The Prayers of St. Paul
by W. H. Griffith Thomas
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"That He would grant you" (ver. 16). As in the former prayer, the Apostle is clear that what he is about to ask is essentially a Divine gift. It comes from above, whether he is seeking knowledge (ch. i. 17) or power (ch. iii. 16). At every step God must give and the believer must receive. It would be well for us in our Christian experience to emphasise this simple but searching truth. "Every good and every perfect gift comes from above."


"According to the riches of His glory" (ver. 16). Here again we begin to realise something of the fulness of the prayer to be offered. The measure of the Apostle's desire is not our own poverty, but God's wealth; we are to look away from ourselves to the infinite riches of the Divine glory. In the former prayer he asked that we might know the riches of God's glory. But here there is something more; we are to experience them in our heart and life.


In general St. Paul asks for two great spiritual blessings, the inward strength of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling presence of Christ. These are inseparable, and we may regard the first as essential to the second, and the second as the effect of the first. But the prayer goes into detail and each part of the petition calls for careful meditation.

(1) "Strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man" (ver. 16, R.V.). As wisdom was the burden of the former prayer (ch. i. 17), so strength is the main thought here. The order, too, is significant; wisdom and power, since power without knowledge would be highly dangerous. This strength comes from the Holy Spirit; He is the Agent of God's enabling grace. And the strength is to extend "into the inward man." The contrast seems to be between the inward and the outward, as in 2 Cor. iv. 16; Rom. vii. 22. The strength is not of the body, or of the mind, but of the soul. The "inward" is not exactly identical with the "new" man, but emphasises the inner essential life of the spirit as contrasted with the outer life of the body. "The hidden man of the heart."

(2) "That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (ver. 17, R.V.). This is the outcome of the inward strength of the Spirit, and almost every word needs attention. The indwelling of Christ is virtually identical with that of the Spirit (ch. ii. 22), although of course Christ and the Holy Spirit are never absolutely identified in Holy Scripture (2 Cor. iii. 17, 18). It is only in regard to the practical outcome in the believer's experience that the indwelling of Christ and the Spirit amount to the same thing. This is to be a permanent indwelling and not a mere passing stay, just as believers together are described as a temple for God's permanent habitation (ch. ii. 22, Greek). This permanent indwelling of Christ is to be "in your hearts." Almost every prayer is thus concerned with the "heart," the centre of the moral being, and the Apostle prays that Christ may make His home therein. This is no mere influence, but a Personal Presence, the Living Christ within, and it is to be "through faith." It is faith that admits Christ to the heart, allowing Him to enter into every part of the "inward man." And the same faith that admits Him permits Him to remain, reside, and rule. Faith, in a word, is the total response of the soul to the Lordship of Christ.

(3) "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love" (ver. 17). Here again the original expressions imply permanent results, and the two words "rooted" and "grounded" are beautifully complementary. The one refers to a tree, the other to a house, and the expressions point to those hidden processes of the soul which are the result of Christ's indwelling and the Holy Spirit's working. The power of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ tend to our permanent inward establishment in the element and atmosphere of Christian love. This is one of the seven occasions in this short Epistle where we find the Pauline phrase, "in love," referring to the sphere and atmosphere of our fellowship with God. The love no doubt means primarily and perhaps almost exclusively God's love to us, as that in which we are to "live, and move, and have our being."

(4) "May be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth" (ver. 18, R.V.). Here again the emphasis is on strength, and the Apostle prays that we may have full strength to grasp, may be quite able to accomplish this purpose. Spiritual ideas can never be appropriated by intellectual action alone. It is not by brilliant intellect but by spiritual insight that we become "able to comprehend." Although there is now no specific reference to love, it would seem as though the idea of verse 19 is already in view, and, assuming this to be the case, we have four aspects of the Divine love which we are to be strong to grasp. Its "breadth" means that there is no barrier to it, reminding us of the extent of the Divine counsels; its "length" tells us of the Divine foreknowledge and His thought of us through the ages; its "height" points to our Lord in heaven as the goal for the penitent believer; its "depth" declares the possibility of love descending to the lost abyss of human misery for the purpose of redemption. And the ability to grasp the Divine love in this fourfold way is to be experienced with "all the saints." It is impossible to accomplish it alone; no spiritual exclusiveness is thinkable in this connection, to say nothing of the lower forms of egotism and selfishness. Twice in this brief writing does the Apostle refer to "all the saints" (ch. vi. 18), thereby reminding us of the place and power of each saint in the spiritual economy of God. One saint will be able to comprehend a little, another saint a little more, and so on, until at length all the saints together are "strong to grasp" the Divine love. The wider our fellowship the fuller and firmer our hold of the love of Christ. This is doubtless why public worship is so strongly emphasised in the New Testament. "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I." The experiences of our fellow-worshippers are always intended to be, and usually will be, of help to our own fuller realisation of our Lord and Master. The soul is justified solitarily and alone, but it is sanctified only in the community of believers.

