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 for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 9-11)
When great men and women of the faith pray, we should listen. Paul was not a flippant pray-er. In fact, we can learn a lot about the theme of any of his given letters from what he is reporting that he prays for them. In this particular prayer we learn much of the theological underpinning for Paul’s remarks in the rest of the letter. He begins outlining his themes for the letter right here in what he is praying. There are three main concepts Paul alludes to here:
A crucial part of Christian love is knowledge. We will discover that the Philippians, in their love for Paul, had a desperate urge to send him money to help with his expenses (see 4:10-20). And we can read between the lines in 1:12 that their deep but erroneous concern was that Paul’s imprisonment had served to defeat the gospel. So though Paul assures them that God sees (or should we say, “smells”) their gift as a fragrant and acceptable sacrifice, he must correct the motive for which it was sent. Their love was lacking knowledge and depth of insight. We need a knowledge of God’s truth in order to correctly direct our love.
We see this principle in many areas. There are those who love their children but use disciplinary tactics that actually do more harm than good. There are ways we seek to help the poor that though motivated by love end up not being very helpful but rather keep them entrenched in poverty. We may counsel those we love but use unwise counseling approaches and hinder their healing. We may seek to cure a loved one’s wound by following an old wives tale that actually causes more wounding. Love, to be most loving, needs knowledge!
How well love chooses to act will be measured at the judgment. It is best for us to be pure and blameless on the day of Christ. This day of Christ is equivalent to the Day of the Lord in Old Testament passages. It is a time of God’s judgment that results in an outpouring of His wrath on those who have stayed in rebellion but results in blessing for those who have been submissive and faithful. Paul talks in 2 Corinthians 5 about this time of judgment for believers. It is not a time of determining if we have done enough to merit God’s forgiveness and eternal life. We have that only on the merit of Jesus Himself. Rather, it is a time to determine what rewards or lack thereof we will enjoy in the kingdom.
God is concerned about how well you and I love, with what knowledge we come to the task, and how sincerely. That He will judge our efforts in the last day shows how serious He is that we get it. Love is the standard for God’s holiness and ours. Paul will apply this standard to the Philippian conflict in the remainder of this letter.
We are not competent to love. Paul’s prayer is that we might be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can really enable us to love. Learning how to love should be our lifelong obsession because it is God’s passionate desire for our lives. We must understand that the gospel includes in it not only the rescue from sin’s guilt but also from sin’s stain on our souls. The gospel promises to deliver us from hell and from our sinful selves. We must learn to depend on Jesus to bear the fruit of love in our lives.
The Philippians had much to learn about love and the unity it creates among fallen human beings. So do we. Paul’s letter continues to teach us exactly what we need to know.