The Substance of Joy filled Prayer – Philippians 1:9-11

A few weeks back, we began a series titled “Joy-filled life” as we’ve been reading through the letter to the Philippians. Paul, who is the writer of this letter, emphasizes the importance of prayer right at the start itself. It’s a fantastic thing to study about and navigate through as a church.

A couple of weeks back, we tried to answer the “HOW” question of prayer as we went through the five ingredients of joy-filled prayer. Last week we learnt about the “WHY” of Joy filled prayer – what motivates to pray with joy and today we’ll try to understand the “WHAT” of Joy filled prayer – what’s the content of joy-filled prayer – what’s the substance of Joy filled prayer. Turn with me to Philippians 1:9-11: 

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.

If you were to pray about only one thing – just one thing for a person who is dear to you – it can be a family member or a friend or a co-worker, what would you end up praying for? I want us to think about what our honest answers would be.

  • Probably better job opportunities to be provided for that person.
  • Probably some healing if that person has an illness.
  • Probably that the person gets more engaged in church ministry.
  • Probably marriage if that person is looking out to get married.

The options are many and let me say there’s nothing wrong in praying and asking for God’s wisdom and help in any of these. But if you were only given a single point to pray for – what would be of highest priority? Think about it.

Here’s what the biblical text says is the main thing: “LOVE” – Love for God!

Out of all the things that Paul could pray for the Philippian church, he prayed intensely and earnestly that they would love God. The word prayer out here means supplication (Yachana) – which means begging and sincerely asking someone to do something for them. That’s the intensity with which Paul is making this prayer. And what does he pray for?

1. Abounding Love

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (v9)

So it’s not just love mentioned here – but abounding love – increasing love for God.

Why is that important?

Because love is what compels (Majboor) us to joyfully obey God, love drives us to radical obedience. Jesus says “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15) God receives no glory and no honour if we obey him reluctantly and ritualistically.

Truly delighting and loving our Creator & Redeemer is what honours Him! And that’s why he prays that their love abounds more and more.

But one question here: how does our love for God abound more and more? How does it increase?  The answer is in the same verse… by knowledge and discernment

a) Knowledge: Knowledge is knowing God through His Word. Knowing God is much different from just knowing about God. For example, I can say I know a lot about the Prime Minister, but that isn’t same as knowing him personally. I can read a lot of information about the PM online but still not know him. Similarly, “knowledge” in the Bible always implies knowledge that comes through personal fellowship.

In another prayer that Paul makes to the Ephesians, he puts it in this way:

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Eph 1:17 – NIV)

Now we may think what the connection between knowing God and loving God is? Because the more we “know God” through His Word, the more we’ll grow in our love and appreciation for Him!

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation is God’s love story for a people that were broken and lost.

When we see biblical narrative: We see God who is Holy, full of wisdom, Powerful – created the entire universe with His command – He spoke and came to be.

Out of the overflow of His joy and purpose, He created man and woman in His image. His intention for them was that they would love, obey and trust Him because He created them.

But quickly into that storyline, we see the first man and woman decide to rebel against God. They wanted to be their own God. They wanted to decide what was right and wrong for themselves.

Guess what that sounds like all of us in our thoughts and actions. And they went ahead and rebelled against God and threw themselves & all of humanity into brokenness and corruption.

From that moment on, humans were born in sin and fully saturated with sin. The immense brokenness that we experience in our hearts, actions and the world around us is a consequence of a separated life from God.

And we all stand guilty to face God’s wrath and judgment. This could’ve been the end of the story but “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” – (Eph 2:4,5)

When we were dead in our sins and unable to respond to God. Unable to reach out to God. He reached out to us. He came after us. And He stood in our place to face the penalty and the punishment that was directed toward us.

He died for us. Buried in a tomb and three days later rose again victoriously so that if we turned away from our sins and trust in the loving sacrifice and life of our Master and Redeemer, we would be saved! We would be made free! We would be declared not guilty! Most importantly, we would know God!

