Philippians 1v1-11: How to Pray with Joy - 22nd Sept 2013 - Dave Walker

Bible Reading: Philippians 1:1-11


Click here to listen to the sermon

If you’ve got just a few words to say to someone you really love, what do you say? You’ve not got long; you don’t know when you’ll get another chance. You’ve got to make it stick. What do you say? Most of us have been in a situation like that to some extent. Dropping your kids off or being dropped off by your parents at the school gate or the university or at a job interview or that important meeting with someone. In those situations parents normally say something. “Don’t forget to smile” “remember to phone me” “you’ve got a bit of spinach in your teeth” “remember your manners” “take care” “I love you”. A few words to someone you love. Important words. Make them stick.

The last couple of weeks we heard about how the church in Philippi, the first church in Europe, was founded. It was a real roller coaster ride. There were arguments, there was prejudice, plans that failed, haphazard meetings, demonic activity, injustice, police beatings, wrongful imprisonment. Difficulty and tension everywhere. Yet through all of it God planned and planted a church. A little, mixed bunch of different people thrown together in unusual circumstances. In the middle of a big bad world.

And then, a bit like the parent dropping off their child on the first day at school, Paul and Timothy, the ones who were there as the church was given birth, were wrenched away. Kicked out of the city. They had to leave them to it, these little Christians. In the big bad world. And after that happened, the world got bigger and badder. Hostility towards Christians grew. Paul himself was put in prison again, and this time there was no miraculous escape. To make things worse, false teachers started doing the rounds, and so there was a real danger of this little church being thrown off track, being tripped up. Paul is desperate for them to keep growing as Christians. That’s his burning ambition – he wants them not to give up, not to get thrown off course. He wants them to grow as followers of Jesus. He really wants to help them in that, but he can’t go and see them. So what does he do? He writes.

That’s why the New Testament letters get written – because Paul or whoever it is really wants a church to grow as followers of Jesus, but he can’t get there to help them. Praise God that Paul could only be in one place at once. Because now he can help us too. Because he wrote it down. So then, little church; big bad world. A few words. What do you say to them? What does Paul say?

Well what’s really noticeable is that he pours out his heart to them. This isn’t a quick postcard or an email, written to pass on a few facts. This is a love letter. Look at verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart.” Verse 8: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” That’s real feeling, isn’t it? It’s like that when you see someone coming to faith as a Christian and you help them in those early stages. There’s a bond that gets formed, that goes really deep. For Paul it’s like that for all these Christians, the ones he led to Christ and the ones he didn’t. He loves them.

So he pours out his heart. Not just because he’s all emotional and gushy, no he does it very much on purpose. He pours out his heart because he has this ambition for them, because he wants them to grow as Christians. Growing as a Christian is about inside as well as outside. You can’t grow a Christian by just telling someone what to do.

Look at chapter 4 verse 9: “whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.” Paul wants them to see what’s inside of him. He wants them to see Jesus in him. He wants them to see how Jesus has rewired him, so that the same thing can happen to them. That’s one of the great things about this letter from our point of view. This little letter is one of the great places in the Bible for seeing what being a Christian is all about on the inside. We know that Christians act differently to the world around us. Christians should be people who are different on the outside – people should look at the way we live and say “there’s something different about them.” But the reason we should look different is because we are different. Something has happened inside us; Jesus has filled us. God’s Spirit has rewired our circuitry. We’re changed, inside and out. Changed by what God has done.

So as we study Philippians, prepare to have your heart cut open. If our studies in Philippians go well, that’s what will happen; we’ll undergo some serious heart and mind surgery. Our thoughts and attitudes and emotions will be examined under the bright lights of God’s word. God’s Spirit will rewire our circuitry. Jesus will fill us more and more, inside and out. That was Paul’s ambition for these Christians in Philippi as he wrote them this letter. That’s my ambition for this series of Sunday mornings. Is it your ambition? Do you want God to change you inside and out? Are you ready for that? I was having a great chat with one of our wiser members a little while back about what was needed for us to grow at Christ Church. His comment was that the thing we needed most was ‘fire in the belly’. I think he’s right. If we’re going to grow as individuals and as a church, the thing we need more than anything else is fire in the belly. Inside change. We need to be filled with Jesus. That’s my ambition. Is it yours?

