How to Know What Really Matters

By Mark D. Roberts

June 16, 2024

Life in Christ: Devotions Inspired by Philippians

Scripture — Philippians 1:9-11 (NRSV)

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.


How are we going to know what really matters in life? In his letter to the Christians in Philippi the Apostle Paul answers this question surprisingly. He prays that the Philippians would overflow with love and knowledge so that they might know what really matters.


Do you ever struggle with knowing what really matters? Perhaps you’re dealing with a particularly complicated situation at work. You want to choose what’s best, but you aren’t quite sure which factors should get the most weight.

Or maybe you’re thinking about making a transition in your professional life. You know what you’re good at. You know what you enjoy. And you also know you need to make enough money to support your life and perhaps that of your family. You wonder what matters more, personal fulfillment or fiscal responsibility?

People who have recently retired often struggle with the “What really matters?” question. They have newfound freedom yet aren’t sure what to do with it. After a season of delighting in being “off the clock,” they begin to feel bored, purposeless, and sometimes even depressed. They find themselves asking, “What really matters in my life now that I’m retired?”

I expect there are various ways to decide what matters in life. One of these ways appears in the introduction to the New Testament letter of Paul to the Philippians. He shares with the letter recipients how he prays for them: “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best” (1:9-10). Other recent translations, in place of “what is best,” prefer “what really matters” (CEB, NLT). Paul wants the Christians in Philippi to be able to know what matters most in life. How will they be able to do this? By having their love “overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.” Isn’t that striking? Perhaps even surprising? I might have expected Paul to encourage things like reflection on Scripture, extended times of prayer, and lots of communal discussion. But, in this particular instance, Paul’s prayer reveals that we can know what matters most through an abundance of love and knowledge.

In verses 9-10, however, he does not explain the exact nature of this love or the content of this knowledge. Yet if we look ahead to Philippians 2, there we see Paul emphasizing the love that the letter recipients have for each other (2:1-2). He illustrates this love by highlighting the sacrifice of Christ, who humbled himself even to the point of dying on the cross (2:6-8). So, though love and knowledge in 1:9 could certainly entail many things, it seems clear that Paul surely wants to include love for other people and knowledge of Christ’s sacrificial death.

Now, you may be wondering how such love and knowledge will help you know what really matters in life when it comes to things like work and retirement. To be sure, there isn’t some foolproof formula, some simple process to figure out what’s best. But Paul’s prayer does underscore the importance of love when we’re trying to determine what matters most. When facing a difficult decision, we would be well served to ask ourselves, “What is the most loving action in this instance?”

Remember, the love envisioned in Paul’s prayer isn’t the soupy, romantic kind. Nor is it unrestrained niceness. Rather, the love that leads to knowing what matters most is inspired by and reflects the cruciform love of Christ. It is love permeated by the truth of the gospel, the gospel that is centered in the cross.

I realize that what I’m describing here may not seem particularly practical. It may not, for example, help you decide what color to paint your kitchen. (Though, if you’re married, the priority of love just might lead you to go with the color your spouse prefers, rather than lobbying for your personal preference. See Philippians 2:3-4.) But sometimes the guidance of Philippians 1:9-10 has unexpected relevance. If you’re considering a work-life transition, for example, you might want to reflect deeply on how your options would help you to love (or not).

Remember that Paul is writing, not to disconnected individuals, but to a Christian community. They are to figure out what matters most not all by themselves, but in relationship with their sisters and brothers in Christ. Communal discernment must be an expression of Christ-like love. I’m reminded of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4, where the growth of the church comes as members speak the truth in love and therefore build up the church in love (Eph 4:15-16). Once again, we see that love will be effective when it is joined with knowledge of the truth, most of all the truth of God’s love in Christ.


Can you think of a time when you wrestled with trying to figure out what mattered most? What was the situation? What did you decide and why?

In what area of life are you currently wrestling with the question of what really matters?

Are there people in your life whom you trust to love you by helping you determine what is best?


If you’re struggling with a difficult decision, wondering what really matters most, reach out to a trusted sister or brother in Christ.


Gracious God, thank you for Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1. This prayer reminds us of just how important love and knowledge are if we’re going to know what matters most in life.

Help me, I pray, to overflow in love for you and others. Show me, I pray, what it means to love in difficult situations. May I remember Jesus and his sacrifice. May I humble myself in imitation of him.

O Lord, by your grace, may I live for what matters most. To you be all the glory. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Gospel Sharers.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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