Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians: Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians (4): Love Abounding

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 20, 2007

Philippians 1:7-11

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

May
20, 2007

Philippians 1:7-11

“Love Abounding”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

I’d invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one.
We’re looking at verses 7-11 today, and these verses span two parts of this
first chapter of this great letter. Really, if you look back to verse 3, from
verse 3 to verse 8 the Apostle Paul is expressing his joy in, his thanksgiving
to God for, his love for, the Philippians. Over and over in various ways, Paul
with a thankful heart expresses gratitude to God for the Philippians, and he
enumerates some of the reasons why he’s so joyful about them, why he’s rejoicing
in, why he’s thankful for the Philippians. And we’re going to start reading
today right in the middle of that series of expressions of thanksgiving, so it
would be good for you to allow your eyes to run back all the way to verse 3,
because the reason why Paul says what he says in verse 7 is actually found in
the astounding thing that he says in verse 6. So when we pick up in verse 7
today and read 7 and 8, the reason that Paul is speaking the way he is is
because of what he has just said in verse 6. So the first part of this passage,
verses 7-8, continues and concludes the expression of thanksgiving that Paul has
been making to God because of the Philippians. And again it reminds us of the
reasons why he is thankful.

Then the second part of the passage we’re going to
read today is in verses 9-11. A number of you have already come to me and told
me that this is one of your favorite prayers in all the Bible. Right you are!
This is precisely a Pauline prayer. Remember when we were studying Ephesians how
over and over we found that Paul sneaked prayers into the letter to the
Ephesians? Half of the book was prayer in one form of another. Sometimes it was
a prayer outline where Paul says these are the kinds of things that I’m praying
for you. Sometimes it was a prayer report: This is what I have been praying for
you. Sometimes it was a prayer request: Would you please pray for me about these
things? But the book of Ephesians was filled with prayer. No surprise, then,
that here again we’re only half way into this chapter and we’re already finding
a prayer of Paul for the Philippians. Well, in verses 9-11, you’re going to see
the specific petitions that Paul lifts up for these Philippian Christians.

It’s actually a pretty simple prayer. You could
probably outline it in two or three parts. We’re going to be a little bit more
detailed in our outline of it so that we don’t miss a drop as we go through it.
Now let’s look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing before we read
His word.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. We
recognize that around the world today there are many people that have never
heard Your word read; they have never read Your word themselves in their own
language; they do not own a Bible; and they do not have ready access to the
hearing of the word of God. We, on the other hand, hear Your word read twice
every Lord’s Day, often in the middle of the week when we gather for Bible study
and prayer, frequently in small group Bible studies, in women’s Bible studies,
reading the Scriptures at home with our children and families; and we confess, O
God, that we have come to take this for granted. We do not realize what a
precious gift it is from You to us for us to be able to hear the saving, living
word of the one true God. So, Lord, as we hear Your word today, help us to
realize the privilege, the blessing, that it is to receive Your word from Your
own mouth; and by Your Spirit help us to understand it and believe it. In Jesus’
name. Amen.

Hear the word of God:

“For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because
I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and
confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of grace with me. For God is
my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this
I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all
discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to
be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the
fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise
of God.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

In this great passage we have first an expression
of Paul’s thankfulness, and then we have a glorious example of Paul’s prayers
for God’s people.
And as we look at this expression of thankfulness in
verses 7 and 8, and as we look at the detail of Paul’s prayer in verses 9-11, I
want us to understand a truth about the unity of the body of Christ, and I want
us as we look at the prayer to think long and hard about what we desire to be,
what we rejoice in as we look at one another, and what we ought to be praying
for ourselves and for one another.

