Paul’s Prayer

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 Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

Paul’s Prayer

Philippians 1:9-11


As Paul writes his letter to the believers in the Macedonian city of Philippi, he is facing some very difficult circumstances. He was wrongfully accused some three or four years earlier and has been in prison ever since. He is currently in Rome awaiting a hearing with Caesar, and though he believes he will be released after his case is heard, he is also realistic and knows that it could also result in his death (Phil. 1:19,20). To make matters worse, there are those who out of envy and strife are seeking to cause Paul distress by preaching Christ. To men of lesser godly character, these things might well cause distress, but Paul rejoices in the midst of them. He lived for purposes beyond the common stuff of daily life. He lived with eternity in view.

As I pointed out in our last study of Philippians 1:3-8, Paul had several foundational reasons that enabled him to be thankful and joyful regardless of what circumstances he might find himself at any given time.

His first source of thankfulness and joy was remembering God’s work in the past. As Paul writes to the Philippians, he could recall the many wonderful things God accomplished through Him and among them when ministering there.

Another source of joy for him was having the Philippian believers as fellow participants in the gospel ministry. That same joy of fellowship is available to any Christian who is walking with Christ and will use their spiritual gifts in ministry to others and will allow others to minister to them.

Another source of joy was the mutual affection he had with the Philippian Christians because of their mutual relationship to Jesus Christ. We are the recipient of God’s love through others as well as the giver of God’s love to others.

The foundational source of this joy is confidence in a God who is trustworthy and who will fulfill all His promises. There is joy in looking forward to the future when you know what the outcome will be. Paul was thankful and glad when he thought about the Philippian believers because he could be confident that God would complete in them the good work He had started.

This confidence in God also enabled him to be joyful by being able to take positive action on their behalf because he could make intercession for them with the God that can answer prayer and always pays attention to the need of His children. There is joy is being able to pray for others.

This morning we come to verses 9-11 and find out the content of Paul’s prayer for the Philippians. This prayer, like Paul’s many other prayers recorded in the New Testament, gives us a very good model for our own prayers for one another.

“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”

Philippians 1:9-11


Paul’s prayer is one of both intelligence and feeling. It has great thoughtfulness about the subject matter of the prayer and its importance as well as desire for the good and well being of those he is praying for. This prayer, like his many others recorded in Scripture are of both mind and heart. Unlike the prayers of most people that are motivated largely or solely by emotion, Paul’s prayers are founded solidly on theological truth which guides the expression and desire of his emotions. We will be examining the theological truths taught in this prayer the rest of this morning.

Prayer is coming before God and presenting your requests before Him. The particular word for prayer here (proseucomai / proseuchomai) is a compound word that could be translated as “toward to wish/pray.” It is the expression of what you would desire to happen given to one who can make that desire come true.

Paul is able to pray in this manner because he has confidence in God, as expressed in verse 6. But that brings up what is to many a theological dilemma. If what Paul prays for is God’s work, and Paul is confident that God will complete that work in the Philippian believers until the day of Christ, then why pray for them? If it is assured that God is going to do all these things to glorify Himself, then why put out the effort to pray that these Christians will do these things. If God is going to do it, then is seems contradictory to seek men to do it? Later in Philippians we find that Paul tells the Philippians, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Is it God’s work, or man’s work?

So is the seeming contradiction put forth by those that would emphasize God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of man’s responsibility or would emphasize man’s responsibility to the exclusion of God’s sovereignty. The truth is that one of the ways in which God sovereignty works is through His call to men to take personal action. It is God that sovereignly frees us from the bondage of sin so that it is possible for us to respond to His commands. Is it any surprise then that He then calls on man to do His will? Or as Lloyd-Jones has put it, “God by working in us, makes us work; God, by initiating the movement, has decreed and ordered that the movement shall be continued, partly at any rate, by our effort and activity.” God began a good work in every Christian through our salvation which is entirely of His grace. Having received that grace, God then calls on us to live accordingly even while God continues to work in us in conforming us into the image of His son.

Paul’s prayer for the Philippian believers sets in order this balance of God working through men even while men respond to God’s will within their own lives. Why pray? Because that is the manner by which the sovereign God invites us to take part in His work. In this particular prayer, that work of bringing His people into spiritual maturity by which they will glorify God. There is indeed a mystery here, but not a contradiction. The mystery is in the holy, infinite and sovereign God who not only allows, but takes pleasure, in involving His sinful but redeemed, finite creatures to take part in accomplishing His will and bringing Him glory. While this is a mystery to us finite creatures, it is no contradiction to our infinite creator.