(5) "And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge" (ver. 19). If we are correct in interpreting verse 18 of the Divine love, the present verse will be the climax of this part of the prayer, and it has been helpfully suggested that we have here the "fifth dimension" of the love of Christ after the four already mentioned. Not only are they to experience breadth and length and height and depth but also the inwardness; they are to know by personal experience the love of Christ as it can only be known by those who have fellowship with Him. It is a love that surpasses knowledge, just as His power surpasses everything (ch. i. 19). The paradox of knowing that which surpasses knowledge will not be misunderstood from the standpoint of spiritual experience, because it is the difference between apprehending and comprehending. We know, and know deeply, increasingly, blessedly, and yet all the while there are infinite stretches of love beyond our highest experiences.

(6) "That ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God" (ver. 19, R.V.). This is the climax of the prayer and is the culminating purpose of the work of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ. Strength, indwelling, love, and knowledge are to issue in fulness, and we are to be "filled unto all the fulness of God." In the former prayer this fulness is associated with Christ and with His body the Church (ch. i. 23), but here it is specifically associated with God and ourselves as believers in Christ. When these two passages are associated with ch. v. 18, which speaks of the fulness of the Spirit, we have the word "fulness" connected with each Person of the Blessed Trinity. What it means for the soul to be filled to overflowing with the presence of God itself is beyond our comprehension; it can only be a matter of personal experience as we seek to fulfil the proper conditions. Such a prayer for the fulness of God is best expressed in Miss Havergal's words—

"Lord, we ask it, scarcely knowing What this wondrous gift may be; But fulfil to overflowing, Thy great meaning let us see."





"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all judgment: that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."—PHIL. i. 9-11.

One of the most beautiful elements in the Pauline Epistles is the intimate relation which evidently existed between the Apostle and his converts. This is especially the case in the Epistle to the Philippians, for in no other writing is there such a full revelation of the heart of St. Paul and of his love to those with whom he was united in Christ. As, therefore, he knew them so intimately, so he prayed for them, the prayer revealing at once their need, and his conviction as to essential things. Prayer is always strong in proportion to our acquaintance with the spiritual life of others, and feeble so far as we are ignorant of their needs.


Let us mark the opening words: "this I keep on asking" (Greek). There was one thing for which he asked continually, and this seemed to him to sum up everything in their life.

(1) He prayed for love; "your love." As they already possessed life, he wished it to be expressed in love. The Epistle is full of this subject. No writing is so truly characterised by the love of St. Paul for his converts, or of his converts for St. Paul (see ch. iv. 14-18). Let us again remind ourselves that love in the New Testament is something definite, tangible, strong, practical, intense. It is more than sentiment, though of course it includes that; it is more than emotion, though undoubtedly it includes that; it is more than desire, though obviously it includes that. Love is the outgoing of the entire nature in self-sacrificing service. It is the sympathy of the heart and the devotion of the life to its object. As such it is the supreme proof of the reality of our Christian profession. "If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments" (John xiv. 15, R.V.). "Lovest thou Me ... feed My sheep" (John xxi. 16). "Seeing ye have purified your souls ... love one another from the heart unfeignedly" (1 Pet. i. 22, R.V.). It was with no cynicism, but with a wonderful astonishment, that the heathen used to say, "See how these Christians love one another." When therefore the Apostle prayed for love he was asking that the Philippian Christians might possess and manifest the very finest, truest, most powerful, and most attractive proof of their Christian life.

