Not one to leave his prayer hanging on what may sound like a negative note, Paul immediately qualifies his aspiration for them in verse 10 in two ways. First, by pure and blameless until the day of Christ he means that he wants them to arrive at that day already filled with the fruit of righteousness (item 5), whose source, as always, is through Christ Jesus (item 6). Second, the ultimate goal of everything, especially righteousness expressed by their ever-increasing love, is that they might live to the glory and praise of God (item 7).
But by the fruit of righteousness does Paul intend "filled with fruit that comes from the righteousness Christ has provided," thus emphasizing the fruitfulness that has God's gift of right standing with himself as its source? Or does he intend "filled with fruit consisting of the righteousness that marks one who belongs to Christ," thus emphasizing the righteousness that, coming through Christ, has a new kind of content? Although my theological proclivities lie with the former, the Old Testament background of this phrase and the grammar of the sentence favor the latter.
In this letter the word righteousness occurs elsewhere only in 3:6 and 3:9. In contrast to "legalistic righteousness" (3:6), Paul says God has given him a different righteousness that expresses itself in particular by his adopting a cruciform lifestyle (3:9-11), like that of Christ himself (2:6-8). To be filled with the fruit of righteousness for Paul means to go the way of the cross, self-emptying so as to become servant of all in place of "selfish ambition" and, in that servanthood, humbling oneself to the point of dying for another in place of "vain conceit" (2:3-8). This is what it means for Paul to "know Christ." This is the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. All other righteousness, especially religious righteousness, is filth in comparison (3:8).
Such righteousness alone is to the glory and praise of God (item 7). Here is the ultimate goal of all things. Everything is to the single end that God will receive glory through the work he is doing in their lives. Love that reflects God's own love is the only righteousness that counts, the only righteousness that is to God's glory and to his praise.
This prayer is ever relevant for those who are caregivers in the church—pastors, leaders, teachers, parents and others. Most people entrusted to our spiritual nurture, like all of us, need love to overflow—not to mention the need to have knowledge of God and insight into his will also overflow so that they (we) may give themselves only to what really counts as believers in Christ. Who of them—of us—does not need to be filled with the kind of righteousness that characterizes God and that Christ has modeled? Thus we would do well to use these very words when we pray for those in our care.
There is paradigm here as well. Here is one who has a keen sense of priorities in Christ and who is concerned when those in his care grow slack in some areas. That this prayer anticipates a great deal of the burden of the letter itself tells us much about Paul in prayer. Before talking to the Philippians about some matters that need an increase, he talks to God about them—and tells them so. We could learn much here.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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