Paul's Prayer for the Philippians - Part 2

March 5, 2017
Philippians 1:3-4, 9-11
Abraham Hong


Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a man named Noah. And God spoke to him. He said that he would bring a flood upon the earth. It would be judgment for mankind’s evil and wicked sin. But God also promised to Noah a salvation. He instructed Noah to build an ark. And Noah did all that God commanded him.

Noah was a sinner. He was not perfect. He needed the Lord Jesus back then just as we need the Lord Jesus today. And yet the Bible describes Noah as righteous and blameless (Genesis 6:9). Noah walked with God. Noah had faith in God’s words. And Noah built the ark with reverent fear, obeying God’s commandments while the rest of the world was happy eating and drinking and marrying and doing their own thing without a care for God and his coming kingdom. According to Hebrews 11:7, Noah became an heir of a righteousness that comes by faith. According to 2 Peter 2:5, Noah was a herald of righteousness to an ungodly world.

And in reading Paul’s prayer here in Philippians 1, I think about Noah and so many other brothers and sisters who went before us in Christ.

Our brothers and sisters of old approved what is excellent. They were pure - not perfect, but sincere and genuine - in their ultimate allegiance to the Lord. The Daniels and the Jobs of old were blameless, refusing to follow their crooked and twisted generations, refusing to be like the other nations (Deuteronomy 18:13-14). And people like the Apostle Paul were filled with the fruit of righteousness - not a righteousness of their own that came from themselves, but a righteousness that came through Jesus Christ. They approved what is excellent. They had purity and blamelessness. They had the fruit of Christ’s righteousness.

They had all of these things. And so must we.

Brothers and sisters, let us approve what is excellent. When Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the enemy took the best of Israel back to their homeland. They took the young people of royalty and nobility. They took those without blemish and of good appearance who were skillful in wisdom and endowed with knowledge and learning. They took the crème de la crème. Included in that taking was Daniel and his friends.

But Daniel and his friends showed a greater excellence than that of Babylon. They approved of an excellence far greater than that of king Nebuchadnezzar. For Daniel and his friends did not defile themselves with foreign food or drink. And they did not learn the teachings of the kingdom of Babylon. Instead, Daniel and his friends had a law and a way of life that was far more excellent than that of Babylon - so much more excellent that when Nebuchadnezzar tested them, he found them to be ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

But their approval of God’s excellence truly shined when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar and when Daniel prayed to God instead of to Darius. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. But it did not matter to them. What mattered to them was the honor and the glory and the truth and the law of the Lord. They saw Babylon and lived in Babylon. But what was more beautiful to them was Jerusalem and their homeland and what it all represented: the steadfast love of God and the ultimate promise of his salvation. This was more excellent to them than anything in the world. Thus, they approved of the right things. They weighed all the things of the world in the balance of God’s excellence and found it all wanting. All was MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. All was vanity of vanities. All was counted as rubbish, in order to gain Christ and be found in him.

Brothers and sisters, may you approve what is excellent. And may there be excellence in your life. You are a member of a royal priesthood. You are a citizen of an everlasting kingdom. You are an ambassador of the king. Therefore, let us leave immaturity and put away our old sinful selves. Let us start taking God more seriously. Let us walk in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. Let us talk as if Christ were literally right next to you all the time. Let us get our hearts and minds out of the gutter and think of things that are true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and commendable and worthy of praise. Wash your brain. Live like someone who has a king. Care about God and his ways. Approve what is excellent.

Brothers and sisters, let us be pure and blameless. Let us be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom we shine as lights in the world. Let us be blameless and upright and fear God, turning away from evil, not in order to go to heaven, but because we are going to heaven.

Make no mistake, it is not our purity and blamelessness that saves us. It is the purity and blamelessness of Jesus Christ, it is his perfect righteousness and perfect sinlessness that saves us. Praise be to our Lord Jesus! He ransomed us not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with his precious blood, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19). This blamelessness that Paul prays for is not the same thing as the blamelessness of Christ. 

Rather, Paul’s prayer for purity and blamelessness is a prayer for sanctification. It is written in Ephesians 5:25-27 these words: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

King David wrote this famous line of Scripture: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” Brothers and sisters, purity and blamelessness are all strengthened by the word of the Lord. I want you all to be men and women of God’s word. There is something romantic about a husband and wife reading God’s word together in the home. There is something rewarding about a college student with books strewn all over a table in the library but with an open Bible right in the middle of it all. There is something royal about a 9-to-5 employee reading the Bible on the train. There is something pure about a guy who falls in love with a girl because she fears the Lord. There is something mature about a father controlling his tongue instead of blowing up at his child. There is something worthy about a teenager who has a Bible in the school locker. There is something powerful about overcoming temptation because you remember God’s word. There is something nourishing about coming home on a Sunday afternoon and reading Scripture. There is something beautiful about a young adult considering God’s will when making a big decision in life. There is something encouraging about seeing a church member change his or her words and actions in light of God’s word. There is something righteous about deacons sitting down in a meeting to talk about how to care for the poor and needy. There is something fruitful about pastors putting aside their sermon and Bible study prep for church in order to read Scripture for themselves. There is something about God’s word that helps us to be pure and blameless. Let us be pure and blameless.

Brothers and sisters, this may seem hard to you. And in many ways, it is. But remember Daniel’s friends when they were thrown into the fiery furnace. King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and said, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” And remember Daniel when he came out of the lion’s den and said to Darius the king, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him.” Brothers and sisters, be encouraged. It can be hard to live a pure and blameless life. But the Lord Jesus is with you. The Holy Spirit will help you.

Finally, brothers and sisters, let us look forward to the day of Christ. Our purity and blamelessness, our fruitfulness in righteousness is all preparation for the day of the Lord.

Jesus is coming soon. We are one week closer to his return today than last Sunday. Every week that passes by, the expectation grows and grows. Soon and very soon, Jesus will arrive. He himself says in Revelation 22, “Behold, I am coming soon. Behold, I am coming soon. Surely I am coming soon.” And to that we reply with the closing sentence of the entire Bible, and with the cry of Noah and Paul and all the saints in Christ who say together, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”