(2) He prayed for abounding love; "that your love may abound." Not only some, but abundant love; not a little, but much. Love to be real must be kept full, intense, overflowing; it calls for continual reinforcement, replenishing, and the abundance of love is the measure and proof of the possession of abundant life.

(3) He prayed for increasing love; "that your love may abound yet more and more." Expression is piled upon expression in order to emphasise the importance of love and its progress. Love is intended to grow and not to remain stationary. Just as life makes progress, so must its result similarly develop in love. The motto for the Christian is "more and more." This is why there is so much in the New Testament about growth, for just as it is with natural life so it must be with spiritual. Constant increase, development, progress, extension, expansion must mark it at every step.

(4) He prayed for discerning love; "that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment" (R.V.). The two words "knowledge" and "discernment" are particularly noteworthy. One expresses the principle, the other the application. Again we observe this word "knowledge" as a characteristic expression of the Apostle in these prison-epistles. "Full knowledge" (Greek) is one of the marks of a growing Christian life, and is proved by spiritual perception, spiritual feeling, spiritual discernment. There is a world of difference between intellectual ability and spiritual insight. Many people are clever, but not spiritual, while many people are often truly spiritual without being possessed of much intellectual capacity. Much is said in Scripture about sight in regard to things spiritual. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see" (John iii. 3). "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. v. 8). There are many people in our congregations of average intellect, and perhaps with mental powers decidedly below the average, who are nevertheless full of profound spiritual wisdom because love to Christ has given them keenness of vision and depth of insight.


This constant progress and abundance of love was intended for a very practical purpose; "so that ye may approve the things that are excellent" (ver. 10, R.V.). The discernment already mentioned was intended for spiritual discrimination. They were to be enabled to distinguish, to prove, and thereby to approve. As Lightfoot points out, "love imparts a sensitiveness of touch, a keen edge to the discriminating faculty in things moral and spiritual." In things spiritual at least love is not blind, but keen-sighted. It is endowed with a spiritual discernment which is able to distinguish not only between good and bad, but between good and better, between better and best, and between best and excellent. The words, "approve the things that are excellent," occur also in Rom. ii. 18, and the meaning seems to be first that they were to "distinguish the things that differ," and then as a result they were to "approve the things that transcend." This spiritual discernment is particularly needful to-day, as the Christian soul is surrounded by so many views and voices. Much that appears on the surface to be attractive and charming contains within it the elements of spiritual danger and disaster, and it is only by spiritual discernment which comes from abounding and increasing love to Christ that the soul is safeguarded against evil and led to approve and follow the things that are superior. It is a vivid picture that the prophet gives of the Messiah when he describes Him as endowed by the Spirit of God and made of "quick scent in the fear of the Lord" (Isa. xi. 3, Hebrew). It is this "quick scent" that by the same Spirit the Lord Jesus Christ bestows upon those who love Him with all the heart.


Every Christian grace is intended for practical and permanent effect in character. Our lives are not to be intermittent, but continuous in their expression of grace and blessing, and all that the Apostle has been praying for and desiring on behalf of his Philippian Christians was intended to develop and express in them the solid and permanent realities of Christian character.

(1) Sincerity; "that ye may be sincere" (ver. 10). This has to do with motives. The word is thought to mean "tested in the sunlight." Our lives are to be manifestly true, genuine, sincere, "transparent." "Motive makes the man," and from time to time it is essential that we should allow ourselves to be tested and judged in the sunlight of our perfect fellowship with Christ, just as St. Peter, when asked by his Master, said, "Lord, Thou knowest all things." Sincerity is one of the essential features of the true Christian life. The believer, if he is to do the will of God and commend the Gospel to others, must have no doubtful arriere pensee but a life lived moment by moment in the perfect brightness of the presence of perfect holiness.

(2) Consistency; "void of offence" (ver. 10, R.V.). This has to do with conduct. Not only are we to be inwardly true, but outwardly sure. Our lives must not hinder others, or put a stumbling-block in their way. Just as the Master said, "Blessed is he whosoever is not put to stumble by Me," so must it be with every follower of Christ. Our lives are to be stepping-stones, not stumbling-blocks.

