What Gospel-Centered Prayer Looks Like

The ultimate purpose of these petitions is to bring glory to the God who redeems

First, Paul prays that the love of the Philippians “may abound more and more.” Paul provides no specific object. He doesn’t say “that your love for God may abound more and more” or “that your love for one another may abound more and more.” I suspect he leaves the object open precisely because he wouldn’t want to restrict his prayer to one or the other.

 

In Philippians 1:4, Paul insists that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. He goes on to give us the content of his prayers for them:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9–11)

This is stunning. Paul’s petitions reflect the priorities of the gospel.

Observe three features of this prayer.

1. Abounding Love

First, Paul prays that the love of the Philippians “may abound more and more.” Paul provides no specific object. He doesn’t say “that your love for God may abound more and more” or “that your love for one another may abound more and more.” I suspect he leaves the object open precisely because he wouldn’t want to restrict his prayer to one or the other.

From a Christian point of view, growing love for God must be reflected in love for other believers (see 1 John 5:1). However wonderful this congregation has been, however faithful in its love even for the apostle himself, Paul prays that their love may abound more and more.

2. Knowledge and Insight

Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable.

Of course, Paul isn’t thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He isn’t hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

His assumption, evidently, is that you really can’t grow in your knowledge of God if you are full of bitterness or other self-centered sins. There is a moral element in knowing God. Of course, a person might memorize Scripture or teach Sunday school somewhere or earn a degree in theology from the local seminary or divinity faculty, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as growing in the knowledge of God and gaining insight into his ways.

Such growth requires repentance; it demands a lessening of our characteristic self-focus. To put it positively, it demands an increase in our love, our love for God and our love for others.

Just as knowledge of God and his Word serves as an incentive to Christian love, so love is necessary for a deepening knowledge of God, because it is exceedingly difficult to advance in the Christian way on only one front.

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