasions to hire yourself a spiritual lawyer who will help you rationalize your way around your technical spiritual legal system.
A by-product of the love which is growing more and more, disciplined by knowledge and a depth of insight, is a reflex system in which the Holy Spirit helps you approve what is best. You are able to be obedient to the teachings of God’s Word which stand as a strong lighthouse signal, cutting through the darkness of the night, saving you shipwreck upon the rocky shores of that peninsula. God desires to help you make the correct moral choices.
A second by-product of lifestyle is a development of high character.
Paul’s prayer is that his believer friends may be “… pure and blameless until the day of Christ …” The King James Version talks about “sincerity.”
This style of Christian living desires to be victorious over sin. Although you will slip and stumble, the forward-moving thrust is that of preparing you to confront Jesus Christ at the day of judgment. Your blameless life on that day will not be the perfect lifestyle you have achieved here. It will be the result of God’s atoning work on your behalf in which He has paid the penalty for your sin. Your righteousness is in Him. Your perfection is in Christ.
There has been a building of spiritual character through the years which shows a steady growth pattern. As the years go by, you are better able to handle temptation because you have an increased sensitivity to God and His Word in love. Your sincerity of lifetstyle is one in which you are increasingly moving beyond looking out for your own interests. Your conscience is being sensitized to live for His will. God forgive if we paint this as a lifestyle of perfection. It isn’t. It is the process of becoming the one who stands righteous before God on the day of judgment.
A third by-product is that your life will produce good works.
Stated in the words of our text, God wants you to be “… filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11).
You must always be aware that these good works are the product of your relationship with Jesus Christ. You can’t buy His love. They are the outworking of His love in your life. Fruitful living is an offshoot of your trust in Christ.
A good conscience produces good works. Jesus made the reference to a branch being ingrafted to a tree. That branch bears fruit because of the life sustaining quality coming up through the trunk of the tree. Without the tap root, the branch will not bear fruit. Without Jesus Christ, you will not be productive in authentic Christian fruit. This fruit is a by-product of what He is doing in your life.
You and I have to be very careful that we do not allow these fruits of His Spirit to become status symbols. The minute you and I begin to take pride in what we are doing for Christ, we have negated the exciting potential of His action in our lives. This is the terrifying vulnerability we have as believers. Our increased capacity for the correct moral choice, the high character which should mark the life of the believer and the fruitfulness of good works, all can turn to sterile spiritual rigidity, denying what God wants to do in you to the glory of Jesus Christ.
I believe this is why Paul wrote to his believer friends, saying that his prayer was that they would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight which would produce these three by-products. He knew that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. He knew that all of our religious pretensions are to no avail if they are not the by-product of God’s continuing sanctifying process.
How easy it is for those of us who claim to be living lives of faith to find ourselves spiritually calcified. How subtle is the tendency to view ourselves as “complete” and no longer “in process.”
Keith Miller describes the Christian life as one in which you and I as “becomers” live as does a trapeze artist. No one would go to a circus just to see the great trapeze artist stand on his platform high above the crowd. No! You want to see him take that leap, that vulnerable leap through the air to another place of temporal security.
Too often you and I live protective lives, avoiding spiritual risks and spiritual growth. Our love is stagnant. Our lives are marked by no increase in knowledge and no increasing depth of insight. Instead of clinging to that elevated, secure bar of your present spiritual success, God wants you to fling yourself forward, vulnerably reaching for that next rung of spiritual existence, finding new dimensions of relationship with Jesus Christ.
Are you willing to expose yourself to this high adventure of discovering in daily process what God wants to accomplish in you?

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