Start Praying for Maturity (Philippians 1:9-11)
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Start Praying for Maturity
Philippians 1:9 to 11–A prayer for love, priorities, discernment, fruit and more
Examples of misplaced priorities are found everywhere. Trying to break the speed record in crossing the Atlantic, with a “God Himself couldn’t sink this ship” attitude resulted in the Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking–misplaced priorities can be deadly. Recently someone asked me what kind of coffee they served on the Titanic–do you know? Sanka–misplaced priorities can lead to bad humor.
All of us battle with priorities–choosing between good, better and best. We struggle with making good decisions and agonize through what the Lord really wants us to do. What college should I go to? Who should I be friends with? What house do we live in? How do I care for my parents? What is the best use of my time? Where to serve? What are the good things, better picks or the best choices?
Living godly priorities is a huge challenge. For every genuine Christian here, to live is Christ–yet I can work all day long (or for some, go to school) with no thought of Christ. I can serve at church without depending on the Spirit. I can pray or sing, but not have my mind engaged with Christ. It’s almost as if we’re pretending to be Christians–going through the motions, since we don’t want to deny the faith, even though we’re not living by faith.
Slowly, over time, we can lose our way altogether–we can forget why we’re here and what we’re to be about. We can lose our priorities. But you are not the first. The Philippians were battling with the same loss of focus. They began to drift into side issues, errant thinking, and divided up against each other. They lost their priorities. Turn to Philippians 1:9 and follow along in your outline.
After Paul greets the Philippians, he pours out his thanks for and affection of the Philippians in sharing in the work of the Gospel in verses 3 through 8. He told them he was praying for them with joy in verse 4, and shares his confidence that God will finish the good work He started in their lives in verse 6. So now in verses 9 to 11, Paul tells the Philippians and us the content of his verse 4 prayer, and describes the actual good work God will bring to completion on the day of Christ.
As he prays, Paul refocuses the Philippians toward their priorities. Paul now gives a clear target to shoot at. One of the biggest difficulties in the Christian life is to know what we are supposed to prioritize and get done. Where am I supposed to put my energy? What am I supposed to look like in ten years if the Lord tarries? I’ve found when I don’t know what the target looks like, I rarely hit it. Have you found that true too? There’s actually a comfort in not knowing the target, because when you aim at nothing you hit it every time.
Paul takes all the excuses away, erases all the false targets, and clearly lays out the bullseye for every true believer–in Philippi, and for us at FBC today. Paul shows us how to pray for Christians. This is a pattern you are to follow when you pray for your children and friends. This is what you on-fire collegians are to pray for your less-than-zealous, but genuinely saved, parents.
But Paul also goes beyond what to pray for by giving us the priorities of the Christian life. As he prays for the Philippians, you will find a description of the mature Christian and what it means to grow in Christ. Paul models what we’re supposed to look like as we mature in Christ, and become like Him. It doesn’t matter if you are 7-years-old or 70–here is a picture of what God is working out in your life.
Take a look at one of my favorite New Testament prayers, found today in Philippians 1:9 to 11. Stand with me and read it from your outline aloud with me. “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Let’s pray, and allow me to guide your prayer:
1 Paul tells the Philippians how he prays for them, but in doing so he shows you what to pray for in your children, parents, Christian friends and church. Ask God to change the way you pray because of these verses.
2 By praying this way, Paul also shows you God’s priorities for your life, so ask Him to refocus your lifestyle according to these verses.
3 In this prayer, like many in the New Testament, God also gives you a ruler to accurately measure your spiritual maturity. Ask God to show you where you are at and to move you to greater maturity.
Our Father, change us through these verses to be more like your Son–all for your glory. Amen. And the first thing Paul does in these verses is to . . .
#1 PRAY for the Christians in your life
Verse 9, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” Paul’s already told the Philippians he regularly prays for them in thanks with joy in verse 4. Now he tells them what he prays. But don’t miss the forest in the midst of the trees–don’t forget Paul is praying for his beloved friends. We can be so focused on the content of the prayer, we forget the importance of prayer.
The prophet Samuel put it this way in 1 Samuel 12:23, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.” All spiritual leaders will be men and women of prayer–why? “Pray” is the main verb in this paragraph. It’s the main issue in these verses. Plus, Paul begins this paragraph with an “and” telling us he intended this paragraph to be connected with the previous one.