If you want to know what’s really in somebody’s heart, a good place to start is to see what they pray. Our prayers give us away. I bet that if you wrote down everything you ever prayed – all the little requests, day on day, I bet that you’d build up a good picture of the stuff that really matters to you. The people and things that are important. The things that worry you. What sort of emotional state you’re in. Our prayers put all of that into words.

Paul opens up his prayer life to us. He tells us what he’s praying for. If I was wrongfully imprisoned like Paul, I can guess what I’d be praying for. I’d be praying for release and for help, wouldn’t you? Paul’s prayer is for something different. This is the prayer of someone who is filled with Jesus. Opened up for us to see. What can we learn from it?

1. Pray with joy (v3-6)

When Paul opens up his heart, joy comes flooding out. Look at those wonderful verses, verse 3: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” Isn’t that wonderful? For so many of us prayer is a chore, a difficult, painful experience. But here’s Paul praying with joy. He enjoys it. Whenever he prays for these Christians, he’s filled with joy. Isn’t that brilliant?

Why? What makes him so joyful? Read on: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”. The reason he’s bursting with joy is because of their partnership in the gospel. That’s what thrills him. Well what does that mean?

Partnership is what holds you together. If two people go into business partnership together then the business is what joins them together, and it’s what they do together. It’s their reason for being. Paul is saying that it’s like that with Christians. We are held together by the gospel. The gospel is the good news of Jesus, isn’t it? The gospel is the message that God has sent his Son Jesus so that we can be reconciled to God. And if we’re reconciled to God then we’re reconciled to each other. The thing that joins us together, the thing that we have in common is the gospel message of Jesus. God has made us one in Christ.

But the gospel is not just what we have in common; it’s what we do together. Paul is saying to these Christians “I’m completely delighted because right from the start we’ve been together on the same project. We’re members of the same team, working for the same goal. We’re in this together.” If we’re partners in the gospel then it means we share together in this world-changing mission of bringing the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

People who’ve been in the army often talk about the comradeship of it. The fact that you’re fighting together in the same regiment, with the same aims, you just develop a bond that goes than deeper than normally with colleagues. You depend on each other; you cover each other’s backs. You’re in it together.

We Christians are a band of brothers, and sisters, fighting together for the same cause. Struggling together in this same mission. We’re in this together. So when we meet like this it’s not just hanging out, spending a bit of leisure time, it’s time spent in the barracks. It’s getting ready time, it’s supporting each other time; it’s spurring each other on time. And then when we’re out there, in the mission field, we’ll cover each other’s backs, we’ll call each other. We’ll ask each other ‘how’s it going? how did it go?’ We’ll pray for each other. That’s partnership in the gospel.

Is that how it feels for you? Do you feel like your life has that sort of purpose? Have a look around you now, what do you see? There are people, aren’t there? What do you feel about those people? Are you thankful for them? Or are you just thankful for a few of them? – “I quite like him and her, I’m not so sure about them…” Do you see them as partners in the gospel? Sharers in the same mission? That’d be something good to pray about, wouldn’t it? Homework part one: “Lord, help me to see my brothers and sisters in Christ as partners in the gospel.”

So Paul is joyful because he’s praying for his partners in the gospel. And when Paul prays like this, the other reason he’s joyful is because he knows that he depends on God and not on them or on himself. Look at verse 4:”I pray with joy… 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.”

He can pray about them with such joy because he knows that at the end of the day it all depends on God, not on them. Remember last week how we saw this church being planted in such a way that made it absolutely clear that it was God’s work? Do you remember that? And we saw that whenever someone becomes a follower of Jesus it’s God’s work. Do you remember that? Well that’s why Paul is confident and joyful. That’s why you and I can be confident and joyful when we pray for each other. Because if we’re followers of Jesus, then everything that has happened so far in our Christian lives is God’s work. And he’s started, so he’ll finish. When God begins something, he sees it through. That’s why Paul is confident.

I think that Christians are sometimes robbed of their joy by something which I call “you’re only as good as your last match” syndrome. There’s a saying in sport: “you’re only as good as your last match.” It’s a way of ignoring the glories of the past. It means “it doesn’t matter how well you’ve done before, what a great record you’ve got or anything like that; if you mess it up tomorrow it’s all over.” It’s a way of making champions feel nervous. You’re only as good as your last match.

I think some Christians do that with prayer. “Lord I know you’ve done some great things in the past, and I know you’ve answered prayers but this one’s different…” Worry, worry, worry. “Lord, thanks for answering that prayer, but now there’s this other thing, and it’s even worse…” Worry, worry, worry. We can never joyfully give thanks because we’re always worried about what’s coming next. You’re only as good as your last match.

