Praying Like An Apostle
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6 NASB)
In this passage, Paul encourages the Philippian church by revealing to them the content of his prayers. Paul is constantly thanking God for the Philippian church with joy and confidence in God’s Grace. Paul, in revealing the content of his prayers to the Philippians, wasn’t boasting, as we might think, but, as he writes in chapter 3, verse 17 of the same letter: Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us (NASB). So he’s giving them an example to follow. And we, too, should thank God constantly for our church with joy and confidence in His Grace.
Three Aspects of Paul’s Prayers for the Church:
I. The content of Paul’s prayers: Paul’s prayers had content– there were specific things that he wanted to say to God when He came before His throne in prayer. He hadn’t reached some super-spiritual state where he had a prayer language that not even he could understand; he didn’t have rigidly formal prayers, saying the same religious words over and over again to God; rather, Paul understood his prayers as communication with Almighty God.
A. Paul prayed in joyful thanksgiving. Paul’s prayers were not self-centered. Paul didn’t only come to God with his needs and wants. And if we are only motivated to prayer out of wanting God to give us things we desire, then how can we truly be called God’s friends? As Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost for His Highest, “What is the sign of a friend? Is it that he tells you his secret sorrows? No, it is that he tells you his secret joys. Many people will confide their secret sorrows to you, but the final mark of intimacy is when they share their secret joys with you” (June 3). It’s hard to think of sharing our secret joys with others in this cynical culture. Especially for men. It is often difficult for men in the Church to become accustomed to displaying brotherly affection for one another because we become anxious about appearing effeminate. But, in order to follow the Apostle’s example, we need to learn to encourage each other through sharing our joy, and, even more, we need to learn to speak of our joy to God in prayer. We need to learn to articulate our joys to Him and to offer thanksgiving to Him as the Giver of all good things (see James 1:17).
B. Paul prayed concerning the most important issue in the lives of those in the Church– their relationship to God through the Gospel. Paul focused on Gospel issues in His prayers. Looking through the rest of the letter to the Philippians, we see that those in the Philippian church were participating in the Gospel in 3 specific ways:
2. Joyful suffering for the Gospel
3. Providing for the material needs of Gospel ministers
So, in our prayers, we need to see how our congregation is related to the Gospel. Are we involved in the 3 areas listed above? If we are, then we need to give thanks to God, because He is using our congregation for His purposes. If we’re not participating in the Gospel in the 3 ways listed above, then we need to pray for God’s forgiveness and His Grace as we make the changes that are necessary.
II. The constancy of Paul’s prayers: Paul consistently turned his memories of the Philippian church into occasions for prayer. How many times do thoughts of our church congregation or of other Christians float through our heads to no benefit or purpose? What if we took all those thoughts and turned them to prayer? This is the example Paul seems to set in Philippians 1:3-6. We also see that Paul consistently focused on the joy the Philippian church brought him. Now, everything was not perfect in the Philippian church. As we read later, Paul wrote: I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord (Philippians 4:2 NASB). So we know of at least 2 individuals in particular who were struggling to live in harmony. But the problem attitudes of those in the Church wasn’t Paul’s focus when he prayed– his focus was on the joy that they brought him. In the same way, we don’t need to turn a blind eye to the problems in our congregation, but we have to focus on the joy that those in the Church bring to us and make that our focus, glorifying God through our thankfulness.
III. The confidence of Paul’s prayers: The word “confidence” quoted in the passage above is translated from the Greek word peitho, which literally means “persuaded to trust.” Paul had great reason to be persuaded to trust concerning God’s faithfulness to complete His work in the Philippian church. Paul had seen how God had founded His church in Philippi, he had seen God open the hearts of His chosen people in Philippi (see Acts 16:14-15), he had seen how God used extraordinary means– even supernatural means– like an earthquake to bring people to His Church there (see Acts 16:25-34). So Paul’s confidence in prayer was not dependent upon his ability as a missionary preacher, and it was not dependent on the Philippians’ faithfulness to his ministry, rather, his confidence was based on God’s work and on God’s purposes. And we can have this same confidence as we offer up joyful thanksgiving to God for our church, as we focus on the Gospel ministry of our congregation in our prayers, as we constantly submit our thoughts of our congregation to God as occasions for prayer– focusing on the joy our church brings– we can be confident that God’s work and God’s purposes will not be frustrated. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my Church.”
[For more thorough teaching on Philippians 1:3-6, you will be blessed to hear Dave Stephenson's sermon, Thankful for Others, on the Grace Bible Church website- I urge everyone reading this to listen to this sermon soon, as it will only be online for about a month.]