So connected to his deep affection for the Philippians in verses 3 to 8 is prayer. If we’re going to help our children, or see our parents transformed, or minister to our students, or watch your community group attendees mature, then we must pray for them. How Paul? Paul put the verb “to pray” in the middle voice, keeping us from trying to force God to do what we want, and preventing us from being indifferent or silent. But we are to commune with God as our partner in prayer.
And Paul put the verb “pray” in the present tense, telling us God never gives up, never grows unsympathetic. But one prayer for your difficult child or impossible community group member or unsaved parent is not going to do. Present tense means you need to keep on praying for them. If you want a believer to grow mature, pray for them.
You say, “That’s right–pray my husband gets a raise, my kids get A’s, and my cousin is healed of athlete’s foot.” Yes, pray about everything–but as you do, make certain you pray about the most important things. Hit the target of prayer, and stick with priorities. So much of our praying is focused on the physical, material and transitory. But Paul’s prayers for his beloved Philippians didn’t concern their suffering, trials, persecution, their coming death from old age, and especially not about their ingrown toenails. Paul prayed for their maturity by calling us to . . .
#2 Pray for mega-growth in LOVE
Read verse 9 again, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more.” STOP! A mature Christian is a loving believer. An immature Christian is an unloving believer. Love is not a feeling you are going to feel that you have never felt before—no. Paul is not telling the Philippians that he is praying for them to get more and more emotional.
Biblical love is God’s character expressed in selfless action. God’s love is a choice, placing a high value on another person, seeking to benefit them through a Christ-like action. The rest of the prayer and the remainder of this letter proves the love Paul has in mind here is not merely affection, but selfless giving, sacrificial behavior.
So then how much should we love this way? Paul’s prayer is a double whammy. Verse 9, “This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more.” Paul uses the present tense verb, “may abound,” then adds the phrase “still more and more.” The verb “may abound” means a continual and perpetual overflowing. This is a love that is too much–like filling up a coffee cup, having it overflow into the saucer which then fills, spilling all over the floor.
Paul desired their love for God and others would continually overflow, surge and spray all over others still more and more–like being in a water fight. At first you don’t want to get wet. Then you get a little wet, but you could still go back to what you were doing before the war began. Then most of you is damp–you’re thinking you will have to change clothes. But before you actually head off to change your clothes, you become soaked–dripping with water.
Now you’re unstoppable, because it doesn’t matter what they do to you, you’re already drenched. You don’t care how wet you become, since you could literally jump in a pool and not become any wetter. At this point, you’re a dangerous weapon in a water fight–why? Because it doesn’t matter what happens to you anymore–only what happens to others.
This is exactly what Paul wants in our lives, to be so soaked with God’s love that we only care about giving it to others. Paul wants us to become dangerous lovers of God and people. You say, “Chris, I can’t love like that!” You’re right–the Bible says in 1 John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.” We can’t love anyone like that until we come in personal contact with the source of love, which is Christ.
When we submit to Christ as God, who died for our sins and rose from the dead, transforming us internally, only then, God says in Romans 5:5—“The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Only when we’re in Christ will we have any hope of seeing Philippians 1:9 become a reality–that our love may abound still more and more.
By using the present tense, then adding still more and more, Paul is not blasting the Philippians for actions they’d never done. He’s pointing out their recent behavior of dividing up and selfish ambition will mar their testimony and hinder their growth. So never allow your love to dry up with those you know best.
Christians who’ve known each other for years in the same home, same ministry or same church experience this. We find it easier to love those on the outside we don’t know, than to actively love those on the inside we do know, because we become aware of their weaknesses and faults. Familiarity breeds contempt, and sadly it breeds indifference.
Teens reach a saturation point with their parents. Elders can become prophets without honor. Husbands stop listening to their wives when bombarded with the same song over and over. Paul would say, those you know the best, whose weaknesses and quirks wear on you–those are the ones I want you to love even more.
So Paul says to the Philippians, you’ve known each other for ten years, you’ve been loving each other, now is the time for your love to mega-abound more and more. The greatest test of your love is those you live with and minister with. How are you doing? When do we normally see God’s love in the church? When someone is hurt, or sick or struggling–then we let out all the love stops and pour on the sacrifices with calls, meals, gifts, care, contact–and we should. But Paul isn’t talking about loving others only when they get hurt. He’s talking about showing Christ’s love present tense, all the time–still more and more.
And wake up, FBC–this love is not limited to your fellow high school students, long term friends, or people in your community group. It is meant for this local church–especially people you don’t know well. Our love is to mega-abound to the church family, even those you don’t know–and for that love to flood the family continually more and more. Pray for our love and your love to tsunami. But contrary to current trends, the love Paul prays for is not indiscriminant. This tidal wave of love needs to be channeled. Biblical love has boundaries—therefore . . .
