Andrew Fuller Friday: On Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”—Phil. 1:9–11.

It is pleasant to review the history of the first plantation of this church, and compare it with its state at the time this Epistle was written. You recollect Paul’s journey to Philippi in company with Silas. You recollect how he first preached the gospel by the river-side, and how the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, and she attended unto the things which Paul spoke. You recollect what an uproar was raised in the city, and how all were stirred up to persecute them. The mob did their part, the magistrates did their part, and God did his part. The apostles being thrown into prison, in the midst of pain and affliction, burst forth into a song of praise at midnight. You recollect the sequel of the story: how the jailer and his household were by these means effectually converted, brought to embrace the gospel of Jesus, and were baptized in his name. We hear no more of them in the history of the New Testament; but by this Epistle we see this small family of the jailer—(for as to Lydia, probably she, and her household likewise, being natives of Thyatira, had left the city); but this single family of Christians had by this time so increased, that a Christian church was planted, properly organized with her bishops and deacons; and such was their progress in Christianity, that the apostle tells us, that always in every prayer of his he made request for them with joy, which shows that true religion so operated at Philippi as to give joy to the apostle’s heart, and we know how that must be.

The apostles rejoiced, as John says, when their children walked in the truth, and we may thence infer that the Christians at Philippi were eminent for their walk in the truth. Eminent, however, as they were—(and there is not, that I recollect, a single reflection on them in all this Epistle, which is very singular, and very different from those at Corinth, and Galatia, and several other places)—eminent, however, as they were, Paul did not consider them as having reached the mark. “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more.” The best and most amiable societies of individuals in this world are holy but in part; they need stirring up, and provoking yet more and more.

I think I need say nothing to prove that the prayer of the apostle on behalf of the believers at Philippi is applicable to other churches, and other congregations. You all know that what was written to them was addressed to the church in all succeeding ages. I shall, therefore, drop the character of the Philippians, and let me suppose that this prayer is applicable to the church meeting in this place—to all the believers in Jesus Christ who assemble here. “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent;” or, as the margin renders it, that ye may try things that differ; “that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God.” Brethren, I am sure that there is no prayer that I or any other could offer up on your behalf that would be better and more desirable.

In attempting to illustrate the subject, we shall notice particularly three things:—The objects for which the apostle prays—the medium through which all these excellences are to be communicated, namely, by Jesus Christ—and the end to which they were directed; “to the praise and glory or God.”

Let us notice, in the first place, the objects for which the apostle prays for these primitive Christians: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment,” and so on. In general, it may be proper to remark, that some of the things for which the apostle prays are the root, and others the branches. He prays that your love may abound, that it may abound in knowledge, that it may abound in all judgment, that ye may approve things that are excellent. I apprehend the abounding, and that in knowledge and in all judgment, is the root; and that the approving of things that are excellent, and the being sincere and without offence till the day of Christ, and filled with the fruits of righteousness, are all the branches.

But, more particularly, the first thing that the apostle holds up as an object of desire is the abounding of love. Love is one of the first principles of all religion; shall I say it is the essence of all true religion? It is the cement of the moral world. It is that by which God proposes to govern all holy intelligences. It is, as our expositor, Mr. Henry, remarks, “the law of Christ’s kingdom, the lesson of his school, and the livery of his family.” It is the law of Christ’s kingdom; for “this command I give unto you, that ye love one another.” It is the lesson of his school; for “ye are taught of God to love one another.” It is the livery of his family; for “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love on to another.” Love, however, as here spoken of, is not to be taken for every thing that may bear that name. Natural affection may be denominated love; but this is not it. Party attachment may be called love; but this is not it. Christian love, how shall I distinguish it? By what medium shall I distinguish Christian love from every thing else that bears the name? I know of no better criterion than this: The object of it is holy: for it is the love of that in the Divine character, or in the human character, or in things, which is holy. It is the love of the holy God—it is the love of holy ways—it is the love of holy men—it is the love of a holy gospel—it is the love of a holy religion—it is that distinguishing quality in all objects, persons, or things which attracts; and it is this which distinguishes Christian love from all other; and it is this which the apostle prays the Philippians might abound in yet more and more. He takes it for granted that they possessed love, and he only prays that they might abound in it. And may I take it for granted on behalf of you, my hearers, this morning, that you love the Lord, that you love the Saviour, that you love the gospel, that you love your fellow Christians? If I take it for granted, I do not wish or recommend that you should. It may be proper for you to examine yourselves on this head; but, however, taking it for granted that love exists in your hearts towards these objects, still there is reason to pray that this love may abound yet more and more. There are none of us so abounding in love, but that there is great reason for increase. Your affection towards God, towards Christians, and towards all men, is faint in comparison of what it is fit and proper it should be.

