Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

And this is my prayer [for y’all]: that your love (ἀγάπη) may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that y’all may approve what is superior, and so y’all may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. 

The Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:9-11

No, you haven’t seen or heard this particular and peculiar translation of Philippians 1:9-11 anywhere before, because I just crafted it. In this blog post, I want to emphasize several points that often go overlooked or unmentioned, so I tinkered with the translation here and there.

Native English speakers (and Yankees in particular) often miss the nuance of number present in a pronoun.

Huh?

I mean, in English the pronoun you can be either singular or plural. And that inherent sloppiness frequently messes up us English speakers. We often read you as singular when it is actually plural. And it actually matters here in Philippians 1:9-11. Paul is not praying for an individual Christian; he is praying for an entire congregation of Christians. 

One way for us to get around this inherent sloppiness is to adopt a regional idiom — a southern-ism — and simply say y’all. Although it might come across as irreverent or cheeky, the invocation of y’all makes the necessary point. Paul prays for all the Philippian Christians, not a single person. 

Paul prays that the Philippians as a congregation will abound more and more in love. That would be considered an entirely uncontroversial prayer, right? Who would have a problem with love, love, abounding love? No one.

But realize that Paul qualifies his prayer a bit. Paul prays for abounding love that is also accompanied with knowledge and discernment.  Charitable human love can (and often does) lack knowledge and discernment. It can be naïve and gullible. It can be woefully incapable of making necessary distinctions. Presupposed here is that some things (that is, some beliefs, intentions, efforts, policies, or actions) are worthwhile, whereas other things (again – beliefs, intentions, efforts, policies, and actions) are worthless or even insidious. Charitable human love, in itself, might not be able to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the ugly. Charitable human love always needs to have the assistance of knowledge and discernment to make the necessary distinctions, or in Paul’s words, “to approve of what is superior.” Thus Paul prays that the Philippians would have ever-abounding love plus knowledge and discernment.

But I need to go back to my previous point about this being addressed to a community, not an individual person. This dynamic of love and discernment necessarily occurs in intentional, fully engaged community. This dynamic of love and discernment does not and cannot occur in neglected, disengaged isolation. Therefore, the fulfillment of Paul’s prayer required the active and regular participation of the Philippian congregation. And the fulfillment of a similar prayer today will require the active and regular participation of our Christian communities.     

In my estimation, we desperately need this prayer to be presented and answered today.

Here is the relevant lexical definition of the Koiné Greek word for excellent or superior: διαφέροντα.

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