#3 Pray for a FOCUSED love
Look at the conditions Paul gives in verse 9, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” There’re some necessary limitations to this flood of love. We need a hydroelectric plant to harness the energy. There’s a need for two riverbanks to direct the flow of God’s love river. We need a solid channel cut for God’s love through us to be focused. Love which overflows the banks of knowledge and discernment, like a river overflowing its banks, causes damage.
Pray for a mature love to grow, since only a biblical love, one guided by knowledge and discernment, will display Christ. Think about it . . .
Love without knowledge is COMPROMISE
Knowledge without love is CRITICAL
Love without discernment is CARELESS
Love with knowledge is COMPASSION
Pray for mature love with knowledge and discernment. The flood of abundant love must be guided by . . .
First Doing what Christ SAYS
Paul prays in verse 9 for their love to abound in real knowledge. Knowledge is the word for full, intimate knowledge gained through personal relationship—it’s knowing someone personally. Practically, this knowledge is understanding the Bible so well you understand what Jesus would say, do or desire in any situation. His Word guides you.
This verse 9 knowledge is living the truths of the Bible as if Jesus were physically standing next to you. So Paul is praying the Philippians would love according to God’s living Word. How would you treat others at school, at work, or here if Jesus Christ were actually hanging out in your group? Remembering He knows every thought, motive, and hears every word you say and wants you to display a flood of love to others–would that change how you treat others? Sure.
Love according to knowledge, which Paul prays for here, never goes contrary to the Scripture. Christ-like love is never contrary to the Bible. Sex as a single, homosexuality, or an affair is not love. And controlled spanking, church discipline, and confrontation is love–because the Bible alone defines love. True maturity is seen in a love according to truth, doing what Jesus says to do. This is what Paul is praying for in the Philippians and we should pray for with our church, Christian friends and family. But Christ-love must also be accompanied by . . .
Second Discerning what Christ thinks is BEST
Verse 9 prays that our “love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent.” Discernment is where we get the English word “aesthetic” from. Discernment is moral perception, insight and wisdom. It refers to the ability to make proper moral decisions in the midst of a vast array of difficult choices and freedoms.
Life throws more questions at us than 31 does ice cream, and sometimes we are paralyzed by those choices. Real love desperately needs to discern what is best. We need a delicate spiritual perception, a way of hearing God’s will while we walk through life. How does this happen in our lives? Picture life like a visit to the eye doctor. He tries various lenses on you to bring seeing into focus. As a baby Christian, everything is pretty blurry. But as you mature in Christ, life gets more focused and you see life and people more clearly. It is not merely black and white, but blazing detailed color.
Picture life like a net–the spaces of your net are really large when you’re young in Christ. But as you learn the Bible, theology and practical theology, your net gets tighter and tighter so you catch more, filter more, capture more nuances and grow in discernment. Paul prays for overwhelming love to progressively grow in the Philippians.
But he also prays their love will be according to the Word and according to discerning wisdom. This’ll enable a church and Christian to make the best decisions. Do you see what Paul says at the beginning of verse 10? “So that you may approve the things that are excellent.” Paul prays the Philippians’ love to abound towards one another, but with a sound personal theology and a discerning wisdom, allowing them to choose the best things over good things. This is what is missing today–discernment.
In verse 10, the Greek word “approve” means to affirm something after careful testing. The word was used in the testing of metals for purity, or the testing of money for authenticity. Paul prays for love to abound, according to truth and what is best, in order to live God’s best. The word “excellent” can mean “to make a difference.” Our love must be by truth, and always for the best, if we are ever going to make a difference in this life.
Bad decisions are being made all the time. Like our children’s college education, friendships, about not participating with other Christians in ministry or community, about over-involvement in activities, expensive purchases, about criticizing others, missing Sunday worship, and more. Is your love discerning? Mature love sacrifices to achieve the best for others, but never violates truth or embraces error.
Do you understand maturity? You should be more sacrificial, more affectionate, more giving, tender and gracious. But you should also be more discerning, less embracing of error, less tolerant of sin, less accepting of good, and more passionate about the best things–the main things. Do you think a Christian can do this? No–only a mature believer can be super abounding in love, and at the same time discerning of truth.
Even the mature swing the pendulum toward the side of truth, then swing to the other side of love. No one does what is best, excellent, all the time–but we need to pray we’d mature in order to be super loving according to truth and wisdom, in order to live God’s best. Not the average, not merely the good, but the best.