But notice, secondly, he prays not only that love might abound, but that it might abound in knowledge. Knowledge is a necessary accompaniment of love, and that for two reasons: to feed it and to regulate it. It is by the knowledge of God, it is by the knowledge of Divine truth, it is by drinking deeply into the gospel of Jesus Christ, that love is fed. The knowledge of Divine truth is that to the mind which food is to the body; it nourishes it and keeps it alive. We cannot love an unknown being; we cannot love an unknown gospel; we cannot so much as love one another to any effect, but in proportion as we know one another. It is necessary, therefore, that we read and pray, and hear and labour, to cultivate the knowledge of God. Grace and peace are multiplied by the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ our Lord. If we love the Lord Jesus Christ in any degree, the more we know him, the better we shall love him; and consequently our love will be perfected in glory, because there we shall see him as he is, and then We shall be like him. The more our minds are expanded, and we drink deeply into evangelical truth, the more our hearts will burn with holy affections towards him. “I pray, therefore,” says the apostle, “that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” Christian love is not a blind attachment; it is not that commotion of the affections which tumultuates towards some object, we know not why or wherefore: but solid Christian love is accompanied with knowledge; it has reason for its governor; it is truly rational in all its operations. The Christian, therefore, is enabled to give a reason of the love that is in him, as well as the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear. But this is not all; knowledge is a necessary companion of love, to regulate it, as well as to feed and inspire it. Love without knowledge is not good; it is in danger of running into innumerable improprieties and irregularities: it was this kind of love which made Peter declare that his Master should never die. There was love; but it was without knowledge, and the Lord Jesus rebuked him for it. It was this species of love, without knowledge, that made the disciples so extremely unwilling for him to go without them. Says our Saviour, “If ye loved me,” he means, if ye loved me with a wise love, “ye would rejoice that I go to my Father, for my Father is greater than I;” that is, the glory that I shall possess with my Father is greater than the glory I possess in this present state of humiliation: so that it was like one Christian saying to another—like a dying Christian saying to a surviving friend—“Why weep ye at my departure? if ye loved me properly, ye would rejoice that I go to my Father; for the glory that I am going to possess is far greater than the glory I at present share.—The love of the disciples, therefore, was a sort of interpreted hatred, (not intentional certainly,) and our Lord would not own it for love. Let your love, therefore, abound with knowledge.

We might apply it to many more things; to the love which you bear one towards another in church fellowship, or to the love you bear one towards another in your families. If your love be without knowledge, it will operate in a way of screening one another from faithful discipline, in a way of blinding you to each other’s faults; but if your love be accompanied with knowledge, it will operate aright: it will seek the good of the person, while it abhors his evil conduct. The love of a parent that is unaccompanied with knowledge degenerates into foolish fondness, and is in danger of ruining the object of it. “This, therefore, I pray, that your love,” whether it be to God or to one another, or to those with whom you are connected, “may abound in knowledge.”

