Part 1: The Joy of Praying for the People You Love
Pastor Terry Inman
“The joy of praying for the people you love”
This brief personal and informal letter is known as one of Paul's "prison epistles" or manuscripts that include Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians.
It is obviously written to friends. It is not as corrective as others like the letters to the Corinthians. Paul is very affirming but also expresses some concern about false teaching subtly infiltrating the church.
Prison doesn’t make Paul a victim. No matter what his circumstances he finds plenty of reason to be full of joy. Joy is mentioned over sixteen times. His peace and hope were not based his on circumstances.
In fact in his opening paragraph he says, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Phil. 1.12 (NIV)
There is also included in this letter one of the earliest examples of a Christian creed or doctrinal statement concerning Christ. This could have been recited as a liturgy or sung as a teaching hymn.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2.6-11 (NIV)
Paul insists it’s not enough to believe the right things about Jesus. We much also practice our faith! Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Phil 2.5 (NIV) In just 104 verses Jesus’ name or title occurs 51 times. It is obvious who is central in Paul's heart, mind, and theology.
Too many popular messages today are hip motivational talks about how to be successful at everything from child rearing to car buying but little is said about Jesus Christ and his purposes for our lives.
Paul’s preaching was Christ centered. “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1Cor. 1.23-24 (NIV)
Paul didn’t appear very successful by this world’s standards, but he was full of joy. In the next few weeks we will learn more about that joy.
Real love for God brings out our best, not the least!
Paul’s first encounter in Philippi came as a total shift in the direction of his mission and ultimately the flow of Christianity. On his second mission he planned to enter north central Asia (modern Turkey). Instead, in a vision, a man of Macedonia (Greece) called to him to come and help them.
Acts 16 says, the Holy Spirit “kept him” from preaching the word in Asia. He apparently tried to cross the boarder in Bithynia but Luke says, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow him to”. We don’t have detail about the circumstances. Some speculate that it was illness or resistance. We don’t know but Paul interprets circumstances as the lead of the Spirit! The vision finally confirmed Paul’s journey to Europe.
Timothy a young co-worker and apprentice is now his traveling compassion. Paul includes him in the address. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Phil. 1.1-2 (NIV)
Paul hoped to be eventually released from his Roman custody and visit this church he loved. But in the mean time his letter serves a purpose.
First he wanted to communicate his appreciation for their help. They sent Epaphroditus with generous offerings for his support. He didn’t want them to be disheartened about his circumstances. He wanted them to get a progress report even from prison. Paul was bound, but the gospel was unbound!
I mentioned earlier he wanted to warn them about false teaching and keep them true to the faith. By example he encouraged the Philippian believers to experience joy even amid internal and external persecution.
This joy during difficulties was not a Stoic resignation, but a Christian worldview and a constant challenge. Paul drew metaphors from several areas of life to communicate the tension of the Christian life.
Paul compared faith to completive athletics, like running. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3.14 (NIV) He used military terms like defending and advancing the gospel. Several time his talks about “laboring together”.
He even compares this life-style to a business venture. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Phil. 3.7 (NIV) He also affirms them for their sacrificial support and assures them of a generous return. “Not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” Phil. 4.16-17 (NIV)
It is really difficult to outline Philippians because it is so personal and informal. Paul was talking to friends and trusted co-workers in Christ. His heart overflowed before his mind could organize his random thoughts.
In wonderfully transparent ways this book reveals the heart of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul felt "joy" in Christ, in any and all circumstances, especially in service to the gospel of Jesus Christ!
So let’s get to today’s theme. “The joy of praying for the people you love” Paul often begins several of his letters with prayer. That would be a great way to start our e-mails praying for the people we love!
His greeting begins with the traditional Hebrew and Greek blessing. Grace (charis; favor) and peace (eirene: wellbeing) to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Phil. 1.2 (NIV)
This not a casual—I hope this letter finds you doing well. Paul is imparting the spiritual blessings of the Father and the Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
He very comfortably flows right into a prayer of appreciation.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now… (Phil. 1.5 NIV)
Paul had great memories of his time with this emerging European Church. He was breaking new ground. He was grateful for these heartfelt and lasting relationships. Can you think of someone you could say, “I thank God for you every time I think about you”! This would help relationships!
Joy permeated Paul’s prayers even while he prayed for their needs. He considered them his partners then and now that he was imprisoned. He uses the Greek term koinonia for “partnership”. It’s a term that suggests participation and involvement with Jesus Christ and his community.
This sharing was obvious in the financial support they continue to give but it was much more that. In (Acts 16) a successful businesswoman named Lydia shared hospitality and became a leader. The Philippian jailer and his family also hosted Paul after he miraculously escaped prision. Later he had received gifts sent him at Thessalonica and at Corinth as well as the more recent one brought by Epaphroditus.
Even though it had been at least ten years sense his last visit, this “partnership” assured Paul that God was at work in this community of believers.
He continues his thanksgiving with this expression of confidence.
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil.1.6 NIV)
I love this promise, what God starts he finishes. All we have to do is participate with Christ and encourage and support each other. It is God who provided our regeneration or salvation and it is God who provides our for our transformation. Put a sign around your neck. God at work!
As he often does, Paul interrupts his prayer to express deep affection. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil.1.7-8 NIV)
The expression “I have you in my heart” is more than feelings; this was a typical Greek idiom for sharing in mind and will from ones innermost being.
Paul’s imprisonment would lead to “defending and confirming” the gospel. These are legal terms he is using. He views them as partners or his witnesses to transformative effects of the gospel of Christ. He views them as co-defendants as if they were actually imprisoned with him.
You may have heard this question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you”?
Now he gets back to his praying for the people he loves. After saying God is my witness, “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” He prays for a deepening of their love for God…
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…(Phil. 1.9 NIV)
Paul prays that they will love much and love well. Love is more than sentiment. It requires our head and our heart. Feelings are great but God’s love moves beyond human emotion and perception and into spiritual insight and discernment.
Paul continues… “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…” (Phil. 1.10)
Genuine love for God and people will guide how you think and how you live. We are not just here to perform minimum standards. God’s love should bring the best and highest good out of us. It is God’s love that keeps us pure and blameless until the day he comes for us.
If we believe in Jesus Christ just to get to heaven than we will always try to perform what we perceive to be the mere minimums. Try to be nice, go to church once in a while, be charitable but live your own life. Real love for God brings out our best, not the least! What he starts he finishes!
Paul ends this prayer with a brief description of what this deepened love looks like. “…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.’ (Phil. 1.11)
What God begins He will finish. We will reproduce the fruit of the Spirit, the character of Jesus Christ. “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5.22-23 NIV)
Paul was so grateful for these friends that shared and showed evidence of God’s transforming love. He prayed that it would deepen until the day Christ returns.
From prison he could feel their support and rejoice in their growth. He prayed for the people he loved. He could write a book of Joy!
What brings you joy? Is it experiencing and sharing the love of God or are you striving for some illusive human happiness. Can you joyfully endure hardship knowing that God is at work on your behalf no matter what live throws at you?