Sermon: A Prayer for Christian Maturity (Philippians 1:9-11)

A Prayer for Christian Maturity

Philippians 1:9-11

Last week we saw together that the Apostle Paul had three great overarching passions that truly guided his life.  He showed us that what we treasure the most will control our lives.  His treasure was first and foremost, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Next, he treasured those who were also consumed with a love for Christ; we called these folks Paul’s Gospel Partners.  Finally, we saw that His passion was also for the Gospel and its proclamation.

Our conclusion was that to bring the most glory to Christ, we too should have these same passions.  We should treasure the same things that the Apostle treasured.

The best way for Paul to bring glory to Jesus Christ was to train others so that they too could have a vital relationship with Christ.  He also realized that his life would not last forever and if his flame was extinguished who would carry the torch to the next generation if he didn’t train others to follow the Lord.

He gave the young church in Philippi some basics to focus on and we too are recipients of Paul’s apostolic wisdom.  We must notice that this text comes to us in the form of a prayer for the believers in Philippi.  Of all the things Paul prays to see accomplished in the lives of these saints, he prays for these things.  That should tell us that these things are vital to a maturing faith.

Philip. 1:9-11 (ESV)

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’ve ever had the thought that I really wish I was more mature and more consistent in certain areas of the Christian life then Paul has given you a text to put into practice.  This text is for every Christian who desires a closer walk with Christ and a closer connection with other believers.

In a similar way that Paul had three passions, he had three prayer requests for his beloved friends.

Picture the Apostle at a Bible study and the leader begins by asking for prayer requests…Someone says my Aunt is going to be traveling please pray for her.  Someone else says, my friend is enduring a stressful family situation, please pray for him.  Another says, my mother is scheduled for surgery in a week would the church pray for her.  Then Paul’s hand goes up and the leader calls on Paul.  Paul says, would the church please pray that everyone would discern how they could show Christ’s love more.  Also, please pray that everyone in the church would forfeit doing good things in order to do the best.  Oh, and one other thing, pray that everyone would be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ for the glory of God.

Can you see how different Paul prayed than we often pray?  There are times to pray for physical needs but we stop too quickly and sometimes don’t get to the most important spiritual needs.  Have you ever prayed for someone else’s spiritual maturity?

I want to take Paul’s prayer request and use it a model for Christian growth and maturity.  Remember of all the things he could have prayed for, he prayed for these three things.  The other vital part to this is to understand that those believers were unable to accomplish any of these things apart from God’s enablement.  Paul wasn’t praying that God would help them accomplish these things but that God would cause these things to happen within them.

My first question is this; do you pray for you spiritual growth?  Also, are you praying for the spiritual growth of those within our church?  Apart from your prayers and the prayers of other no growth will take place.  We must rely on God to accomplish this work in a believer’s life.  Pray for others and pray for yourself.

If after the service today, if you’d like an elder to pray for you specifically for spiritual growth, please ask one of us and we will gladly pray for you and continue to pray for you.

What things should a prayer for spiritual growth contain?  In other words, what do we ask God to accomplish in us?

1. An Increasing Love (1:9)

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

So we get it right, Paul gives us two characteristics of the love we are to cultivate and manifest as believers.

A.  Love should be increasing not decreasing.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more

Sometimes we may start well when it comes to loving others.  However, after a considerable amount of time we may find that our love is wearing out or even wearing thin.  Sometimes love may not be what it should be.  As Christians we are to have the love of Christ.  This love should be an ever increasing love.  A love that doesn’t become less because of an offense is committed.  Here, what Paul refers to is an unconditional biblical love.

Once Jesus told a parable to a group of religious folks who thought that their love could be restricted to just certain types of people and just expressed at certain times.  Let’s listen to what Jesus tells them,

Luke 10:25-37 (ESV)

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  [26] He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  [27] And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  [28] And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

[29] But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  [30] Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  [31] Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  [32] So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  [33] But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  [34] He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  [35] And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  [36] Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  [37] He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The point Jesus is making is that we are to be the neighbor to anyone in need.  We’re not to see how little we can get by with as the lawyer was trying to argue but how our love can abound more and more.  The Samaritan cleaned the man’s wounds placed him on his horse took him to an inn cared for him all night and in the morning even paid the innkeeper to continue the care.  He went far in showing love; he didn’t see how little he could get by with.  His love abounded more and more.

If Christian growth is our goal, our love must be increasing.  One key to Christian growth is that our love for others, especially our church family must be increasing.

We also must remember that love is not only a sentimental feeling but it must take action to meet needs, show compassion etc.

James 2:15-16 (ESV)

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  [16] and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

If you refuse to take an active roll in loving someone else do not expect to make progress in Christian maturity because it will not happen.  God’s answer to our prayer for maturity is not a sudden blast of Bible knowledge.  His answer will most often show up in an opportunity for you to exercise this type of love.  It will probably not be anything like you’d expect.

B.  Love should be governed by knowledge and discernment

with knowledge and all discernment,

If we’re to fully understand what the Apostle prayed for and be more equipped to know what we should be praying for this phrase needs to be deciphered.

Some people claim that this verse is talking about knowing someone before we can love them.  Do I specifically need to walk in their shoes, understand where they are coming from, and feel their pain before I can love them and help them?  Absolutely not!

What this text is speaking of is completely different than that.

The word translated as knowledge is the Greek word epignosis. This word has in mind a different type of knowledge.  This specifically refers to spiritual knowledge.

