One of my all-time favorite scriptures was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi. I always feel encouraged when I read the beginning of any letter written by Paul. He says so eloquently what I long to hear, that someone is extending to me grace and peace in Christ Jesus. That is such a message of hope, isn’t it? Let us take a look at the beginning of the letter to the Philippians.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6, (New International Version or NIV).
As a single woman, a woman who was married for a long time but is no longer, these verses are an encouragement. I do not feel particularly valued by anyone other than perhaps my children but I do so long to be remembered by someone and appreciated enough to have someone thank God for knowing me. Don’t we all feel that way at times? We want someone to be thankful that we are alive and walked upon this earth for a time.
Paul continues with reminding the people of Philippi that he prays for all of them. Not only does he pray for them but he prays with joy! Wow! I wonder if there is anyone who prays for me with such joy. I think the princess in me longs for someone to have this depth of feeling, of joy in praying for me and somehow I suspect you may feel that way too.
The best is yet to come, though. Paul continues by saying that he is confident of something, something that is worth remembering for all of us and for all of those for whom we pray. That God began a good work in us and that work will continue throughout our entire lives. That work never stops but continues on to the very end, until that work is complete. When is this work in us completed? On the day of Christ Jesus, that day we die and go to be with the Lord, the day Jesus returns for us, that day! Isn’t that exciting?
When I was single, when I was married and became a wife, when I became a Mother, when I was divorced, when I am single again, the work, the Good News work of the Gospel has been at work in me and that work never stopped and will never stop until I draw my last breath. I don’t know about you but this is a huge encouragement to me because it reminds me that I am not a failure, I am a work in progress. There is more encouragement to come, let’s look.
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 for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11, (NIV).
Paul had a specific list of things that he prayed for the church members in Philippi, do you see? He prayed that they would grow in what? In love?!? Why wouldn’t he pray that they grow in attendance numbers or in wealth? Not Paul, he wanted the Christians he knew and cared about to grow in their love for one another and also in knowledge and insight. I doubt he is expecting them to have a PhD or be highly educated, no, he isn’t talking about that kind of book knowledge I don’t think. He wants them to grow in their knowledge of Jesus Christ and the things of God. He also wants them to be able to discern with insight they have gained through their studies of the Bible. He gets very specific about what kind of insight he prays for them to have, do you see? He says that they are to discern what is best and what is pure and what is blameless so that when they finally meet Jesus Christ, they are pure and blameless. I believe that he is asking them to be moral and law-abiding, getting along with their neighbors and fellow employees and fellow church members as well as getting along with their families. All of this is what I think of when I think of being blameless and pure and behaving the best. He is asking that God help these precious people to be men and women of honor and good moral character and helpful to their fellow human beings. He says that he prays they be filled with the fruit of righteousness that Jesus gives freely to His followers. What is the fruit of righteousness?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Galatians 5:22-26, (NIV).
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:8-11, (NIV).
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14, (NIV).
As you can see in three other letters written by the Apostle Paul he gives descriptions of the fruit of righteousness. I think that these verses are self-explanatory and we can get the idea of what he is saying. But these are all letters from Paul, where are some scriptures from other authors describing the fruit of righteousness? Glad you asked.
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:33-37, (NIV).
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. John 15:1-14, (NIV).
Both of these passages, Matthew and John, are words spoken by Jesus Christ. He describes the tree bearing fruit, some bear good fruit and some bear bad. The fruit is symbolic of the deeds each human being does in the course of their lives. Some of us do good deeds and some of us do bad deeds and our lives show the outcome of our produce. We will be judged by Christ as to whether we are good or bad put another way, righteous or unrighteous. In the passage in John Jesus continues to say that if we are His then God prunes our trees, our lives, so that we produce even better and more righteous fruit. Notice how important love of others is to Jesus? It always amazes me that no matter what scripture I study somehow I end up with the theme of the importance of love for others.
I believe that the reason I respond to Paul’s letters especially the beginning of his letters is because I see the great love he had for the people in the churches to whom he is writing. Paul was a man of love following the greatest example of love we have, Christ Jesus. The princess in me longs for love and I suspect that I am not alone in this longing. I think the key is found in extending love from outside of me and giving it away to you. The love that is the purest comes not from the world’s concept of love but from Jesus Christ who laid down His life for his friends, for you and for me. That is certainly something for which to be thankful.