What then are the specifics that Paul desires to see God do? What changes does Paul desire to see in the Philippian Christians? What can we learn from this about our prayers for one another, and what we should be seeking for our own lives?

Abounding Love

The foundational prayer request is that their “love may abound still more and more” followed by specific ways in which that love was to grow and specific results that love should have. The love here, (agaph / agapê), is the committed sacrificial love that extends itself for the best interest of the one loved. It is not the emotional “fond feelings of affection” that we commonly use the English word “love” to describe. Emotion can be a component of this virtue, but it is a secondary element that follows the action of love instead of being primary and leading as it is in other types of love. This is the love that God has for us and which Christians are to have for one another.

Paul’s prayer that they abound still more and more in love can in no way be taken as a correction of the Philippians as if they were doing something wrong. On the contrary, they were doing well in this area as demonstrated by their practical love to Paul in the gifts they had sent personally at the hands of Epaphroditus. This is Paul’s desire for them to do even better. It is more akin to encouraging an athlete who just won a race to do even better to beat his own time in the next race, or encouraging a team that just won their game to do even better at the next game so that they would win the series.

To make it more personal to our own church, praise the Lord for the visible demonstrations of love that are easily seen within our congregation. It is wonderful to see people “letting their light so shine among men that they might see their good works and glorify their Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). But brothers and sisters, isn’t it wonderful to know that we can be even more like our Lord in loving one another. We do not have to settle for where we are at, but can abound even more and more in loving each other so that others might see Jesus Christ living in us and know that we are Jesus’ disciples by that love (John 13:35). That is the essence of Paul’s prayer here.

The Philippians were doing well and Paul was thankful and joyful in all his remembrance of them (Phil. 1:3), but they did not have to settle for their current state, but could become even more like the Lord Jesus Christ. The same is true for each of us and so it is an appropriate prayer for us to make on behalf of one another. I know I desire for you to pray for me in the same way that Paul prayed for them that I would be abounding more and more in this godly agaph / agapê love in real knowledge and all discernment that I might be and do all God desires.

Real Knowledge

As mentioned earlier, Paul’s payer is that their “love may abound still more and more” which is then followed by specific ways in which that love was to grow and specific results that love should have. The first specific area this love was to grow was in “real knowledge.”

It is important to note that this is (epignwsiV / epignôsis) “real” “true” knowledge and not just (gnwsiV / gnôsis) knowledge alone. This precise and correct knowledge is used in the New Testament in reference to “the knowledge of things ethical and divine” (BDB/Thayers). Only the Word of God is true and infallible. Any love not founded and growing according to its truth and standards will be less than the love Paul is talking about. This knowledge is not just the academic pursuit of information and doctrine. There is certainly an academic aspect to knowledge, but too often this can degenerate into a purely intellectual interest in abstract theology. The “real knowledge” Paul speaks of here must have application in ordinary life which in turn is the foundation for this true love.

1 John 4:9 states that “We love, because He first loved us.” Our love is a response to what God has done for us. How do know what loving thing God has done for us? Through the true knowledge of the Bible that reveals the gospel of Jesus Christ. God loved sinful man and made a way for His redemption by Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune Godhead, becoming a man, living a sinless life, then willingly paying the price of man’s sin through His own death on the cross of Calvary, and then proving the truth of His claims and promises, including forgiving the sins of those who believe in Him, by rising from the dead three days later. Without that knowledge, we would not love God, and the more we understand God, His nature, what He has done for us, the greater our love for Him grows as a response. That is why Paul ties real knowledge to the prayer that they abound more and more in love. Without real knowledge of God such a love cannot grow.

Man responds to God’s love with love for Him, but that love is much more than just the emotion of gratitude. It is a love that demonstrates itself in the actions of worship and obedience because of who God is. As Jesus put it in John 14:23,24, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words.”

Another reason that love can abound more and more when it is founded in real knowledge is because real knowledge is not fickle like emotions. Emotions rise and fall for a wide variety of reasons. The emotion of love for your parents, spouse or children goes up and down with circumstances, but the foundation of love grounded in the true knowledge of God remains firm because God never changes. The greater my understanding of God and His will for me, the stronger and more stable my love is for Him and everyone else.

When troubles come and that which I fear comes upon me, my world would fall apart if it was dependent upon fond sentiments. Instead, it is grounded in the fact that God demonstrated His love for me in that while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for my sins (Rom. 5:8). Even when nothing else makes sense, that truth guides me back to God, His love, and His plan for my life, and so I have hope, confident assurance for the future, because I have this true knowledge of God.