In the midst of Jesus declaring the woes to the Pharisees and the Jewish Lawyers (the interpreters of the Law), He makes this statement.  Here what He’s getting at is that they have put such a heavy burden of rules on the people that the rules have hidden God’s Word from them.

Luke 11:52 (ESV)

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

This knowledge that Paul writes about in Philippians 1 is a knowledge of God’s Word.  When we can have a knowledge of God’s Word and couple that with discernment we can make clear biblical judgments.

How do we attain this knowledge?  Prayer is the key.  First it must be given to us by God.  He alone can open our minds to understand the Bible.  Second, we must take the initiative in order to read and study it.

I remember in Bible College some students that sat behind me talking about the upcoming final exam.  This particular exam was an essay.  We had to familiarize ourselves with five theological concepts and for the test we were to write about two of them.  The catch was that we didn’t know which two the professor would pick.  Not only did I feel somewhat inadequate concerning the upcoming test, but after speaking to those behind me I also felt very inadequate spiritually.  My plan was to spend the next two weeks working hard to be able to master all five so when test time came I would be ready.  Their strategy seemed at first to be much more spiritual than mine.  Mine included prayer…a lot of prayer.  According to them, theirs did too.

Here was what they told me, We’ve prayed about this test and are convinced that we know the two questions that will be on the test and so those are the two we will study and learn.

Those two weeks went by very fast and test day was here.  It wasn’t until the professor prayed for us that I began to realize how prayer like this worked.  He prayed that the Lord would calm us and give us the ability to remember the things we had studied.  He didn’t pray that the Lord would supernaturally implant knowledge into our brains that we had never learned or studied.  That was a good biblical prayer.  The exams were distributed and I did very well.  I was calm and I could recall the things I’d studied.  The test was actually fun…for me.  Looking back to the others, I could tell that their prayers were not as effective.  Their grade reflected that the professor’s prayer really didn’t apply to them.  God would not help them remember the things they’d studied because they really didn’t study too much.

I tell you that story to illustrate the fact that in order to acquire spiritual knowledge, we must be spending time in the Book that contains spiritual knowledge.  As we do spend time there and that time is coupled with prayer, we can expect God to work and cause the things we read to become a part of who we are.  This biblical knowledge is not meant to help us win Bible Trivia but it is meant to guide our ever increasing love, our love for God and our love for others.

2.  An Increasing Discernment (1:10)

[10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

If we are to mature as believers, we have to get past approving or discerning what is right and wrong but discerning what is the best right thing.  When our choice is between sinning or not sinning we’re really not setting ourselves up for spiritual growth.  I don’t mean to downplay the struggle that we all have with sin.  However, what if our choice wasn’t right or wrong, but what if our choice was between good and best.  Can you see how that would transport us into maturity?  What if we began to pray, Lord keep me from sin and temptation and show me what is most excellent.  What is it Lord that would bring most glory to You?

There was a day when Jesus went to the house of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  In this account, Mary had discerned what the most excellent things was while Martha settled fro what was good.  Mary was bringing the most glory to Christ while Martha was probably bringing glory to herself.

Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  [39] And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  [40] But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  [41] But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  [42] but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Shame on Martha.  There is a time to clean but not while the Lord is in your midst.  Mary had discerned the most excellent thing while Martha was anxious and troubled.

We can only accomplish this sort of Christian living with God’s power working in us.

How can a believer live their life at a higher level of Christian maturity?  We can live in maturity as we are given the ability to discern what is the most excellent thing.  We must be single minded when it comes to the Christian life.  What is the best thing and then busy ourselves with that.  Martha was running around the house in a sinful frenzy while Mary was calm and focused.  Is your life scattered and distracted?  If it is, you’re not focused on the most excellent things but have allowed lesser things, even lesser good things to crowd out the best things.  You will never reach maturity while these distractions remain.  Get rid of them permanently and focus on the most excellent.

So, we pray for an increasing love for God and others, we spend time in God’s Word which will lead us out of sin and into the most excellent things.  When this is pursued, some most amazing will begin to take place; spiritual fruit will begin to appear.

3.  An Ever Increasing Fruit (1:11)

[11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Just as the health of a tree can be discerned by the quality of the fruit, so the health of a Christian can be seen as spiritual fruit is produced.  We must remember that this will only happen as we are serious about the things of God and serious about obedience.

How is this fruit of righteousness produced?  He tells very plainly that it is produced through Jesus Christ as Christ is increasingly loved and obeyed we will begin to produce the fruit of righteousness.  Just like a healthy tree’s fruit comes as a result of the proper necessities so too our fruit is produced as we concern ourselves with the proper things.

In other words a healthy tree doesn’t try to produce fruit, it just does.  If it has rich soil, right amount of rain and sunshine, and if it’s free of disease, it will produce fruit.

As Christians, the same is true for us.  Focus on having an increasing love for Christ and for others, be diligent in studying the Scriptures in order to discern the mind of Christ and what the excellent things are, and be filling your life with what matters most and you will find that the fruit of righteousness will begin to form on your branches.

Your life will become transformed and God will receive maximum glory.

to the glory and praise of God.

How are you doing?  How much glory do you bring to God?

What would your life look like if you could discern the most excellent things and got rid of the rest?  Would it be simpler and less distracted?  Would you have more time to devote to your Savior and your family?  Would you have more time to love your church family?  What might be different if you actually accomplished the most excellent things?

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