Praying with Joy

mark-dunn
| Philippians 1:3-11 | January 15, 2017

Week of January 22, 2017

The Point:  Prayer is an opportunity to experience joy.

Thanksgiving and Prayer:  Philippians 1:3-11.

[3]  I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, [4]  always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, [5]  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. [6]  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [7]  It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. [8]  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. [9]  And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10]  so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11]  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  [ESV]

“Assurance [3-7].  Paul opens his letter by thanking God for the fellowship of the saints in Philippi. They have been one with him in gospel work and witness and he gratefully sees this as a gracious act of God. Yet, while he is engaged in thanksgiving, his thoughts are really focusing on one great truth, Christian assurance.

  1. The divine basis of assurance. What God has done and is doing is the great theme of verses 3-7, and nowhere is this more evident than in verse 6. No other agent is at work but He alone, and what He does covers the beginning, the continuation and the completion of Christian experience. In the first place, he … began a good work in you. There is a great solemnity about the verb used both here and in Galatians 3:3. It means ‘to inaugurate’, and the tense employed points to a decisive and deliberate act. Here was something planned and executed to perfection. This is the true, inner story of every conversion: it is a work of God originating before the foundation of the world when He chose us in Christ. Salvation would be a wretchedly unsure thing if it had no other foundation than my having chosen Christ. The human will blows hot and cold, is firm and unstable by fits and starts; it offers no security of tenue. But it is the will of God that is the ground of salvation. No one would be saved had not the Lord been moved by His own spontaneous and unexplained love to choose His people before the world was, and, at the decisive moment, to open our hearts to hear, understand and accept the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation [Eph. 1:13]. This, then, is assurance: God has willed my salvation. Secondly, He who has inaugurated Christian experience undertakes to continue it: he … will bring it to completion. God never gives up. God will never desert His declared intention to have His people for Himself. The fact that we shall continue in grace is as certain as the fact that God, who cannot lie, will go on working in us [Titus 1:2]. The assurance God gives us not only guarantees the outcome; it guarantees too every experience of every day, for in all things God is putting the finishing touches. Good news, bad news, difficulty, blessing, unexpected happiness, unexpected trouble – it all has a purpose. Concerning all such situations faith affirms, ‘Without this, I would not be ready for the day of Christ.’ This is the immediate, practical and strengthening benefit of the truth of Christian assurance. Thirdly, the outcome is guaranteed. God is working to a schedule, and the day of Jesus Christ is fixed in the Father’s dairy. The day will come and everything and everyone will be ready in time for it. The Father has weighed up the merits of His Son and the proper response to His work at Calvary, and nothing will suffice but that He should bring His Son out from the invisible glories of heaven and show Him publicly to a wondering and worshipping world. For His own glory, the Father must one day see every knee bowed to Jesus and hear every tongue acknowledge His Lordship. And our salvation is as assured as the coming of that day! For it is we, the saints, the believers, the objects of the good work, who must be made ready for His coming on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed [2 Thess. 1:10]. Here is confidence indeed. Our salvation can no more be forfeited than the Father can break His pledged word to glorify His Son.
  2. The human evidence of assurance. When Paul made such strong and important claims on behalf of the Philippians he was moved by observable facts more than by loving intuitions. Christian assurance arises from observable facts providing evidence that these people are truly children of God. We must not, of course, despise inward, personal and spiritual convictions about Christian assurance. It is a wonderful experience to sense the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God [Rom. 8:16], or to sense afresh that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit [Rom. 5:5]. Yet, at the same time, if the professed awareness of being a child of God is not matched by the outward evidence of the kind of life a child of God should live, is not the