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Philippians 1:1-11: A Joyful Prayer Print E-mail
Philippians
Sunday, 01 June 2008

I want to begin our study through the book of Philippians with a personal confession (and explanation) for why we are studying this book.  I had actually planned on preaching the book of James after I finished Joshua and the most recent Psalms that we finished last week.  I had even purchased a commentary on James at the last pastorís conference that I attended (Together for the Gospel).  Yet, later in the conference, the Lord changed my plans.  The last sermon preached was an exposition of Philippians 1:3-8 by C. J. Mahaney.  He talked about Paulís joy in the ministry and encouraged us as pastors to have such joy.  He stated, ďIt is not sufficient to serve faithfully without joy.Ē  He went on to describe how Paul could sustain joy in his difficult ministry and how we could to.  I concluded my notes from that sermon with this sentence: ďI need to repent for not being a joyful pastor.Ē  Now, if you know me, then you know I like to laugh with the best of them.  I sometimes even start my sermons with goofy monopoly money illustrations (although it is rare).  So I do not simply mean that I want to laugh more or tell more jokes in the pulpit.  No, my conviction stems from having a joy like Paulís, which seemingly had very little to do with jokes.  His joy was a weighty joy.  Not weighty in that it was a burden, but weighty in that it would not flitter away at the next fierce wind of persecution and suffering.  This is the joy that I want to have and the joy that I want to model and the joy that I want to run through the people of Trinity Baptist Church.  I repent, before God and before you, for not always having such a joy.  I would venture to guess that we all struggle with such weighty joy.  Thus, letís come to the book of Philippians together asking the Lord to give us joy like Paul.

Paulís letter to the Church at Philippi is shocking to me when I consider the situation.  Paul had started the Church about 10 years earlier and had visited them a couple of times since then.  We know from the letter itself that they had recently sent Epaphroditus to visit Paul and to deliver their gift to him, who was now in prison in Rome.  Seemingly, while he visited, Epaphroditus had informed Paul about the situation in Philippi.  They were being persecuted for the gospel in their city.  They were struggling to maintain unity in the Church, even among the leadership.  Others (possibly traveling Judaizers) had come in and caused trouble in the Church. 

Thus, hereís the situation: Paul is in prison and will soon face a trial that could cost him his life, while the Philippians are battling persecution from without and disunity from within.  All of this makes the actual letter shocking because it speaks so much about joy.  Who writes from prison to a struggling Church about joy?  The only answer we can give is someone whose joy is not based upon circumstances.  Rather, his joy is squarely found in the relationship that he and his readers have with God through the gospel of Christ.  It is not circumstantial, it is relational.  It has nothing to do with what is going on in his or their lives, it has everything to do with what God has done, is doing, and will do, through Christ.  This seems to be the key to joy for Paul.  Each week I want us to consider how this plays out in the passage before us.  This morning we will look at how Paul begins the letter, namely his joyful prayer.  After a brief greeting, which includes a mentioning of seemingly the two offices in Philippi (overseers and deacons), he turns his attention to his prayer.  Letís ask and answer a few questions about this prayer.

First, what did Paul pray for?

I want to break the content of Paulís prayer into two major categories: thanksgiving and petition.  Paul begins by offering thanks to God for the Philippiansí fellowship, or partnership, in the gospel.  Look at verses 3-6.  Paul prays a prayer of thanksgiving for the believers at Philippi.  He lets them know that he is thankful for their partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  In other words, since he came to them declaring the good news of Christ, they have repented of their sins and followed after Jesus.  They have joined with him in sharing the gospel in Philippi.  They have joined with him in supporting other Churches and ministries.  Even recently they have joined with him by supporting him in prison.  So if Paul is thankful to them for their partnership with him in the gospel, then why does he thank God?  Because Paul knows Who began the good work in them and he knows Who sustains it.  He knows that He will bring it to completion on the day of Christ.  Thus, He thanks God for their partnership with him in the gospel. 

After stating his care and concern for them in verses 7-8, which we will look at in a moment, Paul tells them of his petition on their behalf.  Look at verses 9-11.  Paul prays that they will persevere in the gospel by growing in their love and knowledge and holiness, bearing much fruit through Christ.  He does not want them to be stagnant.  He wants their love for God and man to continue to grow and overflow.  He wants their knowledge and discernment, which serves to guide their love for God and others, to grow.  He wants them to be able to distinguish between what does and what does not matter.  He does not want them to waste their life (on things like material wealth which we looked at last week in Psalm 49).  He wants them to grow in holiness so that they will be pure and blameless on the day of Christ.  Someone might object at this point: ĎBut Paul, you have already stated that you are certain that God will finish His work (v. 6), so why the petition?í  Here we see the rub between Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility.  As Paul will say later, man must work out his own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in him (see Philippians 2:12-13).  Paul intercedes on their behalf that the Lord would persevere them in the faith, that they would continue to follow after Christ and be conformed into His image. 