(3) Character; "being filled with the fruits of righteousness." This has to do with our permanent life both within and without, though the emphasis is on being rather than on doing. Character is the highest point and peak of the Christian life, for just as fruit is the outcome of the life of a tree, so character is the fruit of Christian living, and is the best proof of its existence. The Apostle's word suggests that we are to be "permanently filled" (Greek) with the fruits of righteousness, those things that are right, straight, true, correct, upright, without any deflection on either side. The Lord Who is our Righteousness works in us the fruits of righteousness by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.


The Apostle looks forward "unto the day of Christ" (ver. 10, R.V.), and then speaks of the Christian life being lived "unto the glory and praise of God" (ver. 11). Everything is to tend towards the manifestation of the splendour of God in human life whereby others will be led to acknowledge and praise Him (Matt. v. 16). And this will reach its culminating point in the "day of Christ," that time when Christian people will stand before their Master and receive the reward of their life and service rendered to Him (ch. i. 6, ii. 16). This was the Apostle's constant thought, and towards this he strained every nerve (ch. iii. 11-21). It expresses the highest ideal of Christian living, for day by day we are to live with this wonderful thought of "the glory and praise of God," and day by day we are to look forward to the coming of Christ as that day in which our life will find its fullest realisation, its complete satisfaction, and its unending joy. And all this reminds us of the essential simplicity of life, for there is nothing complex, or involved, or mysterious, or difficult in a life lived day by day to the praise of God and in the light of the coming of our Master.

As we review this prayer we may feel perfectly sure that the Apostle meant it to be answered, and indeed, he himself gives us the hint of how this may come to pass when he tells us that the fruits of righteousness are "through Jesus Christ." This is only another way of expressing what he has already shown, his confidence that the possession of the Christian life is the guarantee of its complete realisation and full perfection by the indwelling presence and work of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (ch. i. 6). Let us therefore take heart of grace as we contemplate this prayer and the other prayers of the Apostle. We must not be depressed, or disheartened, or discouraged, as we ponder the marvellous details and contemplate the stupendous heights of the Christian life as depicted by St. Paul's wonderful spiritual insight. On the contrary, we must remind ourselves that he would not have prayed these prayers unless he had been certain that God would answer them, and they will assuredly be answered as we set ourselves resolutely, humbly, lovingly, trustfully to fulfil the required conditions, "through Jesus Christ our Lord."


Considerations of space have prevented the inclusion of all the Prayers of St. Paul, but for the treatment of the prayer in Rom. XV. 13 reference may perhaps be permitted to the author's Royal and Loyal (ch. v.) and to his Devotional Commentary on Romans (vol. iii. p. 103 ff.). And a fuller treatment of 2 Thess. iii. 16 is given in his The Power of Peace.

For the thorough exegetical foundation of the passages included in these prayers of the Apostle special attention should of course be given to the various modern standard Commentaries. The following have proved of particular value in the preparation of these pages. On Thessalonians: Milligan, Frame, Eadie, and Ellicott. On Romans: Sanday and Headlam, Godet, and the Notes by Lightfoot. On Ephesians: Armitage Robinson, Westcott, and Eadie. On Philippians: Lightfoot and Ellicott. On Colossians: Lightfoot and Ellicott. Preachers will find it nothing short of an education in Greek to ponder the passages under the guidance of these master-minds. The first step in all true expository preaching is the consideration of the words and phrases in order to elicit their full exegetical value. Following this, and based upon it, will come the spiritual teaching and personal application, and for this purpose the following books will be found of great value. On Thessalonians: Denney in the Expositor's Bible. On Romans: Bishop Moule in the same series. On Ephesians: G. G. Findlay in the Expositor's Bible, with R. W. Dale's well-known Lectures. On Philippians: Rainy in the Expositor's Bible, and Jowett's The High Calling. On Colossians: Maclaren's peerless treatment in the Expositor's Bible, with Bishop Moule's Colossian Studies, and a useful American work, Oneness with Christ, by Bishop Nicholson. The subject of this book is definitely treated in The Prayers of St. Paul, by W. B. Pope, D.D.; The Pattern Prayer Book, by E. W. Moore; Preces Paulinae, a valuable old book by an anonymous author, which is now only obtainable second-hand.

