Started in on Paul’s letter to the Philippians this morning. And what hits me pretty quick is the familiarity of his “laboring” language. Back in Galatians Paul talks of being “again in the anguish of childbirth” because of his consuming desire that the Christ who had saved these believers would be formed in these believers (Gal. 4:19). Not satisfied only with saved souls, Paul was driven to see sanctified lives. Not content to rack up numbers of people who were now “in Christ,” he wanted to see Christ actually living in and through more and more people.
Though the Philippians were in a very different place than the Galatians — though Paul was not contending for the fundamentals of the faith and the groundwork of grace — Paul, just as he did with the Ephesians as well, conveys his aspirations for these believers. He prays for them. With deep emotion and longing, he expresses similar thoughts, but emphasizes different facets, of what it would look like for Christ to be formed in them.
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so 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.
(Philippians 1:8-11 ESV)
From the depths of his gut, Paul wanted to see love overflow from these believers. And not just some flighty, emotional fueled love, but love founded on knowledge, discernment, and the pursuit of what is excellent. The Word received, the Word applied, the Word in action.
Not just students of the Word, but stewards of the Word. Buying for themselves the truth advertised by Paul in his letters, and then investing it in the kingdom. The Word not only penetrating their minds with facts and data, but permeating their hearts as well, enabling them to navigate their world as disciples of Christ. Not just taking in precepts about the life gifted them in Christ, but then having a filter, a worldview, that manifested itself in practical principles for living that life in a manner consistent with Christ in them.
Knowledge and discernment. Not just focused on what might be “good” or “better”, but able to test, examine, scrutinize, and recognize what is excellent.
Big ask. Paul’s prayer for these believers at Philippi is certainly aspirational, but really, is it achievable? I’m thinking . . .
How come? What makes me think that Paul’s prayer isn’t just some pie in the sky, sweet by and by, sort of motivational speech? Because what Paul is asking for is the fruit of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ.
The power of the gospel is that “in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). A righteousness not demanded of us in order to be saved, but a righteousness credited to our account because, by faith, we were saved. These Philippians already possessed the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. They were already holders of the raw material which could be used of the Spirit to form Christ in them and unleash Christ living through them.
Thus, Paul’s desire is that the seed of Christ’s righteousness in them would result in overflowing fruit through them. And such fruit would be manifest in love that abounded more and more. And such fruit would be borne as they pursued the knowledge of the kingdom, and as they applied that knowledge through Spirit informed discernment as to how to conduct themselves in the world. All the while purposing in their hearts, to approve not the way of the world, but the way of the kingdom of heaven. The way of what is excellent.
Seems to me, at least in part, that’s what the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ looks like.
By His grace. For His glory.