Paul's Prayer for the Philippians - Part 3

March 12, 2017
Philippians 1:3-4, 9-11
Abraham Hong


So many people come and go in the coffee shops and cafes. And when I am there, I often wonder what people live for. I think about the results and rewards that move them. I’m curious what they pray about. I wonder who they pray to.

At the end of his beautiful prayer for the Philippians, while in chains and under house arrest, the Apostle Paul reveals his heart. He prays to God that the church will be filled with the fruit of righteousness.

This is tearfully bittersweet. Imagine that you were Lydia or the jailer, members of the church that Paul founded and loved in Philippi, listening to these words from a beloved brother and friend. All that Paul wanted for them were things like love, wisdom, blamelessness, and the fruit of righteousness. I guess that when you realize you’re near the end of your life, you ask God for things that really matter most. There was no better way to bless the Philippians than to joyfully pray for such things.

Brothers and sisters, when you pray to God for the things that really matter in life, it is beautiful and bittersweet. It is bitter because we pray less and less for things that matter less. It is sweet because we pray more and more for things that matter more. I invite you to pray like Paul does here. Let us pray for such things for our church that we call Highland.

Let us pray for the fruit of righteousness. Fruit is the result or reward of a work or activity. Righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ is the perfect obedience of our Savior. So when we pray for the fruit of righteousness, we pray for the outcome of our salvation in the Lord. And that outcome, that fruit, is obedience (Romans 6-7). It is good works (James 2 and 3). It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). It is being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8). This is the fruit that Paul prays for. It is not about health or wealth. It is not about numbers at church or impact on community. It is not about successful ministry. It is about obedience, good works, and looking like Jesus.

Oh how sweet and bright and choice is the fruit of Christ’s righteousness! Oh how flavorful and refreshing and wholesome is the fruit of Christ’s righteousness! It is wholesome to see a person reconcile and forgive an enemy. It is refreshing to see young adults care less about the world and more about the new heavens and the new earth. It is flavorful to see married folks become more and more patient and kind and gentle and loving. It is choice to see a college student learn how to say no to sin and put it to death. It is bright to have youth fall in love with reading God’s word at such an early age and wanting to obey God and do what is right. It is sweet to see sinners conform to the image of the Son.

And it’s doubly sweet and bright and choice and flavorful and refreshing and wholesome when you see it happen to you.

Dear brother, dear sister, if you are sitting here this morning wondering about yourself, I want you to know that God has not abandoned you. If you’re sitting here today wondering about your spiritual growth and maturity, then I have some very good news for you. You will bear the fruit of Christ’s righteousness. You will grow and you will change. And the reason why that is true is because it Jesus is the one who grows you and changes you.

Many believers rightly believe that justification - that is, forgiveness and eternal life - is a gracious gift from God. Some believers rightly believe that repentance is a gracious gift from God. But unfortunately, few believers rightly believe that sanctification - that is, spiritual growth and maturity - is also a gracious gift from God. Even more so, many people wrongly believe that we contribute to our sanctification, that is depends largely on our own effort. And many also wrongly believe that we ought to do good works in order to grow. But that is not the gospel.

The gospel is this: we are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone, and we are sanctified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. And the law of the Spirit is this: just as we don’t do good works in order to be saved… we do good works because we are saved, we don’t do good works in order to grow… we do good works because we are growing. The righteousness of Christ is a gift, but so also is the fruit of his righteousness. In other words, your spiritual growth and maturity is in God’s hands, not yours. It is by his grace, not your work.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, if you wonder about your spiritual growth and maturity, know that God has not abandoned you and left your sanctification up to you. It is his work to do. Salvation belongs to our Lord! Also, brothers and sisters, when you see others grow and change, and when you see yourself grow and change, rejoice and give God all the credit. It is truly amazing to see sanctification happen to ourselves. We are passive observers of this gospel mystery.

Brothers and sisters, this is the surpreme joy of doing church. You may get a thrill out of seeing a team build toward a championship. You may be stunned to see time fly by as a baby grows out of his or her clothes. You may feel swell to see your retirement account padded each and every year. These are all good results and good rewards. But I invite you to come to church and witness the greatest results and rewards of the greatest gospel ever. I invite you to come to church and see everyone here in this room - including you - bear the fruit of a righteousness that comes from Christ. It is amazing to see a plant grow from nothing into something, especially if you’re a plant person (hashtag: yes, I do well to be angry). But it is super amazing to see a person grow from old ways to new ways, especially if you’re a people person (hashtag: and should not I pity Nineveh).

So here’s a tip, give it time. If you’re baking a batch of cookies in the oven, keep the oven door closed and give it time. Don’t open the oven door every 30 seconds to see how things are going. Or if you’re putting retirement money away into an index fund, keep your money in it and give it time. Don’t follow the stock market every hour to see how things are going. Many believers today approach their spiritual growth and maturity in this way. They act like deranged farmers who stare at their crops for an hour and begin to worry about whether or not everything’s going to be okay. Brothers and sisters, be patient. Sanctification is often very, very slow. It is a gift that keeps on giving once a week, 52 times a year, through seemingly simple and boring things such as a clunky worship service, a flawed man explaining God’s holy word in high school level English, and ordinary signs and seals of bread and grape juice. If sanctification is new life for us, then that new life blossoms at a marathon pace. If sanctification is death of our old selves, then that death is a death by a thousand cuts.

Praise be to Jesus Christ our Lord! While Adam and Eve failed to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, while they did not pass the test of God’s covenant obedience, Jesus succeeded. He was perfectly righteous. And he gives us his righteousness as a gift so that we can go to heaven.

Brothers and sisters, what do you live for? What results and rewards are you looking for? What do you pray about? Who do you live for? I hope that you live for God and for his glory and praise. I hope that you look forward to seeing the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - along with abounding love, wisdom, and blamelessness. I hope that you are praying for obedience in your lives and excellent things such as goodness, faithfulness and gentleness.