On the general subject of Prayer, which will naturally be given attention in the expository preaching and teaching on this special topic of St. Paul's petitions, the following among other books may perhaps be mentioned: Waiting on God, by Andrew Murray; The Hidden Life of Prayer, by D. M. M'Intyre; Prayer, by M'Conkey; Praying in the Holy Ghost, by G. H. C. Macgregor; Quiet Talks on Prayer, by S. D. Gordon; and Prayer: Its Nature and Scope, by H. C. Trumbull.




Gen. xviii. 19 103

Deut. iv. 20 102

Isa. xi. 3 133

" xliii. 21 102

Ps. xxxii. 8 6

" xxxvii. 23 6, 103

" lvii. 7 11

" cviii. 1 11

" cxii. 7 11

" cxlix. 4 103

Matt. v. 8 131

" v. 16 136

Luke xviii. 11-13 113

John iii. 3 131

" xiii. 34 8

" xiv. 15 129

" xvii. 3 66

" xvii. 19 19

" xxi. 16 129

Acts vii. 2 94

" vii. 60 113

" ix. 40 113

" xi. 23 59

" xx. 36 113

Rom. i. 4 104

" i. 16 104

" iii. 23 95

" v. 1 22

" v. 2 95

" vi. 4 94

" vii. 22 117

" xv. 7 95

1 Cor. i. 18 104

" ii. 8 94

" v. 20 103

" vi. 11 35

2 Cor. iii. 17, 18 117

" iv. 16 117

Eph. i. 1-14 92, 96

" i. 15-19 91

" iii. 14 94

" iii. 14-19 111

" iv. 1 64

" iv. 3 82

" vi. 12 76

" vi. 22 81

Phil. i. 9-11 127

" i. 27 64

" iii. 10 66

" iv. 7-9 22

" iv. 14-18 128

Col. i. 3-6 58

" i. 9-12 57

" i. 15 87

" i. 18-20 87

" i. 20 22

" i. 27 87

" ii. 1, 2 75

" ii. 3 87

" iv. 12 76

1 Thess. i. 5 85

" ii. 2 35

" ii. 12 31, 64

" iii. 9 35

" iii. 11-13 3

" iv. 7 31

" v. 23, 24 17, 31

2 Thess. i. 10 103

" i. 11, 12 29

" ii. 14 31

" ii. 17 81

" iii. 16 41

1 Tim. vi. 12 76

2 Tim. iv. 7 76

Heb. vi. 11 58

" x. 22 85

" xiii. 9 11

1 Pet. i. 22 129

" iii. 7 77

2 Pet. i. 7 8

1 John ii. 12-14 60, 98

" ii. 20 99

" v. 20 99


Advent, Second, 24, 30, 136.

Aspiration, 33.

Assurance, 84 f., 137.

Brotherly love, 8, 51, 83, 120, 128.

Called of God, 31, 100.

Character, 133.

Christ, Deity of, 5, 87.

Conscience, peace of, 50.

Devotion, need of, 70.

Endurance, 46, 66.

Faithfulness, Divine, 25.

Family life, 114.

Glory of God, 94.

Grace, 35 f.

Heart, in Scripture, 42, 81, 99, 117.

Holiness, 10, 18.

Joy, Christian, 67.

Knowledge, spiritual, 60 f., 84, 86, 97 f., 121, 131.

Leading, Divine, 6, 48.

Love, God's, to us, 43, 119.

Love, our, to Him, 44, 129.

Ministry, the Apostolic, 112.

Others, concern for, 58.

Patience of Christ, 45.

Peace, 22 f., 52 f.

Peculium, God's, 102.

Persecution, 30.

Power, Divine, 104.

Prayer, practical value of, 17, 57, 75.

Prayer, a thing of labour, 76.

" for others, 79, 127 f.

" sympathetic, 80.

Preservation, Divine, 19 f., 50.

Reverence, 113.

Sincerity, 134.

Spirit, the Divine, 49, 96, 116.

Trinity, the, 92.

Unity, spiritual, 82.

Walk, the Christian, 64.

Weathercock, Spurgeon's, 44.

Word, importance of the, 49.

Worthy, counted, 32.

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by underscore.

The original text includes Greek characters. For this text version these letters have been replaced with transliterations.

Printer's inconsistencies in hyphenation usage have been retained.


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