The church in Philippi had some leaders dividing up over preferential issues, and the body was beginning to demonstrate selfishness. They needed help, not only delineating between good and bad, but also discerning between good and best. It is only this kind of focused love that will make a real difference in how we live and impact others. Paul says pray for this kind of love so that we also . . .
#4 Pray for purity and BLAMELESSNESS
Read verse 10b, “in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” Hidden here is a strong verb. Literally, Paul is saying, “in order that you may become these two things.” Here is the goal behind discerning love and approving the best things–it results in us becoming sincere and blameless on the day of the Lord’s return. Paul is praying abounding, truthful, discerning love will result in the Philippians.
First LIVING GENUINE
“SINCERE” means genuine, and may have originally meant “tested by sunlight.” In the ancient world, dishonest pottery dealers filled cracks in their inferior pots with wax before glazing and painting them, making worthless pots difficult to distinguish from expensive ones. The only way to avoid being defrauded was to hold the pot to the sun, making the wax-filled cracks obvious. Dealers started marking their fine pottery that could withstand “sun testing” as sine cera–meaning “without wax”.
Right now, I can’t tell if you’re sine cera. If I could become a parrot and sit on your shoulder, I’d get a more accurate picture. As I watched you drive, sit at home, talk to your spouse and kids, observed what you watched on TV, what you looked at on the internet, the books you read, the way you worked at your job or stayed on target at school–then I’d get an idea if you were truly without wax.
But that is not what Paul is praying for here–he’s praying you’d live as if Christ were on your shoulder. What would be exposed in your life if you were exposed to SON-light, not sunlight but SON-light. As Jesus looks through you, what cracks would He find? If you are going to mature, you need to live all of your life in the presence of Christ. Are you without wax? Is there anything you’re trying to hide? Paul prays you and I live sincere before God. Praying for discerning love will also result in someone . . .
Second LIVING WITHOUT OFFENSE
Verse 10b, “in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” The word “blameless” in verse 10 can be translated “without offense,” referring to relational integrity. To be sincere is to live pure before God. To live without offence is living before others. Blameless means to live in such a way as to not cause others to stumble around you. Christians are to live lives of integrity in order to not cause others to sin.
There were some disagreements in Philippi, so Paul reminds them, for unity to exist there, each of them must be committed to not offend others needlessly. Our posture is to be humble. The born again heart has a willingness to give up rights and serve others first–even when it comes to the exercise of freedoms.
Christ’s desire is for us to be at peace with everyone, so far as it depends on us. Paul reminds us of this in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Are you at peace with your brothers and sisters? Abounding truthful love demands it. Like Jesus said, before you worship, you’ll first go to your brother who has something against you and make it right. Living without offense, blameless, is a characteristic of a mature Christian. Those who don’t have some growing up to do.
Abounding, truthful, discerning love will result in us choosing the best things, living pure before God and without offense before others–and it will allow us to . . .
Third FINISHING WELL
As Paul prays for the Philippians and we pray for others in our lives, we’re to ask God to allow them to finish well. At the end of verse 10, Paul prays, “until the day of Christ.” As you pray for family and friends, pray for them to finish well, so they might live genuine and without offense all the way until the day they are face to face with Jesus Christ.
Can I beg you to pray that for me? I’ve seen pastor after pastor mess up at the end of his life. Like David, they stopped fighting, let their guard down, thought they deserved a break, and guess what happened? They broke. I’ve seen saint after saint fade in the stretch. Toward the end of their race, they weren’t leaning for the tape, they actually stepped off the track, making us wonder whether they were in the race at all in the first place. Because they didn’t finish well, it causes us to question their walk with God since they didn’t endure to the end.
If you and I are going to run to win, it’s not the entrance to the race that matters but your endurance in the race all the way to the end of the race, when you face Christ and everything will be revealed. Do you understand friends? Perseverance is assurance, and lack of perseverance is lack of assurance. If they don’t persevere, you nor they have any assurance. Pray for those you love to finish well. Pray they will produce fruit all the way to the end of their lives.
#5 Pray for an EXCESS of Fruit
Verse 11a, “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness.” Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is for them to stand on that coming day, full of the fruit of righteousness. Paul wants their lives to be filled with the fruit that is made possible by the righteousness of Christ. Our own righteousness is like filthy menstrual rags. But once we’re made righteous, then Christ through us can produce righteous fruit. Christ will show Himself with sacrificial actions of love which are acceptable to God.