But, to go on a step further, the apostle prays not only that it may abound in knowledge, but “in all judgment.” This is still more. There is a difference between knowledge and judgment; knowledge is more of the speculative, judgment more of the practical. Judgment is knowledge ripened into maturity; knowledge, as I may say, collects the evidences, and judgment sums them up and passes a decision. A man may possess much knowledge, but little judgment. We have known characters who have been very learned, have read many books, have seen many things, have had large acquaintance, and yet had no talents at associating the particulars, so as to form a solid and practical judgment of things. This I speak even of temporal and natural things. That which the apostle here calls judgment is in the margin called sense; that ye may abound in all sense; and wherefore? Because the judgment of which he speaks is that which arises very much from a holy sense of right and wrong; it is a compound of the feelings of the heart. That which is here called judgment, or sense, is that to a christian which a delicate sense of propriety is to a well-educated mind. You know what this is; it is something different from mere learning; it is different from mere knowledge; it is that quick sensibility which promptly, and, as I may say, instinctively, determines the right from the wrong, the good from the evil; it dictates the path of propriety in the twinkling of an eye. This is what we call a delicate sense of propriety in common life; and that which this is to a natural man, such is a holy tenderness of heart, such is a holy tenderness of conscience, to a good man. This is what he means in the next phrase, “That ye may approve things that are excellent,” or, as the margin renders it, that ye may try things that differ. As a delicate sense of propriety enables a man in the common concerns of life to try things that differ; that is, he judges of propriety and impropriety by an immediate instinct, as I may say; so he that possesses a holy tenderness of heart, and a holy tenderness of conscience, tries instinctively those things which differ; chooses the good and rejects the evil. Perhaps you may ask, what things are they that differ, to which the apostle may here refer, and which such a holy judgment tends to distinguish? I answer, things earthly, and things heavenly; things true, and things false; things good, and things evil. Now all these things are continually passing before us, perpetually presenting themselves to our choice, to our practical judgment, as I may say, and we must decide upon them every day and every hour. Every hour you must decide either in favour of things heavenly or things earthly. Oh that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that you may try things that differ, and prefer the excellent! Choose heavenly things in preference to earthly, as your portion. Things true and things false are continually presenting themselves before your eyes or your ears: false doctrine as well as true doctrine is continually soliciting your attention. In books, in sermons, in company, and in conversation, you are continually hearing of false doctrine; atheistical, or some corruption of the pure doctrine of the text. Here is the beauty of things—to have such a holy sense maintained in our souls as in a moment to see which is false that you may reject it, and the truth that you may imbibe it. Things good and things evil are also continually passing before your eyes; the temptations and snares of the world are continually soliciting you; gold sparkles in your eyes, sensual pleasure is continually presenting itself and soliciting your affection, and God himself deigns to stoop and ask your heart, and he says, “Set your affections on things which are above, and not on things below.” How happy you and I, if we possess that spiritual judgment, that Divine sense, to abhor the one, and embrace the other! This is that holy judgment which the apostle prays for on behalf of the primitive Christians, and which is accompanied with nearness of communion with God.

I must pass on: I see here are several other things which the apostle supposes will be the fruit of this, and which he also specifies and prays for—“that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.” Sincerity is one of the prominent features of genuine Christianity. That holy love, that heavenly knowledge, that spiritual judgment, of which we have been speaking, will give you a single eye, and you will be a sincere Christian. You will have one object in view through life. You will leave others to deal in dark intrigue, duplicity, and underhand practices, and you will have one object through life, to glorify him in body and in spirit whose you are. Sincerity particularly respects our approaches to God, our professions before men, and our dealings with the world. Oh that we may be all sincere in these! In your approaches before God, dread the thought of disguising or appearing under a mask in his house. Study to approach God with your hearts; for nothing but truth will stand before him. Let us be equally so in our professions when we converse with one another. Do not let us be anxious to be thought highly of one by another. Beware of that spirit which aspires only to retain a character among men—a name in the church of God; but rather be concerned to be sincere, “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” If you look round the world, you will see that the great concern of mankind is to appear to be; but make it your concern to be. There is a great difference between a good man and a mere professor. The one is concerned to be what he professes, the other only to appear to be. What an awful difference! And, I may add, let sincerity distinguish us in all our worldly dealings. Religion is not a matter to be cooped up in a closet, nor yet in a place of worship. It must be carried out into the world—into our dealings. The object of the apostle’s prayer is, that we may be men of honour, and that we may be sincere in all our dealings. Oh what a blessed world would it be if every man acted on this principle in all his dealings with men! “And without offence,” says he, “until the day of Christ.” I think this means that we should cultivate an inoffensive spirit, that is, the spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, we all know, was not of a turbulent, discontented spirit: he did not deal in such sort of censures as were only adapted to provoke. He dealt in censures, but they were aimed at the good of the party, whatever his condition. The apostles and the primitive Christians studied an inoffensive conduct. They endeavoured to live peaceably with all men, and they submitted to many injuries rather than give offence, rather than throw a stumbling-block in the way of unbelievers. Christians, be it your care to study an inoffensive life. There is a great deal of what is called faithfulness by many people that is very far from deserving that name, and is the mere exercise of corrupt passion. Under what passes by the name of an honest bluntness, some persons will be always giving offence—unnecessary offence, and thereby cause the name of Jesus Christ to be evil spoken of. Give no offence to Jew or Gentile, nor to the church of the living God.

