Philippians 1:9-11: Only One Thing Can Be the Main Thing
I’m one of those people who likes to know exactly where I’m going and how to get there before I put the car in gear. Frankly, this drives my wife crazy. Being from the Midwest and driving in New England, where there are no straight roads and therefore a five-minute penalty for every missed turn, complicates matters further. (Thankfully a GPS is cheaper than marital counseling.) But knowing where you’re going is generally a wise thing (even if some of us are unnecessarily preoccupied with it). And just as necessary is having the right navigation system to get you there.
If this is true for traveling through the MetroWest suburbs, it’s all the more true for the Church as we navigate our lives as a community on mission. Where are we going, and what is the primary thing that will keep us on course? This is what Paul prays for God to show the Philippian church in 1:9-11.
In vv. 3-8 we saw the motivation of Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi—how he was moved by his unwavering gratitude and affection for them, which was fueled by their partnership in the gospel and anchored in the faithfulness of God. Verses 9-11 show us the actual content of Paul’s prayer for the Philippians—what he is asking God to do for them.
Verses 10b-11 tell us where we’re going: Paul prays that this church would be found faithful before God when Christ returns. His desire is that their life not be wasted, but rather that the gospel of Jesus would bear fruit in every heart, every relationship, and every ministry, such that God himself would be glorified.
Verse 10a tells us how to get there: by keeping the gospel as our central navigation point in life. Paul wants us to be able to discern “what is best”—that is, to be able to tell the difference between secondary matters and primary ones, between good things and the main thing. Only one thing can be the main thing; only one thing can serve as our central navigation point, guiding us in how to live and think and love in every situation and relationship. Only the gospel of Jesus. Everything about us must flow from and point us back to the good news of what God has done to deal with our sin and rescue us for his purposes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is our navigation point.
There are a million things that threaten this main thing, and many of them are good things. Things like family, small groups, music, preaching, food pantries, liturgy, children’s ministries, outreach, and so on. But none of these things are the main thing. And to make them the main thing not only distracts us from our mission, in time it will fracture our community and pollute our hearts. Nothing but the gospel of Jesus and the Spirit is able to guide us and carry us to where God wants us to be.
So how do we keep the main thing the main thing? Paul’s prayer in v. 9 is that our love would abound and grow unceasingly, but also that it would to be guarded and guided by our knowledge of Jesus—the one thing he was willing to lose all other things for, in order to keep his eye fixed on the prize, which is Jesus himself (Phil. 3:8-14). This kind of informed love flows from the gospel and enables us to keep the gospel at the center.
So join us this Sunday (Oct. 2) at Westgate Church in Weston, Mass., where we’ll explore the centrality of the gospel in our lives, and celebrate that gospel in song, prayer, and the Lord’s Table.
Update: For sermon text and discussion questions, click here: Phil. 1.9-11 Westgate 10.2.11.