awareness a thin, even an unreal, thing? Consequently, the Bible calls Christians to make your calling and election sure [2 Peter 1:10] by means of the evidence of a life growing in Christian values and habits. Paul found such evidence in the Philippians. Paul speaks of their partnership in the gospel [5] and of their work in the defense and confirmation of the gospel [7]. The word partnership means ‘joint ownership’, ‘participation in a common purpose’. Holding the truth of the gospel is a mark of the Christian, and a ground of assurance [1 John 4:13-14]. Paul also saw in the Philippians perseverance, in that they had prolonged their partnership from the first day until now [5]. He also saw their identification with the gospel whenever it was called in question, as they leapt to its defense [7]. Their association with the gospel was not transient, nor conditional upon favorable circumstances. Nor was it silent. They kept on in their faith; they held on to their faith in opposition; they spoke up for their faith when challenged.
  3. Confidence and carefulness. But though he saw in them evidence for assurance, Paul saw it much more as evidence of grace. When he examined the life of his Philippian friends, and considered their practical devotion to the gospel, he added, for you are all partakers with me of grace [7]. It was the grace of God at work in them which produced this fruit. Really, therefore, Paul’s confidence for the Philippians arose from the fact that he saw them as a work of God. In verse 3, he thanks God when he thinks of them. If there is anything worthy of praise among them, God is its Author. In verse 6, he views them as begun, continued and completed by divine workmanship. In verse 7, their lives bear fruit because they partake of God’s grace. God is at work, and where God works He will certainly accomplish the task. But in the present passage there are two other truths lying alongside, each of which raises its own problem. First, though God is at work and that effectively and completely, the Philippians have also been at work, active for the gospel and sacrificially identified with Paul [5,7]. If God is doing all, why do they need to do anything? Secondly, though Paul is confident that they are externally secure in Christ, he ceaselessly prays for them [3,4,9]. If they securely possess eternal blessings, why does he pray, as if some doubt still attached to them? In each of his letters Paul draws on the rich reservoir of truth which lies behind all his letters. We must here remind ourselves of one of the Bible’s basic truths, found, for example, in Romans 6:1-11 and Ephesians 2:1-10: to become a Christian is to pass from death to life. Every person is spiritually dead because of their sin. Salvation, if it is to come at all, must be all of God. But the divine work of salvation actually transfers the sinner from death to life. If the gift of life is real, it will show itself in a new life-style. In the work of salvation God builds into us new abilities – abilities to obey, abilities to achieve those good works which He has prepared for us to do. It is not, therefore, that the Philippians’ works [5,7] or ours replace the work of God as though it was not necessary, or supplement it as though it was not sufficient; they are rather the evidence that the work of grace has been done. We may therefore look at ourselves and at each other as Paul looked at the Philippians, and rejoice when we see these positive evidences that we have been made partakers of salvation with eternal glory. But we have to recognize that all we see of each other is the outward; the inner heart only the Lord can see. It is dreadfully possible to profess spiritual realities, to seem to walk in their goodness, yet to come short of actually participating in them. What care we should therefore exercise towards each other. That is why the apostle ceaselessly prays that the Philippians will always abundantly experience the reality of Christ. We must bathe in prayer our growing confidence in our relationship with God, supported by the evidence of our lives. This is the main way in which we can show pastoral and spiritual concern for one another. The great and true doctrine of Christian assurance is thus no friend to pride. The salvation we are assured of is wholly wrought by God for helpless, hopeless sinners. It does not lead us to be complacent, for our assurance increases as we see hard evidence of our spiritual progress. It does not make us lazy, for a large part of the evidence is the depth of our commitment to the cause of the gospel. Nor does it make us independent of one another, for we need one another’s prayers to maintain and further our ongoing walk with God. Thus the apostle, who used very emphatic language to express his confidence about his friends, was equally emphatic about his prayerful concern: always in every prayer of mine for you all.

Growing for glory [8-11].

