What I am as a Christian can probably be assessed by the degree to which my life corresponds with the objectives in this prayer. It is short, but it gets to the very heart of Christian life and every word is important.
It is clear that there are three main requests in this prayer, identified by the word “may,” three times in the KJV in vv9-10. It seems that the full content of the prayer springs from the love that is mentioned at the start so, taking love as the theme, we will try to grasp what Paul is praying for.
The Philippians were dear to Paul. Around 10 or 11 years had passed since Acts 16 and their “fellowship in the gospel from the first day” (1:5) had been unbroken and brought him special joy. Yet he could sense the dangers of self-seeking, slippage, and even strife. In this short article, we cannot stay with the Philippians. What about ourselves? Has the love shed abroad in our hearts at conversion, as a spring, increased more and more like a river as years have passed? This is the picture in the Word “abounding.” More love for God, Christ, His Word, His people, the assembly, and for those still needing salvation? The believer needs to check this continually, because a decline of love can be easily overlooked, and even denied. As the spring does not keep water to itself, so love, forgetting self, flows on in a river for the good of others.
There is often a misunderstanding about what love is. Even in “Christian” circles it is seen as necessarily sentimental, soft, and very elastic – a kind of magna carta that pronounces liberty that can, in extreme cases, tolerate almost anything. It is lightly said that “love is blind,” but the love Paul is speaking of here needs eyes to see clearly. Still, with the picture of a flowing river, there are two banks which keep the love under control – knowledge and discernment. If love is not controlled, it degenerates into something silly and self-condemning. Knowledge here is a clear grasp of spiritual truth. As we increase in the knowledge of God, of His Word, of Christ and indeed what the gospel and the cross really involve, the faculty of spiritual insight will increase also. We will become more sensitive in judging what God thinks of things. It is important then, that Christians learn God’s Word, discover His will, and be able to discern properly what will be honoring to Him. It is probably true to say that the believer who lives close to Christ will of necessity manifest this love of which Paul is speaking – the right kind of love. It is said of Christ that He was “full of grace and truth.” There is one kind of Christian worth meeting – one who will not yield on any point of God’s Word, and along with it has a graciousness that is only learned in communion with the Master.
As verse 9 becomes true in our experience, we will be able to approve things that are excellent. Note that it is not a question of approving what is right and condemning what is wrong. Even the natural man can often do this. Neither is it merely choosing between bad and good. What is here is only possible because of spiritual discernment, which is the capacity to aim for what is “excellent.” Here is where many of us fail. We are content with avoiding sin, but waste time and talent in many things that may not be condemned as such, but are of no account whatsoever in light of eternity. God wants us to rise above mediocrity, and in every department of our lives to say no to the lesser things in pursuit of the excellent. All of this language is preparing us for the autobiography Paul gives in chapter 3, where he opens his heart about his high ambitions. Take a fresh look at it.
Each point in the prayer builds upon what goes before. The believer is now seen in his or her conduct, and testimony before others. “Sincere” means no pretense, no duplicity, able to stand up to the test of sunlight. No cracks are covered over, in matters as diverse as relationships, finance, or one’s movements in service for God. “Without offense” can probably be taken in two senses; avoiding anything that would make others stumble or sin, and at the same time free from an accusing conscience in ourselves before the Lord.
Such a life is lived in view of the Day of Christ, a term always linked with the Church. That day will initiate with the Rapture. The Day of Christ has to do with heaven, grace, and rewards. (The Day of the Lord is a distinct term, and has to do with earth, government, and retribution). The measure of our joy then will be the measure of our love as seen in these verses. Keeping this is mind would weed out much of our selfish ambition, cold aloofness, and jealous rivalry. The Day of Christ will reveal how much of Christ was in our days.
Abounding and discerning love that controls the life will accrue to us the fruit of righteousness. It is practical everyday righteous living, doing those things that God Himself judges to be right. They are not accomplished by our own strength, and are not for us to pride ourselves in. They are through Jesus Christ, and for the ultimate glory and praise of God. Love keeps self out of sight, even in the final product.
In conclusion, Philippians 1:6 confirmed to the Philippians that God Who had begun a good work in them would perform it until the Day of Jesus Christ. Nothing would stall the process. The same will be true of us. Yet, balanced with the divine side is this human response, and may this prayer be answered in our lives so that we will not fall short of what could have been, to His eternal glory and praise.