Paul prays the Philippians would be filled–literally crammed full with this fruit. Our lives are to manifest fruit–the person and work of Christ through us. That’s not being a nice person, it’s serving and showing off Christ. Are you crammed full to overflowing with the fruits of righteousness? Are you fruity? The middle voice of having been filled tells us fruit does not come from you alone, nor is it only from God, but God and you in a cooperative effort produce the words, actions and attitudes of Christ, which is fruit.
The tense of the participle, “having been filled,” tells us Paul believed the Philippians were filled with fruit in the past, and are currently overflowing with righteous fruit. Fruit is to flow from our lives once we’re Christians, and continue to overflow out of our lives now. You can start living fruitful by . . .
1 Living dependent
Be filled with the Spirit by confessing all known sin and asking God to live through you
2 Living in obedience
Seek to serve in a ministry, and demonstrate actions of love to God’s people
3 Stretching your faith
Seek actions from an area of weakness in order for Christ’s strength to be seen through you
4 Evaluating your life
Do you see the fruit of the Spirit through your service, giving, relationships and witnessing? Is there joy when you give financially, or a clenched fist?
5 Cooperating with Christ’s pruning
If you know of some aspect of your behavior that produces no fruit, then cut it out before God has to. God tells us all real Christians will produce fruit, and bearing fruit will involve some pruning in our lives.
In John 15:2,5,8, “Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. 5 ‘I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.’ 8 ‘By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.’” We glorify God by producing fruit.
Paul prays for the Philippians to have abounding, truthful, discerning love to choose what’s best. In order to be pure and without offence all the way to the end of their lives, while producing ever-increasing amounts of fruit–the presence of Christ through their lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Which leads us to the conclusion of Paul’s prayer.
#6 Pray for the right power, motive and JOY
Verse 11 finishes with, “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Not one of us here can live the Christian life–not one. Only Christ can live the Christian life. And only God Himself, who alone makes our prayer requests possible, must get the glory for all of it. Amen?
Therefore, Paul ends this model prayer, this list of godly priorities, this target to shoot for in your own walk, and this goal to pray for in your family, friends and in our church–reminding us that . . .
First Christ is our STRENGTH
When Paul says, verse 11, “which comes through Jesus Christ,” he uses the Greek word for through this vehicle, through this person. This is how fruit is produced. It is Christ in and through you. Of course fruit is the manifestation of Christ through a person’s life, and that can only happen when Christ is in you.
His Spirit through the genuine Christian produces fruit, reminding us–Christ is the only one who can mature a Christian and increase the fruit of discerning love through our lives. Christ is the only one who can cause us to live pure and blameless. When Lawrence of Arabia brought some Arab friends to Paris in the early 1900’s, they sought to take a faucet back with them to North Africa. They thought by returning with a faucet, water would flow from it, giving them all the water they wanted, just as it did while they were in Paris. Lawrence had to explain, without the pipes and immense system of water works, there could be no water.
Many people in the Church are living lives as dry as the deserts of Arabia. It looks like they’re attached to the living water like a faucet, but there’re not connected to the source of water. They need Christ, the Water of Life. Christ alone is our strength and . . .
Second God’s glory is our MOTIVE and joy
Verse 11 finishes with, “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Here is the ultimate goal of all things. God’s glory is the summation of all that He is. The good work of verse 6 was begun in us by God’s doing alone, and it will be God’s doing alone that will be its completion.
Fruitfulness in and through our lives is not for you and not for me, it is for Him–why? So God will receive more glory through the work He is doing in our lives. Our love is to be God’s love through us. Only His love is righteous. Only His love is the fruit that counts forever. And only His love will bring Him glory and praise.
The best thing in the entire universe is God, and God’s glory is all that God is. So the best thing, the most satisfying thing, the most joyful thing that could ever happen to you and to me is to taste of His glory. So as you pray for the growth of your Christian family or friends, pray to the glory of God. When you pray to God’s glory, you are actually praying they will experience the most joyful, fulfilling, satisfying, ecstatic life that anyone could ever know.
If God is the best person, the best there is, then as they live for His glory, they enjoy the best the universe has to offer. And as they do, they’ll become addicted and want more, so their cooperation with God in their growth will only increase. As they enjoy Him more, they will glorify Him more. And as they glorify Him more, they will find even greater joy in Him. Paul prays to the glory of God, because that is the end of all things, the best of all things and the only true motivation for growth and maturity. Let’s pray.
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