  1. Harvest time. Christian growth, says Paul, is for the day of Christ, that is, with a view to Christ’s coming. He is on His way and we must be prepared for Him. The responsibility to be ready is wholly ours. It is our love which is to abound more and more; it is we who are to advance in knowledge and to see to it that we are pure and blameless when He comes again. Does this in any way contradict the truth we noted at verse 6, that salvation is all of God, leaving no room for effort or contribution from us? Certainly not! For, as we also saw, the grace which saves also energizes. The free gift of salvation is also a gift of new life. The Christian, saved by grace, demonstrates what has happened by exercising new energies. Consequently – as is implied in Paul’s prayer – the word of God to all who have become Christians is always a call to act. It is by obedience – active, costly, personal, voluntary, disciplined obedience – that we enter into conscious experience of what our salvation in Christ means. The Christian is a person with an objective, a deadline to meet, a Lord to please, or, in Paul’s harvest metaphor, someone filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. But, to be practical, how can these things happen?
  2. Growth to harvest. In preparation for the coming Lord, Paul proposes no new, sudden experience to fit Christians for the presence of Christ. On the contrary, there is a program of growth, starting with a seed [9] and ending with a harvest [11]. The growing point for the Christian is love, a seed from which Paul anticipates vigorous growth as it abounds more and more. Its upthrusting shoots are received and held by two stakes, knowledge and all discernment, and under their control begin to put forth leaves and blossoms: first the distinctive life style of the Christian as we approve what is excellent and then, at the very heart of this life style, the fair blossom of holiness in both the inner person (pure) and the outer behavior (blameless). Finally there is the perfected fruit, a righteousness adequate even for the great Day itself. To Paul, then, the life of the Christian is a life of programed growth. His vision is clear as he looks forward to the completion of God’s handiwork [6] in a life that is pure and blameless, completely filled with the fruit of righteousness. But all this is in the future, an ideal reality to which the believer progressively approximates. There is no shortcut, no sudden righteousness. This is not the Lord’s way. Sowing in tears must precede reaping with joy; the seed must be carried out before the sheaves can be carried in.
  3. The seed. We must turn, then, to examine some details of this program of growth. We notice at once that Paul sees love as the growing point of the Christian life: it is your love which is to abound more and more. He does not mention any object towards which their love is to be directed; he speaks rather of that virtue of love which is to pervade their whole being and character and which will then prompt and mark every attitude and action.
  4. True growth. When we ask in what ways this seed of love is to abound more and more, the answer is that the growth of love is controlled and directed by knowledge and discernment. The word translated knowledge occurs twenty times in the New Testament, always referring to knowledge of the things of God, religious, spiritual, theological knowledge. Often it has the idea of seeing right to the heart of the matter, grasping something as it really is, as when Paul speaks of the law bringing knowledge of sin [Rom. 3:20]. It is associated with the teaching work of the Holy Spirit [Eph. 1:17]. When it refers to Christian life and growth it has four features. First, this knowledge is the means of salvation: salvation is described as knowledge of the truth [1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Heb. 10:26]. Secondly, knowledge marks out the Christian as such [Titus 1:1]. Thirdly, knowledge is one of the evidences of Christian growth [Col. 1:10; 2:2; 3:1-10; Phm. 6; 2 Peter 1:8]: a verse like Colossians 2:2 is especially relevant to the present passage in Philippians. Fourthly, knowledge is the state of the full-grown Christian [Eph. 4:13]. We grow in proportion as we know. Without knowledge of salvation there can be no progress to maturity. If we do not know the Lord, how can we love Him? And the more we know Him, the more we shall love Him. Truth is an essential ingredient in Christian experience. To be a Christian one must come to know the truth. To grow as a Christian is to grow in one’s grasp of the truth, in breadth and in depth. Ignorance is a root cause of stunted growth. But is it not true that many people seem to increase in knowledge without growing as Christians, a mental growth unmatched by a growth in character? It is to avoid this danger that Paul goes on to speak of love abounding in all discernment. By using the word in double harness with knowledge, Paul links knowing the truth with applying the truth to life. He joins ‘What does the Bible teach?’ to ‘How does this truth affect daily life?’. And this in fact is what the Bible really means by ‘knowing’: it is not a mere exercise of the head, for nothing is truly known until it has also passed over into obedience. Knowing and discernment are thus basic to the whole task of Christian living, but surely especially to the duty of Christian love. Love needs divine illuminative knowledge in order to know what to love, and discernment to know how to love. This is love modelled on the love of Christ, learned from Scripture and applied in obedient living.