Second, how did Paul pray?

In one sense we could say that Paul prayed thankfully, which we have already considered.  In another, we could say that he prayed joyfully, which we will consider in a moment.  But what else characterized Paulís joyful prayer? 

First, Paul prayed with great affection because he loved the people.  Look at verses 7-8.  This is a true pastorís heart.  Again, they were willing to join with him in the proclamation of the gospel.  And do not miss the fact that such a fellowship is a fellowship of suffering.  They were willing to suffer with Paul for the proclamation of the gospel.  Unfortunately we have reduced fellowship to food after the service, but for Paul and these believers it was more.  Thus, Paul loved them greatly.  When we suffer together for the cause of Christ, the Lord often uses that to increase our love for one another.  Conflict should not cause the Church to be more divided, but more committed to the cause of Christ and the centrality of the gospel.  Paul had great affection for these believers because they were willing to suffer for the gospel.

Second, Paul prayed with great hope because he was sure of Godís faithfulness.  Look again at verse 6.  We have already mentioned this, but you cannot help but be encouraged by Paulís great trust in the sovereignty of God.  He knew that God would finish what He had started among the Philippians.  Thus, not only did he pray with great love, but he could pray with great hope because of his firm belief in Godís commitment to finish His work among them.

Third, why did Paul pray?

It seems that Paul had two main motivations for his prayers for the Philippians.  First, he prayed for their good.  He cared deeply for them.  He did not want them to waste their lives on meaningless things.  He wanted them to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.  He did not just pray for health and wealth or ease and comfort.  No, he prayed for what is best, namely that they would continue to persevere in the faith and be conformed into the image of Christ.  He prayed for their ultimate good.

Second, he prayed for Godís glory.  Look again at verse 11.  Paul closes his petition by stating that the ultimate goal of their perseverance in the faith and maturity in Christ is the glory and praise of God.  God is glorified in us as we are conformed into the image of His Son.  Thus explains His commitment to the Churchís sanctification and perseverance.  His glory is at stake.  Yet, do not miss the wonderful news that His commitment to His own glory is a commitment to our good.  Let me say it this way: have you ever wondered why God does not take away all the suffering and difficulty in your life?  I think at least one answer is because He knows that we cannot become like Christ without it.  What we often see as punishment is actually privilege.  God is making us more like Christ for His great glory and our great good.  Thus, Paul prays for the glory of God in his joyful prayer for the Philippians.

These last thoughts about God using suffering to conform us into the image of Christ lead me to my last question for Paulís prayer: how can Paul be joyful in his prayer?  We know the situation.  We know that he is in jail and that they are facing difficulties from within and without.  So, how can he make my prayer with joy (v. 4)?  As we stated at the beginning and as we will note over and over again in this series, Paul prayed with joy because of their relationship (and his own relationship) with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He is a servant of Christ Jesus and they are saints in Christ Jesus (v. 1).  Because of the sovereign plan of the Father, the work of Christ at Calvary, and the continuing ministry of the Spirit, they together have hope for the day of Christ Jesus (v. 6 and 10).  He loves them with the affection of Christ Jesus (v. 8) and longs for them to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.  Paulís joy flows from the person and work of Christ.  His joyful prayer centers around the glorious good news of Christ crucified for sinners.

Let me close then with two points of application.  First, pray joyful prayers for each other.  Look around and be thankful for what God is doing through the gospel among us.  Not that things are going good or bad or whatever, but that He is faithfully conforming us into the image of Christ.  Specifically, look for fruit in the lives of each other and thank the Lord for it and pray for more of it.  A prayer of joy is a prayer that keeps the gospel central.  So, pray joyfully for each other.  Second, find your joy in the gospel of Christ.  Our relationship with God through Christ supersedes everything else.  There is no tragedy, no suffering, no circumstance that can silence that joy.  I am not saying that we stand around and laugh at our difficulties, pretending that they are no big deal.  No, I am saying that we suffer in hope, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.   When He is our joy, then our joy is sure and certain.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 June 2008 )

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