Finally, he prays that this may not merely be the exercise of a day, a week, a month, a year, but “till the day of Christ.” A thought has occurred to me that has pained me upon this clause. We have seen characters who have promised fair, who have been affectionate, who have been shining characters, and yet have not continued without offence “till the day of Christ.” Towards the latter period of life, if they have not turned back and walked no more with him, still they have given offence; their misconduct has undone all the little good that they have done in the former part of their lives. These things ought to make us fear and tremble, and pray not only that we may be without offence, but that we may be without offence “till the day of Christ,” till the Lord and Bridegroom shall call us to himself.

But I proposed just to notice, and it must be briefly, the medium through which all these excellences are communicated, and this is by Jesus Christ. Methinks all holiness is communicated through Jesus Christ in two ways. Jesus Christ is the medium through which the Holy Spirit is given; for God would never have sent his Holy Spirit, any more than he would have given us any other spiritual blessings, but out of regard to Jesus Christ, who is the medium through whom all are communicated. But this is not all—Jesus Christ is the medium of all holiness as revealed in the gospel. It is by a knowledge of and faith in him that we come to the excellences here described. It is by preaching Jesus Christ that these fruits are cultivated, and it is by being acquainted with Jesus Christ—it is by our learning and drinking into the doctrine of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures—that all these fruits will abound in you. Read, therefore, learn, and be concerned to drink deeply into the system of the gospel of Jesus Christ, into the doctrine of the text. It is not only proper that ministers should resolve to “know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified;” but, private Christians, also make this the grand central point of all your conduct and all your pursuit; that “you may known him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” This is the only stock upon which this sort of fruit will grow. You cannot graft holiness upon any other stock than that of faith in Jesus Christ. All the labour and all the toil that may be bestowed by education, example, or any other means you can use, will amount to nothing as to the production of these fruits, unless it be by faith in Jesus Christ, and intimate acquaintance with him.

Lastly, Notice the end to which all is to be directed: “To the glory and praise of God.” This is carrying up the subject where it should be carried—to the throne of God himself. This is the great end to which all things are directed by God himself, and should be directed by us, “to the glory and praise of God.” The glory of God, let me notice, is either essential or manifestative. The essential glory of God respects what God is in himself, and which he is irrespective of what we think of him, or what we do. All that you or I can do, all that angels in heaven can do, all that the church in glory in connexion with them can do to all eternity, cannot add one gleam of glory to his essential character; and all the iniquity of man upon earth, and all the ferocity, enmity, and duplicity of man, cannot diminish it in the least degree. It is irrespective and independent of what any creature can think or can do. But it is not thus with respect to the glory of God manifestatively. No: in that respect we may dishonour God, or we may honour God; that is, in other words, we may raise him in the esteem of others. God should be raised in the esteem of those around us, or in our own esteem, and this is the way in which creatures are said to honour God, by raising him or giving him the just glory due to his name in all our own thoughts, and communicating such sentiments of him to those around us. Keep this end in view. Glorify Him to whom glory is due. Glorify Him to whom be glory for evermore. Amen.

Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 356–361). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

By |June 11th, 2021|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

About the Author: