Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so 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.

(Phil. 1:1-11, ESV)

As I read this passage, I am moved by the image of Paul in prison, writing to one of the churches he has served, praying for them, missing them and yearning to be with them. He writes with a mixture of joy and longing, a combination of confidence and desire. He begins his letter with two things he wants them to know and his prayer for what God will do in their lives. It serves as a wonderful model for my own prayers for those I teach.

After greeting them and assuring them of his prayers on their behalf, Paul wants to encourage them with an important truth that gives him confidence in what God will accomplish in their lives. He affirms that God, who has begun his good work of salvation and transformation in them, will see it through to full completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Paul knows that some in the church may be afraid, because he is now in prison and unable to be with them and teach them. Paul points them to God as the One who is working in them, assuring them that God will never leave them or give up on what he has begun. God is their ultimate teacher and provides the power for their transformation. I, too, need to remember this important truth and remind those I teach of it.

Paul also reflects on his own feelings toward those he has taught and served. His prayer for them is filled with joy because of their partnership in the gospel, by supporting his ministry and sharing the gospel with others. At the same time, he shares his sorrow, a yearning to be with them that cannot be satisfied because of his imprisonment. They are dear and precious to Paul’s heart because they have shared in God’s grace with him, and it is hard to be apart. I have never been imprisoned, so I can’t truly understand what Paul experienced. But I know the sadness that fills my heart when someone who has been part of a study group I’ve led or participated in moves away and is no longer with us. A special affection grows as we study God’s Word together — this is a gift from God — and we enjoy and are encouraged by it even though we know it may not last forever. Paul assures them of his love for them, which leads to his prayer on their behalf.

Paul focuses his prayer for these people he loves and longs for on three important qualities, foundational to their continued growth together in Christ. As in so many other passages in the gospels and epistles, Paul lifts up a growing love as of central importance. Paul asks God to help their love abound more and more — love for each other, for God and for those in need of the gospel. This is the ultimate fruit of God’s work within us since God is love and we are called to be like him. But along with love, Paul also prays for their growth in knowledge and discernment. Love needs guidance, and the Philippians still have much to learn about God’s Word, his will and his ways. In addition, other writings by Paul warn of false teachers who will come and preach things contrary to the gospel, and the church will need to know God’s Word well enough to be able to discern truth from error.

Altogether, love, knowledge and discernment are precious gifts from God, enabling us to know and approve what is best (excellent) and to become people filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through knowing and being united with Christ, not from our own efforts. Paul’s prayer is a wonderful model for us. As you pray for those in your group, ask God to help their love grow more and more. Pray they will grow to know and understand his Word well enough that they can discern truth from error in what they hear and read. Pray that as God answers these prayers, it results in their growth in righteousness and dependence on Christ.

Our goal in all of this is the glory and praise of God, who accomplishes this wonderful work of transformation in us, completing it when we are united with Christ. We won’t see the final result in this life, but God is at work and we have confidence that He will see it through to the end. This gives us hope and helps us persevere in any challenges we face, even separation due to imprisonment.

Father, I am so thankful that my hope is in You and Your ability to complete what You have begun. As I lead my Bible study group, help my love for them to grow. I pray that their love for You, one another, and those who need the gospel would grow in response to Your love for them. I also pray that they would grow in knowledge and discernment so they can faithfully follow You and approve what is good and excellent, knowing truth from error. Help us together to be more like Christ because of Your transforming work within us. In all of this I give You praise and thanks! Amen.

This devotional is one of fifty-two from a collection, “Feeding the Soul of the Bible Study Leader.” If you would like to read more or share them with a friend, you can access them online at and they are also available in book form through