When things do not go my way and I am not happy with Diane, my marriage would be in trouble if it was dependent upon fond sentiments. Instead, it is grounded in the fact that God joined us together as man and wife (Matt. 19:6) and He commands me to love her with the same sacrificial love as Christ has for His church (Eph. 5:25). The same is true with my children. They are not always enjoyable, but my love for them is not based in how well they please me, but in the fact that they are a gift from God to me and a blessing (Ps. 127:3,4), and I am to reflect God’s love to them (Prov. 3:12: 13:24; Ps. 103:13; Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21; 1 Thess. 2:11; Heb. 13:5-8).

True knowledge of God, His nature and His will are the foundation by which the Christian can continue to abound even more and more in love.

All Discernment

The second specific way in which this love is to grow expands on the first. Love is to abound more and more not only in real knowledge, but also in all (aisqhsiV / aisthêsis) discernment or judgement. The sense here is “moral discernment in ethical matters” (BDB/Thayers). As I have already said, real knowledge must be applied to be of value. The idea here of “all discernment” is the wisdom necessary to apply real knowledge to the situations of life. Such wisdom has the insight or perception to understand the application of real knowledge in a way that cannot only judge between good and bad, but discern between good, better and best. The Holy Spirit has given the Christian the “mind of Christ ” (1 Cor. 2:16) so that he or she may understand and apply God’s truth to whatever situation might be present. It is this discernment that allows the believer to not only judge between a true and false teacher (1 John 4:1-6), but also the best way in which to demonstrate God’s love to one another. There are times Christian love is best demonstrated through compassion, comfort and encouragement (2 Cor. 1:3; 1 Thess. 5:14) and at other times through strong exhortation and rebuke (2 Cor. 7:8-12; 2 Tim. 4:2). Christian love that is abounding more and more will be founded in real knowledge and be applied with all discernment.

Approving what is Excellent

One of the specific results of this abounding love is the ability to approve what is excellent. The word “approve” (dokimazw /dokimazô) here is also translated as “able to discern,” “judge,” and “prove.” In classical Greek the word was used of testing metals to prove their purity. In Luke 12:56 it is used of “interpreting” or “judging” the appearance of the earth and sky in predicting the weather. The idea is to investigate, test and determine.

“Excellent things” refers to that which is of superior value. It is more than differing between bad and good, but distinguishing between good, better and best in the daily course of life. Paul tells us in Phil 4:8 that which is excellent is to occupy our minds along with what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute and praiseworthy.

As a Christian matures and abounds more and more in Christian love founded in true knowledge and all discernment, the result is the ability to keep one’s mind focused to figure out what is the most important thing to do and the best response to circumstances. As one writer put it, this is having the “sense of what is vital.” When tough situations come, many things may seem important, but only a few things are vital.

For example, it is late at night and your house catches on fire. What do you do? That depends on how you rank the importance of the various things you could do. For most people, the first priority will be saving the lives of anyone else in the building. After that, what is important descends very rapidly. And while you might be willing to risk your life to save someone else, you can’t do that if you are dead, so you analyze the situation to determine the best way to rescue others without killing yourself first.

There are many tough situations in life in which examples could be made to demonstrate this idea of determining and acting upon what is the most important. God gives us a list of financial priorities in the Scriptures including honoring Him first (Prov. 3:9); taking care of the physical necessities for our family (1 Tim. 5:8); and paying off debt (Ps. 37:21) and taxes (Rom. 13:6). If financial troubles come, the godly Christian sticks to those priorities instead of continuing to live, as so many do now, who spend on wants and desires instead of just necessities and obligations.

The particular application here is for the Christian to have a mind focused on keeping their priorities in proper spiritual order. Too often believers succumb to the pressures of the rest of society and follow their example about what is important. It is sadly amazing how often professing Christians hold to the same goals as non-Christians. They are after material things such as fancy cars, a big house, a large portfolio and fashionable clothing, while pursuing hedonistic pleasures and spending free time in entertainment and recreation at the expense of spending time in getting to know God through His word and serving the Lord Jesus Christ. This is one reason why Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is a good model in our prayers for one another. Where Christian love abounds in true knowledge and all discernment, so does the ability to approve what is excellent. Emotions and personal impulses, which are the ruin of most people, have less control on Christians as their ability to sense what is vital and respond appropriately according to what has true superior value continues to develop. Selfish ambition and personal glory give way to God’s glory and will.

Sincere & Blameless

At the end of verse 10 Paul gives another reason that having love that abounds still more and more in true knowledge and discernment is important. Not only is such a person developing a better ability to approve the things that are excellent, but their character is also molded into one of being sincere and blameless. These are two character qualities that every Christian should desire to have as we look forward to the day of Christ when He returns for us.

