The transition from praise and thanksgiving to prayer and supplication should always be a smooth one as Paul here demonstrates. After his time of thanksgiving to God for past and present blessings, the Apostle petitions God in regard to certain basic needs for the present and the future. He is concerned about:
A. Sound Doctrine (1:9)
“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” The Philippian Christians were allowing the love of God which He had shed abroad in their hearts to reach out to one another. Paul prays this might increase. The word “pray” comes from a word suggesting two ingredients: the request is made to a definite PERSON, and it is for a definite PURPOSE.
Christian love is wonderful. But even Christian love needs to be guided by the teaching of the Word of God. The Apostle Paul would never sanction the teaching that it does not really matter what one believes as long as he is sincere and has love in his heart. Some of the liberal denominational leaders have stressed love to the neglect of truth, while the Apostle Paul admonishes us to speak the TRUTH in LOVE. His petition here is that “your love may yet more and more overflow, but at the same time be kept within the guiding limitations of an accurate knowledge” (Wuest translation).
The word which the Holy Spirit uses for knowledge means “full knowledge; precise, accurate knowledge.” It refers to doctrine in the heart rather than mere mental assent to some creed. It has been defined as “residual doctrine.” The word is used twenty times in the New Testament. Paul uses it fifteen of these twenty times (sixteen if he wrote the epistle to the Hebrews). Dr. A. T. Robertson suggests the Apostle Paul prays their love may keep on overflowing, but with limitations, as river banks direct the flow of a river. In this sense one “bank” for the believer is full, precise, accurate knowledge (doctrine as taught in the Word) while the other is discernment or discretion. This is surely the answer to the believer who thinks he should “ignore doctrine and preach love.”
B. Sensitive Discretion (1:9)
Closely associated with a full knowledge of the Word is discernment and discretion in the application of this knowledge. The word translated “judgment” in the King James Version is rendered “discernment” in the Revised Version. The New International Version and the New English Bible both give us “insight.” A good lexical definition is “perception.” A. T. Robertson says the word means “a delicate spiritual perception.” Kenneth Wuest defines it as “sensitive moral and ethical tact.” He comments:
How often we saints mean to be loving to others, and say the wrong words or do the wrong thing. We lack that delicate sensibility, that ability to express ourselves correctly, that gentle, wise, discriminating touch which would convey the love we have in our hearts to the lives of others. But this can be ours if we but live in close companionship with the One who always exhibited that sense of delicate tactfulness in His life (WORD STUDIES IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, Volume II, p. 36).
C. Sane Division (1:10)
Paul expresses the need for recognizing dispensational differences with the words, “that ye may approve the things that are excellent (literally, test the things that differ).” This knowledge and discernment enable the believer to approve things only after they have been tested. The word was used in secular Greek for testing or certifying, such as is done today for lawyers, doctors and other professional people. The application is twofold; testing the fine points of Christian conduct in order to know God’s will for our walk and testing the things that differ in various dispensational settings in order to rightly divide the Word of truth. This twofold application is surely legitimate.
The word translated “rightly dividing” (orthotomeo) in 2 Timothy 2:15 is used in the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Proverbs 3:6 which is translated “direct” in our King James Version. It says literally, “and He shall rightly divide thy path.” We are taught we must rightly divide the Word of truth. We are also taught that if we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not to our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge Him, that He will RIGHTLY DIVIDE our walk! He will lead us to choose His will and His way in our lives. If we do not rightly divide the Word we cannot know His perfect will for our lives in this dispensation, and we will not know how to walk in ways pleasing to Him.
Many examples of this can be seen in the followers of legalistic Christian sects that put their people back under the Old Testament law. They can never know the joys of our liberty in Christ while trying to live up to the dietary laws of Leviticus, the Sabbath rules of Exodus and other Old Testament passages, or the various rituals of Israel’s religion. We must test the things that differ and walk according to those things revealed in the dispensation given to us through the Apostle Paul.