We would know the One who created us. We would see the One for whom we needed to live. We have a living hope that we look forward to! And when we read and think and pray and talk and believe these truths from Scripture, it fills our heart with love for God!

While on the one hand, knowledge is Knowing God through Scripture,  

b) Discernment: Discernment is knowing God’s will for us through Scripture – What does God call me to do? What does God expect from me?  

And this also enables us to love God more. Now we might wonder how does that happen?

Many times when we think about commandments, we think about it as a task-list to be accomplished or rules that curb our freedom but what if we looked at God’s commandments as the safe paths that our Father has laid out for us to protect and provide for us?

What if we saw it as loving instructions from our Creator who knows what’s best for His creation? What if we saw it as commands that will help us understand the character of our Father better? So discernment is knowing God’s will for us! Both Knowledge and Discernment help us to abound in love for God.

But not only is the prayer for abounding love, but it also mentions:

2. Sincere love

“so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,”

When I love God by knowing who He is and Knowing His will for me, it should now lead me to approve and examine all the decisions and choices in my life.

The word approve means “scrutiny and examination”. We live in a time when reflective thinking isn’t encouraged. We keep ourselves occupied in so many things, including our phones, that it doesn’t give us any time to evaluate our choices and decisions in our lives.

Every single day we are making hundreds and millions of choices that all have implications with our hearts and responses to God’s will. To

give a few examples:

  • How should I respond to my parents?
  • What should I say in this situation or that?
  • How should I respond to my boss?
  • How must I deal with my sinful temptations?
  • Whom should I marry?
  • Which job should I take?
  • What should I watch on TV or the internet?

And these choices are not to be thought as of having any lesser spiritual value.

Let me take the job question, for example. Now when we usually think about another job – we often only think about if it’s paying more and if it’s more convenient.

But as a believer, we need to be asking some more questions to understand our heart motivation:

  • Will this job hurt or help my witness for Christ?
  • Am I finding my identity rooted in this job?
  • Am I seeking the approval of man by taking/not taking this job?

So, a lot of our decisions and choices daily have moral implications. God’s desire for us that we would examine these decisions and choices and lovingly obey Him.

But why is it that we find ourselves in many occasions and situations choosing ourselves and our sins instead of God? It’s because we love our sin more.

But, instead, in all our choices, the real question we need to ask ourselves honestly is “Do I love God more” or “Do I love this sin more?” That’s the real question we need to ask.

And as big and weighty is this question, we are hit with a more substantial question “how can someone like me in my frailty and weakness in sin be PURE and BLAMELESS on the day of Christ?”

I think the answer is found in the next verse which is why it’s not just abounding love and sincere love but it also the Exalting love.

3. Exalting love

“filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

It’s God who takes it upon Himself to assure and establish us.

V11 says on the day of Christ believers who have fully trusted in Him will be filled with the fruit of righteousness! Now, this is not self-righteousness – it’s not talking about our good works or self-efforts or accomplishments in our flesh – those all are “filthy rags”. It’s talking about the righteousness of Christ that we receive by faith.

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)

There was a great exchange that happened on that cross because of which sinners like you and me have hope by trusting in God.

We receive the righteousness of Christ! His robe…completely by His grace!

Not just Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice but we have His own Spirit that’s being placed within us that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4)

And also with that, we have the promise of God’s faithfulness in holding us till the end: My Father, who has given them to me,[a] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:29)

And what does all of this do in our hearts? When we see our Lord laying down His life for us to give us His righteousness, when we see the Spirit working in us, when we see our Father holding onto us – this love produces great hope which makes us want to repent and rely on Him. How can we run away from our God?

Therefore, like Paul, let us also pray over us and over others that, more than all the needs and necessities, that we grow in his love. His abounding love, His Sincere Love, His Exalting Love.

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