I want to make one last comment on the opening prayer in Philippians 1. Paul prays in these opening verses that the church at Philippi about in love. The goal of “abounding in love” is eschatological. If the church abounds in love all the more, on the day of Christ they will be found pure and blameless, filled with fruit of righteousness. The “day of Christ” looks forward to the believer’s ultimate vindication at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-15).
But pure and blameless are not the usual way of describing purity in an eschatological sense. First, “pure” (εἰλικρινής) has to do with one’s conscience (Acts 24:16, Paul has a clear conscience), perhaps sincerity (2 Peter 3:1) concerning his motives for preaching the Gospel. In the context of discerning what is right in verse 10, if one who is in Christ is abounding in love, they will be able to discern what is excellent and not offend their own conscience. By discerning the excellent, the believer is found pure on the Day of Christ.
Second, blameless (ἀπρόσκοπος) concerns offending someone. In English is sounds like Paul is saying the believer will stand before Jesus without any blame – but this is true because the person is “in Christ.” This word, however, concerns our giving offense to other people. Related words (προσκοπή, προσκόπτω) have the sense of stumbling, or causing someone to stumble (“a stumbling block”). In Sirach 31:17 the word is used in the context of having good table manners (“do not chew greedily, or you will give offense”). “Blameless” (ἀπρόσκοπος) is used in 1 Cor 10:32; Paul does not want the church to give an offense to either Jews or Gentiles by what they eat or drink. Again, in the context of discerning what is excellent, it is possible the believer must give up some practice deemed offensive by a culture. In a Jewish context, a Gentile could eat food that is simply offensive even though their conscience is clear.
Perhaps the first word refers to offending one’s own conscience; the second refers to offending another person’s conscience. If the believer is “abounding all the more in love,” then they will realize when a particular behavior violates their own conscience or causes another person to be offended and sin themselves. This is an incredibly fine line to walk, since it requires one to think about their behavior as well as how that behavior affects other people.
The believer will have “fruit” on that Day. “Fruit” is a regular metaphor for the Christian life. In Gal 5:22-23 Paul describes the goal of the Christian life as bearing the “fruit of the Spirit” as opposed to the deeds of the flesh. As “in Christ people” we bear naturally fruit. The quality of the fruit is the subject of the judgment, not the presence of the fruit.
The source of the believer’s “fruit of righteousness” is Jesus Christ. It is not the fruit which they have produced themselves, but rather the fruit Jesus has borne in them. This is a simple observation, but it is not often made. Christians have always had a sense that they ought to be working very hard to do good deeds in order please God lest they be punished like a bad child. While I am always in favor of people being nice to one another and behaving ethically, the “fruit of righteousness” Paul describes here is the natural result of Christ working through the believer. It is not what we produce through our effort or skill, but what Christ produces through us.
Paul concludes this opening prayer by giving God all the glory and praise. His goal is not to increase his own power or reputation, but to fully glorify God.
How then can Christians be blameless in contemporary culture?