3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: 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 and may 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.
As Paul thinks of his friends in Philippi, he’s moved to prayer (1.3). Their financial gifts (1.5, 2.25-30; 4.10-18), prayers (1.19), and common struggle for the sake of the gospel (1.7, 27-30) give him great joy.
Because of their past partnership (koinonia), Paul has full confidence in their continued growth (1.6). I used to think of verse 6 in individualistic terms: God began a good work in me through salvation and he will continue to work in me until Christ returns. But the point here is on the perfection or development of the community.[i] God established this congregation as an integral part of the new creation, the body of believers in Christ. He will surely finish the good work that he started. The corporate aspect is further seen in Paul’s concern for “all” of the believers (1.1, 4, 7, 8), as well in his prayer that they would grow in their love for one another (1.9-11).
Paul’s brothers and sisters in Philippi give him comfort during his imprisonment (1.7). Their common struggles on behalf of the Gospel confirm that they share in God’s grace together (1.7, 29-30). Paul loves them dearly and desires to be reunited with them (1.8). In fact, God can testify that he longs to see them not just with his own heart, but with the very heart (splaxgna) of Christ Jesus. If you recall our study of Philemon, we noted that splaxgna refers to the place where our deepest emotions reside. Paul could not have expressed his affection for them any more strongly.
Paul hopes Christ’s love for them will spill over into their community: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (1.9). Overall, Paul seems very pleased with his brothers and sisters of Philippi. But when it comes to love, there’s always room for growth. It’s interesting how Paul prays for their love to increase “in knowledge and depth of insight.” Culture doesn’t typically promote love as something that’s instructed by the intellect. But love contains wisdom, and in order to properly express it we must do more than to feel a certain way. The world constantly feeds us with warped ideas of love, which is why we must seek to understand its real meaning.[ii] In Philippians, love is directly contrasted with selfish ambition (2.3-4).[iii] Love is selfless, looking first to the interests of others. The best example of this kind of love is, of course, Jesus Christ, who sacrificially took the form of a servant and humbled himself in obedience, even unto death (2.6-8).
Therefore, if we wish to properly understand love, we have to get to know Jesus. We need to meditate and reflect upon his person and work. He is the key to unlocking our full potential of love.
The purpose of growing in our understanding of love is found in the following verses: “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (1.10-11).
The more we understand love, the better equipped we are to handle different situations. The love of Christ serves as our guide. If we model his love, we can form the type of community and be the type of people that God desires— sincere and without room for accusation (1.10).
What does it mean to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”?
The fruit of righteousness refers to godly behavior, or deeds that “reflect the attitudes and actions of Christ (Phil 2:5-8).”[iv] We are able to produce such fruits only as much as we rely and depend on Christ. He enables us to live holy lives. This is much like the teaching we find in Galatians about “walking by the Spirit,” which leads to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5.16, 22-23)—in other words, righteous fruit.
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for your love and grace. Thank you for loving us even to the point of death. Thank you for humbling yourself by coming into our world to show us how to love. Empower us to live holy and righteous lives. Let us demonstrate your love in practical ways each day. May our speech, attitudes, and behaviors all be measured against your self-sacrificial love. Glory and praise be to God!
[i] Hansen, Philippians, 61. Of course, that’s not to deny the fact that the congregation is made up of individuals.
[ii] “Insight [TNIV]”: “αἰσθάνομαι; αἴσθησις, εως f; αἰσθητήριον, ου n: to have the capacity to perceive clearly and hence to understand the real nature of something. . . .” (Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1:383).
[iii] Hansen, Philippians, 57.
[iv] Ibid., 63.