How different Paul is, eh? He knows his God. He knows that God is faithful. He doesn’t know what lies ahead, of course he doesn’t, but he knows that God is in control, so he’s confident, and he’s joyful. And he knows where it’s all going in the end: God will “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ” he says. Paul doesn’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but he knows where it’s going to end up. God will finish his work ‘on the day of Christ Jesus.’ On the day that Jesus returns. Then it will be complete. Life is not a soap opera, where there’s another episode every day and there’s never an end in sight. Life has a goal. It has an end point. And the end point gives everything a focus.

So, pray with joy. Because of partnership in the gospel, because God is in control, and because you know where it’s all going to end up. Pray with joy. Other thing:

2. Pray for love (v9-11)

He’s told them how he feels when he prays, now he tells them what he’s actually asking God for. Verse 9: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Why love? Do you see that? “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” He wants them to grow as Christians, doesn’t he? Verses 10 and 11 show us the outcomes he has in mind - he wants them to be wise and righteous. Those are the outcomes, but the thing he asks for is love. So why love? Why pray for love?

Because Christian growth is about heart change. It’s about becoming more like Jesus, who shows us what real love is. It’s not just about how much you know or how you behave. There’s a common misconception here. If someone wants to grow as a Christian very often they do one of two things, either they do a course, you know they study some theology, or else take up a new good habit, they try a new discipline; they fast or something like that. Now there’s nothing wrong in study and there’s nothing wrong in fasting. But it all needs to be wrapped up in that bigger category, love. If love is not what fires those things, it’s just outside; it’s just surface. Growing theological knowledge without deepening love is just dry, boring, self-important cleverness. If you ever study some theology, and I hope you do (by ‘theology’ I include Bible study, by the way), remember this – you’re not just learning some things, you’re getting to know a person. When I was studying at bible college I read an article called “A little exercise” by Helmut Thielicke. It revolutionised the way I thought about theological study. It made this simple point – when you’re studying, you’re not learning things about God, you’re getting to know God. You can’t study God like you study a thing, where you pick it up and look at it and put it down. Getting to know God is getting to know a person. It’s all about love. That’s true with spiritual disciplines and other good habits. Good disciplines without deepening love are just moralistic do-gooding. It’s got to come out of love for God, or else it’s just outside, and you’re not growing.

And it’s not just a gushing warm feeling. Not just the happy drunk – “I love you.” The feeling in the heat of the moment that’s long gone by the next morning. Christian love is about self-giving, it’s modelled on Jesus. This sort of love is tied up with knowing God, so it’s going to go hand in hand with growing understanding of God. It’s going to create that desire to know Him more, and to know each other more. It’s like that when you love someone – you want to know them. And this sort of love will be passionate about doing the right thing; it’s going to result in good deeds because we long to please our God, we long to be good to the people around us. Love does things.

But how do you grow in that sort of love? It’s something only God can do; so we need to pray, don’t we? This sort of self-giving, pure, truth-knowing love doesn’t come from in here. It comes from up there. It comes from Jesus himself. It’s the love which he displayed and which he alone can give. We’ve got to pray. Like Paul does. “I pray that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…”

When was the last time you prayed like this? When did you last pray for Christians to grow in love? I think we’re quite good at praying for some things. But prayer can easily become smaller than it should be. The well-known speaker Michael Baughen said “if you get a bunch of Christians sitting together, sooner or later they’ll start praying about bunions.” I think he’s got a point. There are some things we pray for naturally, and others that don’t come so naturally. We’ll pray for people to be healed. We might even pray for people to become Christians. And that’s good. But rarely do I hear prayers like this. Prayers for Christians to grow in love and wisdom and righteousness and persevere and to be filled with Jesus. Paul opens his heart and shows us his prayers on purpose. So that we might pray with him.

So why not, this week, make this your prayer? Look around you again. Make a mental note – maybe even write it down – think of someone who you will pray for this week. If you’ve got a church prayer diary you could use that. And go and open the Bible at Philippians 1 and use this prayer to help you pray for that person, or those people. Fire in the belly doesn’t come from just preaching, or just singing together, or just doing anything else. It comes from God’s Spirit filling people with Jesus. And he uses prayer. If we became a congregation committed to praying this sort of prayers for each other, who knows what God might do with that? Who knows.