A Prayer for Christian Growth

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Philippians 1:7-11

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Partners in the Gospel,” and as we walk through the book of Philippians, we are seeing what it means to be partners in the gospel and how it should impact our lives, both as individual believers and as a church. Our message this morning comes from Philippians 1:7-11 and focuses on a prayer for Christian growth. (Read Philippians 1:7-11 and pray.)

Last week in Philippians we saw that God is not finished yet, that God began a good work in you and that he is carrying that work on to completion until the day of Christ. In other words, the Christian life is not static but dynamic. We are supposed to change. We are supposed to grow. And that is the theme Paul addresses next in the letter – Christian growth, and specifically, Paul shares with us a prayer for Christian growth.

I have three goals for you in this morning’s message. After hearing this message, my goals are that: 1) you will know what Christian growth looks like, 2) you will be encouraged to pray for Christian growth for each other, 3) you will be equipped to pray for Christian growth for each other. So those are our goals for this message.

We are going to get there by studying these verses in Philippians. The passage divides into three sections. First of all, we will look at the motivation for Paul’s prayer in verse 7-8. Secondly, we will look at the content of the prayer in verses 9-10. And then finally we will look at the result of the prayer in verse 11.

I. The motivation for prayer – love for each other (Phil. 1:7-8)

So first of all, let’s look at the motivation for prayer. Paul clearly says that the motivation for prayer is our love for each other.

   A. Love for each other as partners in the gospel (7)

And the love that Paul talks about is first of all a love for each other as partners in the gospel. Look at verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” (Philippians 1:7)

If you remember from last week, we saw that Paul was full of joy and thanksgiving for the Philippians every time he remembered them. And the reason he gave last week was his absolute confidence that God would complete the good work he began in them. That was a God-directed reason. Now he gives another reason, this time a more personal reason. He says it is right for him to feel this way because he has the Philippians in his heart.

What a beautiful expression. Paul doesn’t just have the Philippians on his mind, he doesn’t just have them on a piece of paper or on a prayer list, but he has them in his heart. He carries them in his heart everywhere he goes.

Notice that even Paul’s circumstances do not affect his prayerful love for the Philippians. Look at verse 7 again: “For whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel,” that is, whether Paul is in prison or free, “all of you share in God’s grace with me.” (Philippians 1:7) That word “share” translates a word that means “a joint-partner.” In other words, we are back to partners in the gospel again. Paul has shared in God’s grace through the gospel; the Philippians have shared in God’s grace through the gospel; they are partners in the gospel together. Gordon Fee notes in his commentary that there is a “three-way bond between Paul, the Philippians and Christ.” And so whether Paul is in prison or free doesn’t matter, because it does not change his relationship with the Philippians. The motivation for prayer is love for each other, and that love is first of all a love for each other as partners in the grace that God has given them together through Jesus Christ.

Now I want to go on to speak about loving each other with the affection of Christ Jesus, but we have to stop for a moment and look at this phrase of Paul’s in verse 7 again: “for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel.” That is an astounding phrase. Paul is talking about his circumstances, whether he is in prison or free. But look how he defines his freedom – “defending and confirming the gospel.” Paul is completely gospel centered here. If you were in prison, what is the first thing you would do when you got out? Maybe go to a nice restaurant, get together with family, take a walk along the beach? There’s nothing wrong with any of those, but look at Paul. He can’t wait to get out of prison so he can start sharing the gospel again! That is awesome, and should be an encouragement to us to make sharing the gospel more central in our lives.

   B. Loving each other with the affection of Christ Jesus (8)

Paul says the motivation for prayer is love, and that love is first of all a love for each other as partners in the gospel. He then goes on to speak about loving each other with the affection of Christ Jesus. Look at verse 8: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:8)

Paul uses strong language here. He calls God as his witness to testify to the truth of what he is saying. Paul “longs” for the Philippians – the word speaks of an aching desire – he longs to see them again and to be with them again, and he longs for them with the affection of Christ Jesus.

This is another especially beautiful phrase. That word “affection” speaks of the most inner affections, the tender mercies, the deep compassionate love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How is it possible to love each other with the affection of Jesus? It is possible because we all share in God’s grace with each other. It is possible because there is a three way bond between you, me and Jesus. What is the motivation for prayer? The motivation is love for each other, love for each other as partners in the gospel, loving each other with the affection of Christ Jesus.

II. The content of the prayer – Christian growth (Phil. 1:9-10)

Secondly, let’s look at the content of the prayer. Paul says in verse 9: “And this is my prayer.” Isn’t that neat? Paul doesn’t simply tell the Philippians that he is praying for them. He tells them what he is praying for them. Do you want to encourage someone? Let them know you are praying for them. Do you want to really encourage someone? Tell them what you are praying.

Paul says, “This is my prayer,” and the content of the prayer is Christian growth. Now there are many things we can pray for each other. We can pray for each other to get well when we are sick. We can pray for each other to be safe when we are traveling. We can pray for each other to find work when we are unemployed. And those are all good things. If we love each other with the affection of Christ Jesus, then we will certainly pray for each other’s needs.

But we should also pray for each other for Christian growth, because the biggest need we all have is to grow in Christ. In fact, that is one of the reasons why God allows various trials to come into our lives, so that we will grow in faith and so that he can make us more like Jesus Christ. And so I’m sure Paul prayed for the various needs of the Philippians, but his primary prayer for them was a prayer for Christian growth.

How do you pray for someone to grow in Christ? Paul gives us four things to pray for in these verses: pray to grow in love, pray to grow in knowledge, pray to grow in discernment, and pray to grow in holiness. Let’s take a brief look at each of these.

   A. Pray to grow in love (9a)

First of all, pray to grow in love. Verse 9 again: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more.” (Philippians 1:9a)

The first prayer we should pray for each other is to grow in love. Our motivation for prayer must be love for each other, and our Christian growth must first of all be growth in love.

There is no Christianity without love. “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) That is his nature. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16) That is the gospel. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) That is our calling. Take away love, and you no longer have true Christianity. You just have some empty shell of religion that faintly resembles the original.

But notice that Paul’s prayer is not just for love, but to grow in love, “that your love may abound more and more.” That word abound means “to exceed, to surpass the goal with some left over.” When you pray for each other to grow in love, don’t just ask for baby steps in growth. Pray that each other’s love would exceed, would abound, and then pray that it would continue to do so more and more. God has infinite reserves of love and mercy, and so we can never outgrow the need to grow in love.

Notice that Paul does not define whether he talking about love for God or love for each other in this verse. That is because he is talking about both. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he responded, “Love. Love the Lord your God all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) And so we pray for each other to grow, to abound more and more in love for God and for others. The first prayer we should pray for each other is to grow in love.

   B. Pray to grow in knowledge (9b)

Secondly, we should pray for each other to grow in knowledge. Look at verse 9 again: “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge.” (Philippians 1:9b) Notice Paul doesn’t just pray for their love to grow, but for their love to grow in knowledge.

Christian love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling without any basis or support. Christian love is firmly grounded in knowledge of God and his ways. And so to grow in love, we must also grow in knowledge. Not just knowledge about Christ, but personal knowledge of Christ. This personal knowledge of God and Christ comes through the Word of God, and so the Bible must be central to our life and worship as believers and as a church.

Frank Sheed writes: “It would be a strange God who could be loved better by being known less…. Love of God is immeasurably more important than knowledge of God; but if a man loves God knowing a little about Him, he should love God more from knowing more about Him: for every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him.” (Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, 1946, pp 9-10.)

Or put it in the words of a song, “To know, know, know him is to love him.” How do you grow in love? Know God more. The more you know God and his Word, , the more you will love him and others. Pray for each other to grow in knowledge of God.

   C. Pray to grow in discernment (9b-10a)

Thirdly, pray for each other to grow in discernment. We see this at the end of verse 9 and the beginning of verse 10: “… that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best.” (Philippians 1:9b-10a)

The word translated “insight” is a word that means good judgment or discernment. It only appears here in the New Testament, but it appears twenty-two times in the Greek translation of Proverbs, where it speaks about practical insight that affects your behavior, how you live. Think of Chuck Swindoll’s radio show “Insight for Living.” Knowledge is important, but knowing how to apply that knowledge is equally important. And so we not only pray for love and knowledge, but we also pray for depth of insight.

Why? “So that you may be able to discern what is best.” That word “discern” means “to test, to examine, or to test the quality of something.” It is the same word used in 1 Peter 1:7 when Peter speaks about gold which is “refined” by fire. And so just as the goldsmith puts the gold into the fire to test it for impurities, and to discern what is pure gold and what is not, we are to test the things around us in life, we are to practice discernment.

Notice that Paul says we are to “discern what is best.” The word translated best is a word that means “to differ, to carry things in different directions.” And every time you are faced with choices in life, those choices are going to carry you in one direction or another. We are to pray for discernment for each other so that we may make the right choices, so that we can discern what is best – not just the right from wrong, but the best from the second best; out of many good things, what are the best things; what is the very best choice in each situation, so that we will choose the things that really matter in life.

Christian love is not just based on feelings. It is based on knowledge and discernment: knowing the truth of God’s Word, and then acting on that to choose those things in life which are best so that your life will be a shining example to others.

The choices you make today shape the rest of your tomorrows. And so we need to pray for each other to grow in discernment.

   D. Pray to grow in holiness (10b)

We need to pray for each other pray to grow in love, to grow in knowledge, to grow in discernment, and finally, to grow in holiness. Look at the second half of verse 10: “and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:10b)

That word “pure” can be translated pure, unmixed, transparent or wholesome. It carries the idea of something that is found to be pure when examined by the light of the sun. The word “blameless” means “without offense, without any cause of stumbling.” In Acts 24:16 it is translated as “clear conscience.

Then Paul says we should pray for each other to be this way “until the day of Christ.” The phrase is literally “unto the day of Christ.” There is a sense of urgency here, a sense of looking forward, keeping your eyes on the prize, keeping the goal in front of you at all times.

Paul is saying that we should pray for each other to grow in holiness, that our lives should be pure and transparent, that there should be nothing in our life that would cause another to stumble, that our life will stand up to examination by God at the last day who knows all and sees all.

Wow! This is quite a prayer – praying for each other to grow in love, in knowledge, in discernment and in holiness. That is the content of Paul’s prayer for the Philippians and should be the content of our prayers for each other.

III. The result of the prayer – changed lives resulting in praise and glory to God! (Phil. 1:11)

We have looked at the motivation for prayer – love for each other. We have looked at the content of the prayer – a prayer for Christian growth. Finally, let’s look at the result of the prayer. And the result of the prayer is changed lives resulting in praise and glory to God.

   A. The fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus (11a)

First of all, the result of the prayer is changed lives. Look at the first part of verse 11 which reads: “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:11a) This is the result we may expect when we pray this prayer regularly for each other.

That word “filled” means completely full, filled to the top. Notice that it is in the passive. You don’t fill yourself, you are filled by Christ. Of course the first step in filling a cup is making sure that it is empty. So we empty ourselves and allow Jesus to fill us with the fruit of his righteousness. Paul will talk about this again in chapter three where he writes about gaining Christ and being “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9-10)

Notice that we are not just to bear fruit but be filled with fruit. As R. Kent Hughes writes: “A tree that bears fruit is alive. But a tree that is filled with fruit glorifies the gardener’s care!”

   B. To the glory and praise of God (11b)

Which is the final result of this prayer as we see at the end of verse 11: “to the glory and praise of God.” Christian growth brings glory and praise to God because God is the one who makes us grow, and so God is the one who receives the glory. It is the fruit of Jesus’ righteousness in us, not our own. The result of the prayer is changed lives resulting in praise and glory to God.

CONCLUSION: I told you at the beginning of the message that I had three goals for you this morning: 1) That you would know what Christian growth looks like. Looking at Paul’s prayer this morning, we can see that Christian growth is growing in love, knowledge, discernment and holiness. 2) That you would be encouraged to pray for Christian growth for each other. I trust that you can see how important, how necessary it is that we pray for each other to grow in these areas. 3) That you would be equipped to pray for Christian growth for each other. You now know what Christian growth looks like. You have a model prayer from Paul on how to pray for Christian growth. It’s just a matter of taking what you have learned and putting it into practice.

This is a real prayer that Paul really prayed for the Philippians. Parents, can you imagine if you prayed this prayer for your children on a regular basis? Husbands, if you prayed this for your wives, and wives for your husbands? Grandparents, if you prayed this for your grandchildren? Pastors, if you prayed this for your churches?

God gives us these prayers in his Word for a purpose – so that we will use them! So that we will pray them! So that our prayers will have power and be effective and hit the mark and not be wasted.

Remember what we learned last week – God’s not finished yet! God will complete the good work he began in each one of us, and one of the ways he does that is through our prayers for each other.

Ralph Martin writes: “The most effective way to influence another is to pray for him, and if a word of rebuke or correction has to be spoken let it be prayed over first, and then spoken in love.” There are many things we can pray for each other. But these verses in Philippians highlight one of the most important things we can pray – a prayer for Christian growth.

© Ray Fowler

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By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

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