Sincerity, eilikrinhV /eilikrinês, means to “be judged by sunlight” and thus refers to something that is pure, or sincere and by analogy, honest. Unscrupulous business men can pass off inferior goods when they are sold in dim lighting, but when the same product is examined in sunlight, the flaws can be easily found. This was true of pottery in which the flaws in inferior pieces could be covered up with wax. In a dimly lit room, the piece would look fine, but when examined in the sunlight, the cracks and blemishes would be seen despite the wax. The word “sincere” literally means, “without wax.”

The Christian is to be honest. Our dealings with everyone should able to withstand any examination. That leads to the second word here, “blameless” (aproskopoV /aproskopos), which means to be “without offense” or “not causing to stumble.” By metaphor this means “not leading others to sin by one’s mode of life” (BDB / Thayers). The manner of life in which a Christian lives should be one that will stand up to examination and that will not lead others into sin.

Neither of these words demand that the Christian lives in perfection in this life, for that will not happen until the believer is with Christ. Paul speaks of that time in his reference to “the day of Christ.” On that day of Jesus’ return, we will be “changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” and this perishable, mortal body will put on an imperishable, immortal body (1 Cor. 15:50-54). We shall then be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John. 3:2). That hope causes the believer to purify himself (1 John. 3:3), or as Paul says here, to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. Christians are to live honestly and with integrity, two character qualities that increase in proportion to the love that abounds still more and more in true knowledge and discernment.

Filled with Righteousness

The final specific result of this prayer is “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ.”

When a person becomes a Christian, God’s work begins in them and He continues to work in them in the present and into the future. What began at salvation, when the fruit of righteousness that belongs to Christ was imputed to their behalf so that they would stand righteous before God, continues on to also produce the fruit of righteousness in the present in how the Christian now lives. What is true of us positionally will also be manifested in us in practical reality. The Holy Spirit who is given to us at salvation (1 Cor. 12:13) also produces in us His fruit which includes love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22,23). These characteristics in turn lead the believer who is “created in Christ Jesus” to do the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

As Christians grow in their knowledge of God, their love will also increase as well as their ability to properly apply that love, and they will keep their priorities according to godliness while developing an honest character which walks in integrity and displays the fruit of righteousness of Christ living in them. And the purpose of it all is in the last phrase of verse 11.

To the Glory and Praise of God.

The whole point of the Christian life is the praise and the glory of God. Paul put it this way in Ephesians 1:3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” God saved us for the purpose of being for His own praise and glory.

On the practical side of daily living, Jesus put it this way in John 15:8, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”

Paul’s prayer here is a wonderful model for us to follow as we pray for one another. We can be confident of God doing His part. We enter into His work in our own lives through gaining knowledge of Him and applying those truths to life in obedience to Him. We enter into His work in others through prayer.


May the love of each Christian here increase more and more in real knowledge of God and His word along with wisely applying these truths to life, and may each believer here increase in their ability to sense what is vital and live according to God’s priorities in their life, and in so doing demonstrate their honesty and integrity while we wait for our Lord’s return; and in so doing, may each believer demonstrate the reality of Jesus Christ in their life through the fruit of righteousness in how they live; that our God may receive the glory and praise that is due His wonderful name.


Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times prayer is mentioned Talk with your parents about what you learned about praying for others today.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What were Paul’s sources of joy as explained in Phil. 1:3-8? What is prayer? How do Paul’s prayers differ from those of most people? Is there a contradiction between having confidence that God will accomplish something and also praying for that thing? Why or why not? Why should Christians pray? What love is Paul speaking about? What is “real knowledge” and what is its relationship to abounding in love? What is “al discernment” and what is its relationship to “real knowledge” and to love? What does it mean to “approve what is excellent”? Give examples. What is its application in this passage? What is “sincere” and “blameless”? How are these related to prayer, love, “true knowledge” and “all discernment”? Why does Paul use the perfect tense “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness”? What is the final result of all this? How will this study affect how you pray for other believers? What role do you play in seeing these things occur in your own life?


Sermon Notes – March 7, 2004

Paul’s Prayer – Philippians 1:9-11



proseucomai / proseuchomai

Confidence & Prayer

The Reason for Prayer

Abounding Love

agaph / agapê


Real Knowledge

epignwsiV / epignôsis

Real Knowledge & Love

All Discernment

aisqhsiV / aisthêsis

Approving What is Excellent

dokimazw /dokimazô



Sincere & Blameless

eilikrinhV /eilikrinês

aproskopoV /aproskopos

Filled with Righteousness

To the Glory & Praise of God

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