I. Paul’s deep affection for the
Philippians.

Well, let’s begin then looking at verses 7 and
8, at Paul’s expression of thankfulness to God. In verses 7 and 8, he is telling
the Philippians how deeply he loves them. He is expressing his deep affection
for the entire Philippian congregation, and so verse 7 and 8 give us a
culmination to that section that runs from verse 3 all the way to verse 8, which
is itself an expression of thankfulness and love. Allow your eyes to go back to
verse 3, and follow the logic of Paul’s expression of thanksgiving. He says:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy
in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from
the first day until now.”

And then listen closely to verse 6:

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you
will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Now the Apostle Paul wants you to understand that he
has just said something that is astounding. He’s saying, ‘Philippians, I am
absolutely confident that the work that God has started in you, He’s going to
finish.’ And the reason that the Apostle Paul is so confident of this is that he
has already seen with his own eyes how the grace of God is transforming these
Philippian Christians. When he has been in suffering, they have been right there
with him. When he has been in need, even out of poverty they have given
generously to the Apostle Paul. What he cares about, they care about. He wants
to see the world trusting in Jesus Christ. They want to see that, too, and they
have put their money where their mouths are in that regard, in supporting his
missionary journeys.

They, together with Paul, understand experientially
and personally the sovereign grace of God. He was on his way to persecute
Christians when Jesus brought him to Himself, literally encountering him on the
road to Damascus. The Philippian Christians, too, their core group understands
the shocking, sovereign grace of God as Lydia’s heart is opened by the Lord to
believe and she embraces Jesus Christ, and she and her household are baptized.
And then the Philippian jailer…again, right before he’s about to kill himself,
the Lord God brings to him the Apostle Paul, says a word to him, converts him,
and brings him to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These Philippians understood
experientially the sovereign grace of God, and they were united to the Apostle
Paul in that. And so when Paul says in verse 7, “For it is only right for me to
feel this way about you,” he is saying ‘I have every reason to have the
confidence that I have in you, that God’s good work will be completed, because
I’ve already seen what God’s grace is doing in your heart and life.

You see, the Philippians
had been knit together with Paul in Paul’s sufferings and in Paul’s ministry,
and so Paul speaks confidently because he has already seen the change that God’s
Holy Spirit has been working in their lives. In other words, the Apostle Paul is
saying ‘I can speak so confidently of you because I have been an eye-witness of
what the grace of God is already doing in you.’

But not only is the
Apostle Paul rejoicing in what the grace of God is doing in the Philippians, in
seeing what the grace of God is doing in the Philippians, it has done what? It
has knit Paul’s heart together with the Philippians. He loves them very deeply,
and they clearly love him.

So here’s what we learn
from this, friends. Communion in the same grace and mission creates a band of
brothers.
Communion in the same grace and mission creates a band of
brothers…or, if I could say this another way, gospel love and Christian
affection grow in the soil of God’s grace in gospel service. Let me unpack that
for you for a minute.

Gospel love and
Christian affection grow in the soil of grace and gospel service.
The unity
that Paul experiences with the Philippians — their mutual love for one another,
their deep affection for one another — grows out of the soil of their common
experience of God’s sovereign grace and their common commitment to spreading the
word of the gospel. In those things Paul has been able to perceive their heart,
and they have been able to perceive Paul’s heart. And what has it done? It’s
pulled them together.

You know, people are
always talking today about ‘strategies for uniting the church.’ Well, you know
what the Apostle Paul is saying: The unity of the church is based on our common
experience of and embrace of the sovereign, saving grace of God in Jesus Christ,
and the mission that grows out of that. Just as the Apostle Paul had been united
in heart to the Philippians because they both had experienced God’s sovereign
grace and they were both committed to this service of the gospel, so also gospel
love and Christian affection grow in every Christian congregation where the
fundamental thing that holds us together is our conscious awareness of having
received unmerited favor from the living God, divine saving grace in Jesus
Christ, which has made us brothers and sisters and given us a common purpose and
mission in life to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth and to glorify God
in all of life. When those things unite us, true unity follows as night follows
day.

And so we’re learning here
from the Apostle Paul, even as he comes to the conclusion of his expression of
thankfulness, that communion in the same grace and mission creates a band of
brothers and sisters, that gospel love and Christian affection grow up in a
congregation which has the soil of grace and of gospel service.

II.
Paul’s prayer for the Philippians.

Well, that’s the first
thing we see in this passage. The second thing is this. Look at verses 9-11.

There you see Paul’s prayer, and if you look closely, this prayer has about
three parts to it. It’s a prayer first of all that they would grow in love. The
prayer that they would grow in love is followed by a prayer that they would grow
in knowledge, and that prayer for knowledge comes in various parts. It talks
about knowledge, it talks about discernment, and it talks about choices — all
based on true knowledge.

Then, the prayer segues
into an expression of Paul’s desire that the Philippians would live a godly
life.
So you have this first petition that they would grow in love, then
knowledge, then a godly life. There are different legitimate ways that you could
outline this prayer. Let me outline it for you in seven parts, just so you don’t
miss anything. But as we look at those seven parts, remember that they all
relate to one of those three themes: love, true knowledge, and godliness.

And as you think about
those seven parts, let me ask you already, before we even get to the final
application of the message, to be asking yourself these three things: What ought
I to be desiring myself because of what Paul prays here; what ought I to be
rejoicing in, in my brothers and sisters in Christ, because of what Paul prays
here; and what ought I to be praying for, for my brothers and sisters in Christ
because of what Paul prays here?
So just bear that in mind as we go through
each of these points.

First of all, look at
verse 9. The first part of Paul’s prayer is simply this: “That your love may
abound still more and more.”
Paul is praying for abounding love in the
Philippians. Now let’s pause for a second and think about this. Paul has just
made it emphatically known that this is a loving congregation that is easy for
him to love, because they’re so loving. And yet the very first prayer for them
is that they would — what? Abound all the more in love.

Now, if the Philippians
needed Paul to pray for them that they would abound in love, and surely they’ve
got to be one of Paul’s top three most-loved congregations in the New
Testament…they may not be No. 1, but they’re not far off the pace of No. 1…if
they need a prayer to grow in love, then surely the rest of us do. And so Paul’s
prayer that they would abound in love is a prayer for the increase of Christian
love, real love; not sentimentality, but real Christian love. “That your love
may abound still more and more.”

Where there is a true
knowledge of Christ, where there is an apprehension of the grace of God to us in
Jesus Christ, there is always love. John will say (the Apostle John will say)
that “we love because He first loved us.” And Jesus will repeatedly affirm to
His disciples in His teaching that no man can say that he loves God who does not
love his brother. And so love is a hallmark of the true knowledge of God, of the
experience of His grace, of the experience of His love. If you have really known
God’s radical life-transforming love, you will manifest something of that love
in your life in your relationships with others. And so the Apostle Paul’s first
prayer for the Philippians and for you and me would be that we abound in love.

Then secondly, if you
look again at verse 9, he goes on to pray “that your love may abound still more
and more in real knowledge….”
What kind of knowledge? Knowledge of the
truth; knowledge of God.

Paul is concerned for the
Philippians and for you and me to increase in true, practical,
character-transforming, biblical knowledge of God. Isn’t that refreshing how the
Apostle Paul puts love and knowledge side by side, and he does not see them in
competition or opposition to one another? In fact, the Apostle Paul will make it
clear that there can be no love without this true knowledge, and there can be no
true knowledge without love. Anyone who claims to have knowledge but does not
manifest love does not have the knowledge. Anyone who claims to love but who
does not do it in accordance with knowledge is not loving as a Christian. For
the Apostle Paul, love and knowledge go together. Love increases true knowledge
of God and results from true knowledge of God, and true knowledge of God is to
accompany Christian love and produce it. And so he prays that they would grow in
the knowledge of God.

And think of how the
Apostle Paul groups that idea of truth and knowledge over and over in his
ministry. Maybe you want to take a peek at I Timothy 1:3-5. In verse 5, Paul
tells you what the whole focus of his teaching ministry is. He says (I Timothy
1:5):

“The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience,

and a sincere faith.”

Notice again how instruction and
love–truth and love, knowledge and love–go together in the Christian life.
Here’s the Apostle Paul praying for abounding love and growing knowledge, and
knowing that they go together.

This is so important for
us. We come from a tradition of Christians that care much about truth, and
rightly so. But the more we truly know the truth, the more we ought to manifest
that truth in Christian love, so that our reputation ought to be those who care
with deep conviction about truth and who love generously and lavishly because of
that deep conviction about the truth. How countercultural would that be in our
world today, where most people think that in order to love you can’t believe
that anything is true; if you really want to love, you’ve got to decide that
there is no truth, or either that everything is true, no matter how ridiculous?
And here’s the Apostle Paul saying, no, gospel love is manifested precisely and
only where true truth is embraced about God.

And then he goes on,
notice again in verse 9, to pray for your discernment.
It’s not enough that
you grow in the knowledge of the truth; you need to know how to wield that truth
in good judgment and discernment, and so notice his words:

“That you would abound in love more and more in real knowledge and all
discernment.”

Paul is praying for the
Philippians and for you and me that we would cultivate good judgment and
discretion.

How important is that?
Have you ever known a parent with a really smart child, and that child is off in
college, or perhaps getting ready to go off to graduate school, or launching
into the marketplace, and that parent is concerned because that really
well-educated, really gifted, really intelligent young person is making the
goofiest choices you’ve ever seen in your life! And that parent is deeply
concerned, because that parent doesn’t want his or her child just to be smart;
he wants that child to use discretion, good judgment, be wise in discernment.
And that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul is praying for the Philippians and you
and me: not just that we would know stuff, but that we would have judgment and
discretion and wisdom as we apply the truth which is ours.

Fourthly, if you look
at verse 10, he goes on to say that knowledge, that discretion, is going to be
manifested. How? It’s going to be manifested in what you choose.
He wants
you to choose the excellent, so he’s praying that we would abound in love, grow
in knowledge, increase in discernment, and, fourth, choose the excellent.

Look at verse 10:

“So that you may
approve the things that are excellent.”

In other words, he’s saying if
you know true truth, if you have the knowledge of God, if you have the gift of
discernment, one of the things that that will lead to in your knowledge and
discernment is choosing that which is excellent as opposed to that which is bad
or that which is corrupt, choosing that which is eternal as opposed to that
which is ephemeral and fleeting and temporal and passing. You’ll choose that
which is excellent.

The Apostle Paul is
wanting knowledge to form in us discernment that leads to right choices–choosing
the excellent.

Now this in turn leads
to behavior. Look again at verse 10:

“So that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere
and blameless until the day of Christ.”

The choices that you make
for that which is excellent are to lead to what? Living which is characterized
by sincerity and integrity, so that you would be sincere and blameless until the
Day of Christ.

The Apostle Paul is
talking about the cultivation of Christian sincerity and integrity in our
behavior (sincerity meaning you are on the inside what you are on the
outside). You are at home what you are in the world and vice versa, as opposed
to being hypocritical… putting on a front for the world to see while inside you
are at odds with what you present the world, or putting on a front for the world
to see out there, but when you’re at home you’re entirely different.

One of the greatest
compliments that I ever heard given to a godly minister was that he was at home
what he was everywhere else; that there was no difference between the two
persons; that it was a unity.

And that is what Paul is
saying here. He’s praying that there would be a moral unity in the life of the
Philippians, that they would be outside what they are inside, that they would be
at the home what they are in the world, that they would be sincere, and that
they would walk with integrity. The world could look at them and say, not
‘you’re perfect,’ but there’s something about that person that could not be
explained simply naturally. There’s evidence of a divine work of grace in that
person. And the Apostle Paul had seen that in the Philippians, and so he prays
that they would continue in sincerity and integrity.