D. Saintly Deportment (1:10)
Conduct always follows creed, behavior follows belief, deportment follows doctrine. This is clearly seen when Paul says, “that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”
The word “sincere” offers a good example of an intriguing word study. The English word comes from the Latin sine, meaning “without,” and cere, meaning “wax.” The thought involved is genuineness or perfection. It was common practice to mend cracks or cover flaws in ceramic works by using wax. Some repair jobs were good and not easily detected. But the flaw was still there. A genuinely good article was one “without wax” or sincere.
The Greek word Paul used is “heilikrines,” from “helio,” the “sun,” and “krino,” “to judge.” Again the combination of words gives us a clear picture. A “sincere” article was one which could be judged in the sunlight—and thus proven to be without a flaw. Imperfections might be overlooked in dim, artificial light, but they would be discovered in sunlight. Paul’s prayer is that our lives might overflow through a channel bounded on one side by full knowledge of the Word and on the other side by a sensitive perception as we use the Word. This is so we might rightly divide the Word and allow God to rightly divide our walk. And how important that in all things we might be “without wax,” open to examination by the powerful insight of the Word!
The word “sincere” is linked with yet another word, translated “without offense.” This word means “not stumbled against” and reminds us, believers ought not be stumbling blocks to others. The verb is used in the active voice in 1 Corinthians 10:32: “Give none offense (that is, become without offense) neither to the Jew, nor to the Greeks, nor to the church of God.”
The duration for the need of these things petitioned in this prayer is clearly given. We need this prayer answered in our lives “till the day of Christ,” or until the time when we are called out of this earth to meet Him. If the Philippians required these things in the first century, how much more do we need them as we see “the day” approaching!
The result of this knowledge and discernment is a life well pleasing to God. This life is described in verse 11 as being “filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ.” The expression “fruits of righteousness” comes from the Old Testament (Proverbs 11:30 and Amos 6:12) and is used by James in 3:18. We agree with Bishop J. B. Lightfoot: The Apostle means “righteousness in Christ” as contrasted with “righteousness by the law” (comp. 3:9). Only so far as the life of the believer is absorbed in the life of Christ does the righteousness of Christ become his own. Thus righteousness by faith is intimately bound up with the life in Christ: it must in its very nature be fruitful; it is indeed the condition of bearing fruit.
Concerning this fruit, Dr. Lehman Strauss comments:
The glory of a vine is its fruit. How solemn a thought that the Lord is depending on us for a display of His glory! The fruit of righteousness is a godly life as seen in that nine-fold cluster of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (or self-control)”—Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of righteousness is that person whom, by our godly living and personal testimony, we influence to Jesus Christ.
Paul’s prayer is that these things might fill our lives, for they constitute the fruit of righteousness; and all are the result of our abiding in Christ and are unto the glory and praise of God. Our apple tree neither counts its own apples nor boasts in their quality: it merely produces them. “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:8) (DEVOTIONAL STUDIES IN PHILIPPIANS, p. 64).
Dr. John Walvoord summarizes the opening verses of Philippians by saying:
In this introductory section to the epistle, Paul has underscored two important aspects of Christian faith and life. The first is the assurance of salvation, and the certainty of glorification based on the grace of God and the finished work of Christ, although manifested experientially by a contemporary work of grace in the lives of Christians. The apostle is, first of all, rejoicing in the salvation of the Philippian Christians. Second, satisfied as to their supernatural salvation, he is burdened that now they will go on to achieve the full fruit of the Christian life and the fruit of the Spirit, including love, joy, holiness and service. They had attained much, but there was still more to be realized in their Christian faith. (PHILIPPIANS, TRIUMPH IN CHRIST, p. 33).
Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost echoes the prayer of Paul when he says,
May we be a people characterized by the love of Christ. May we be a people devoted to the things of superior value. May we be a people whose lives are without reproach before God and men. May we be a people in whom the life of Christ produces the fruit of righteousness to the glory of our Father” (THE JOY OF LIVING, p. 28).