A Heart Felt Prayer

Philippians 1:8-11  God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.  I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.  May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

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In this short passage, Paul speaks about the great love that he has for the Philippian believers.  Although Paul was instrumental in bringing the Gospel of Christ to the Island of Cyprus at the port of Paphos, then on to the lower mainland of Asia to such cities as Perga, Antioch, and Iconium, Lysrta and Derbe, I believe that the visit to Philippi had to have been one of Paul’s most memorable events and was certainly directed by God’s Spirit in a powerful way.

Think about the idea that when Paul preached near Philippi and Lydia and her household members believed and were baptized, that this was the first time the Good News of Christ had taken a foothold into the continent of Europe.  It was a very resistant city towards anything religious, and so it was at a great cost of perspiration, perseverance and persecution that the new church was birthed.

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Paul talks in verse 5 about how they had been partners together in spreading this Good News.  And in verse 7, Paul speaks of the intimacy he had with the Philippian believers as they shared the experience of also being mistreated, and perhaps jailed along with him, and that they too took a stand publicly by making it known that they believed in the truthfulness of God’s Word.

In fact, in verse 8, Paul goes to the greatest possible lengths to express just how much he loved the Philippians.  He calls upon God to be his “witness” that it is true Paul has a great love for them.  This word comes from the Greek word, “martus“.  This is the root word for “martyr” as well as “testimony” or “one who testifies“.  In other words, Paul calls upon God himself to testify, and Him be willing to die to prove the fact that Paul loves the Philippians in all the depths of his heart.

Now actually, the Greek word for this expression “the depths of his heart” can be literally translated as “inner parts” or “intestines“.  This was their idiomatic way of saying “I love you with all my heart and soul, my very being“.  In old English, they talked about having “bowels of compassion” for someone else.  Today we say we love “with all our heart“.

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It is interesting to see the various body parts being used metaphorically to express the center of our very being, the deepest level of emotional love and commitment to another.  Over in Papua New Guinea, one will say that his inner most being is “the stomach“, “the liver“, or “the throat“.  In any case, the Philippians could not doubt that what Paul was sharing came from the depths of his inner most being.

It is at this point, when Paul was able to reflect on the intimate relationship he had with the people, that he then is able to offer up his heart-felt prayer, and the Philippians would receive it at this deep inner intimate level.  In verse 9 then, he begins his prayer for them and he prays for two important things to happen in their lives.

First, Paul prays that the people would increase more and more in their love for other people.  Think back to all the teachings of Christ, and you will recall that “love for others” is the greatest command, second only to loving God.  And then Paul prays that the people would increase in their knowledge and depth of insight, which most likely referred to them having a greater knowledge of God and how He wanted them to live.

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This brings us to verses 10 and 11, and I believe there is a powerful prayer tucked away in these two verses.  They can be brought out and stated as four distinct things that Paul prays for the believers:

  1. That they would understand/approve/discern the things that are best or excellent, or to basically “discern what really matters“.  This leads to the second thing Paul prayed.
  2. If the people came to know what really matters in this life, what things are truly excellent, then one result from this is that they would live pure lives.  They would be able to discern evil, even in its many disguises, and turn away from it before it touched and polluted them.
  3. The second thing they would discern is that when they know and do what is pure and true, then these people would be seen by God as being blameless or without guilt.
  4. By consistently following these practices above, this provides something that is more valuable than gold itself.  According to verse 12, the people described above would produce spiritual fruit in their lives, and have a consistently righteous character, and by means of their faith in Christ, one day would see the salvation of their souls.

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Now after examining the passage, I turn briefly to ask some practical questions.  Do you have anyone in your life that would pray a prayer like this for you on a regular basis?  Or is there someone for whom you could be praying this prayer for them?  Remember the example of Paul, that it was never a half-hearted prayer he made.  So we too must say our prayers for others from the deepest part of our being for another, whether that be from our heart, our liver, or our intestines.

May we always honor God and may we take up this example and know and practice how we can and ought to be praying for one another.  Amen.

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