Sixth, he goes on to
pray that they would live in fruitful righteousness.
Look again at verse 11:

“…having been filled
with the fruit of righteousness which comes through

Jesus Christ.”

Here Paul is praying for the
production of fruit in the Christian life: that they would be fruitful
Christians; that the result of the Spirit’s work of grace in their heart would
be that they would bear fruit–much fruit–for God, through Jesus Christ.

And then, seventh, he
prays that they would live for God, that they would live to God, that they would
live unto God, that they would live before God, that they would live for the
glory of God.
Listen to what he says at the end of verse 11:

“…to the glory and
praise of God.”

So, seven things there. He
prays that their love would abound, that their knowledge would grow, that their
discernment would increase, that they would choose the excellent, that they
would continue in sincerity and integrity, that they would live in fruitful
righteousness, and that they would deliberately live for the glory of God.

Now. Let’s go back to
my three questions to you beforehand. What do we learn about what we ought to
desire for ourselves from this prayer? What do we learn about what we ought to
rejoice in in one another? And, what do we learn about how we ought to be
praying for one another?

Well, It’s pretty
straightforward, isn’t it? It ought to be our personal desire to be Christians
like this — people who are growing in love, who are increasing in knowledge and
discernment, who are choosing that which is excellent, who are living in
sincerity and integrity, who are manifesting a fruitful righteousness, and who
are living for the glory of God. As Paul prays this for the Philippians, our
hearts ought to be saying, “Lord, I want to be like that. That’s what I want to
be like.”

Secondly, as we look at
this prayer we ought to be saying to ourselves, “You know, what is it when I
look at another person that I get excited about? What are the things that
encourage me, interest me, as I look at another person. What are the things that
catch my attention? Is it that person’s success? Is it that person’s social
connections? Is it that person’s wealth or possessions? Is it that person’s
background or family?” Or, as we look at one another, are the things that
attract our attention and actually cause us to rejoice things like love,
increasing in the knowledge of the truth, discernment, choosing that which is
excellent, sincerity, integrity, fruitfulness in righteousness, and living for
the glory of God?

The Apostle Paul is
looking over the Philippians and he’s seeing these characteristics in them, and
what does it make him do? “Ye-e-es!!” is what he’s saying! And he immediately
praises God for it! He rejoices when he sees these kinds of grace-wrought moral
characteristics in these Philippians because he knows that these things can only
exist in them because God is at work. What does he say? Doesn’t he say it point
blank in verse 11? All these things come — how? — through Jesus Christ. Only
Jesus can build a person like that.

But are these the things
that we rejoice in? One of the ways that we can be an encouragement to one
another is rejoicing in one another when these things are seen by us. Say,
“Brother, I just want to tell you that your integrity is an encouragement to me.
Brother, I want to tell you that your manifestation of love, Christian love, is
an encouragement to me. Sister in Christ, your pursuit of truth and the true
knowledge of God encourages me. It exhorts me to live the Christian life and it
causes me to give praise to the living God, to rejoice in you and to praise Him
for it.” We ought to be rejoicing in these things in one another.

And then finally, we
need to be praying these things for one another.
If Paul is praying these
for the Philippians, surely we at First Presbyterian Church need to be praying
this prayer for one another: that we would abound in love and grow in knowledge,
and increase in discernment, and choose what is excellent, and continue in
integrity and sincerity, and live in fruitful righteousness, and live for the
glory of God. May God make it so.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, this
is our prayer. We pray with Paul that our love would abound more and more in
real knowledge and all discernment, so that we would approve the things that are
excellent and would live sincerely and would live with integrity until the Day
of the coming of Jesus Christ, because You have filled us with the fruit of
righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ for Your glory. This we ask in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Congregation sings The
Doxology
]

Grace to you and peace, from
God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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