  5. Fruit to perfection. The harvest process continues: the seed of love grows to become something greater than itself. Paul opens up to us a whole life that is different. It is different in the principles which it holds dear (approve what is excellent); it is different in its inner character (pure) and its outer conduct (blameless); and different in its ultimate product, the final fruit of righteousness which have been its constant objective. What really makes the Christian life distinctive, and places it on a higher level than that of the world, is that it has its source in God. We learn how to live it from His revealed Word, and His Son gives us the definitive example to follow. We are to approach this ‘higher life’ thoughtfully, commit ourselves to it, and work it out in practical terms. For this is the meaning of the verb approve. It includes both the mental side of recognizing worth, and also the practical side of putting it to the test of experience. Paul does not speak of sudden transformations, traumatic once-for-all decisions, or spiritual ‘experiences’ and crises. He describes a patient progression as we examine issues in the light of Scripture and steadily follow the will of God. The objective is that our whole lives should be filled with the fruit of righteousness [11]. This is the crop that is ready for harvest: to be pure and blameless, ready for the day of Christ [10]. This is a comprehensive holiness of inner and outer life alike. Pure is a quality that should pervade the innermost parts of the Christian’s mind and heart. Blameless, by contrast, means both ‘without stumbling’ and ‘giving no offense’, and calls for purity of the outer life and example, a life against which no charge can be justly laid. Nothing less than this properly expresses the full salvation Jesus has accomplished and given to us.
  6. Power. How can we avoid being overwhelmed by such a demand? When the task appears so hopeless, should we not abandon it? But before we succumb to these temptations, let us ask two other questions. First, are we motivated to succeed? And second, are we aware that what appears a hopeless goal is in reality a guaranteed outcome? For it is these questions that pinpoint the respective emphases of verses 10 and 11. In the first eleven verses of chapter 1 there are no less than seven distinct references to the Lord Jesus Christ. Of these, two [6,10] look forward to the day of Christ, and the one in verse 10 presents that day as the great objective towards which we, as Christ’s men and women, are not only moving but aiming. Our dearest sins, our ingrained habits, our failures in holiness, must surely be challenged, deposed and scorned in the light of the thought that the Lord we love is coming. But there is more to the day of Christ than this. Other factors are at work, in particular the ceaseless work of the Father to have everything ready for the great day of His Son [6]. Thus we move from verse 10 to verse 11. We are still facing the demand for a righteousness that fills the whole of life, but now we learn that it is fruit, that it comes to its fullness through Jesus Christ, and that it is designed to the glory and praise of God. The Father [6] is ceaselessly at work for the glory of the Son; the Son [11] is ceaselessly at work for the glory of the Father. In this setting the daily task of obedience remains hard, but not fruitless. We are often neglectful, frequently failing, ever inadequate; yet the end is secure, for God is at work.” [Motyer, pp. 42-61].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does Paul teach concerning Christian assurance in verses 3-7? What is the basis for a Christian’s assurance of salvation? What is the evidence? How would you use these verses to help a believer who is doubting their salvation?
  1. Gratitude for the Philippians’ partnership leads Paul to the prayer of verses 9-11. Examine the structure of his prayer with his use of that [9]; so that [10]; and so [10-11]; concluding with the ultimate goal [11]? Also look at Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-12. How does the content of your prayers for other believers compare to Paul’s prayers? What can we learn from Paul’s prayers for other believers? Note the balance in Paul’s prayers between knowledge and practice; and his focus on things of eternal value.
  1. Why is it important for love to abound in knowledge and discernment? What happens to love when these elements are missing? How can you pursue greater knowledge of God, insight, or ability to discern? What are the excellent things [10a]? How do we know that we are choosing the excellent things [10b-11]? What is the fruit of righteousness?

References:

Let’s Study Philippians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Letter to the Philippians, G. Walter Hansen, Eerdmans.

The Message of Philippians, J. A. Motyer, Inter Varsity.

Philippians, Moises Silva, Baker.