Living a Life of Joy 2) Praying with Joy

Praying with Joy

Text: Philippians 1:3-11

 

Last week we started a new series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians called Living a Life of Joy. Last week we looked at the secret to living a life of joy, and the secret is Jesus Christ. If you weren’t here last week we looked at how the secret to living a life of joy is found in giving your life in service to Jesus, remembering that in Christ we are saints, and that through our Lord Jesus Christ we can experience grace and peace. Last week wasn’t just the introduction to this new series it was also the introduction of Paul’s letter. But today we’re getting into the letter itself, and the first thing Paul does is pray. And he doesn’t just pray, according to verse 4 he prays with joy. In fact Paul says, ‘4 …I always pray with joy. (Phil 1:4b)’ This morning we’re going to look at this idea of praying with joy. And I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about learning to pray with joy because sometimes prayer can be defined by words like duty, or boring, or frustrating. But Paul prays with joy. This morning we’re going to look at why Paul prays with joy, and what his prayer looks like.

 

1) Reasons for Praying with Joy

So let’s start with Paul’s reasons for praying with joy. Paul gives us four reasons.

a) Paul Remembers People

The first is that Paul isn’t praying for stuff, rather he is praying for people. Paul starts by saying, ‘3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. (Phil 1:3-4)’ Paul uses a really simple structure to say two things in those two verses. Let me stick it up on the screen like this so you can see it more clearly. Notice the centre of Paul’s prayer – it’s all about them. Paul remembers them and so Paul prays for them. Paul is always praying for them, not just sometimes. And Paul prays for all of them, not just some of them. Paul is praying for everyone in the church in Philippi. And then notice the two phrases that stand like bookends surrounding them. Firstly, Paul’s thanks to God for them, and then Paul’s joy as he prays for them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Paul’s focus on people results in thanksgiving and joy. Paul is praying for people he knows, people who he’s spent significant moments with, people who matter, to God and to him. And they’re not perfect people, but Paul is absolutely chuffed at the people that God has brought into the church, the people that God has brought into his life, the people that he gets to pray for. I wonder if our prayers are sometimes not filled with joy because we aren’t praying for people. I wonder if you spent time praying for the person sitting beside you, and the person in the row behind you, and the guy who’s off in the Solomon’s, and the family that’s on holidays, whether your prayers might become a little more exciting. Do you stop and thank God for the people that he’s brought into your life? Do you get excited about the opportunity you have to bring these people sitting around you this morning before God in prayer? Paul prays with joy because Paul prays for people.

b) They are Partners in the Gospel

Paul’s second reason is found in verse 5. Paul prays with joy ‘5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Phil 1:5)’ When Paul prays for the Christians in Philippi he is filled with joy because they are partners with him in the gospel. So what does Paul mean when he talks about their partnership in the gospel? What Paul means is that like him they believe the gospel. The word partnership in the Greek is the word ‘koinōnia’ which is often translated as fellowship, or having something in common. And what Paul and the Christians in Philippi have in common is their faith in the gospel, the Good News that because Jesus died on the cross for their sins they have been reconciled with God. They are united in their commitment to the truths of the gospel. And it was the gospel that first united them and it’s the gospel that still unites them. And that’s so important for us to remember. It’s not our Dutch heritage that unites us, it’s not our social-economic status that unites us, it’s not even the fact that we speak English that unites us, it’s the gospel that unites us. In fact, the gospel unites all believers. Whether you’re Reformed, or Baptist, or Pentecostal, whether you’re contemporary or traditional, whether you’re alive or been dead 500 years, it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ that we all share. Later in the year we’re going to look at what the Heidelberg Catechism teaches about the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is the basic statement of faith that all Christians share. When Paul calls us partners he’s referring to the fact that we are committed to something bigger than ourselves, that we are a part of Christ’s body, the Church, that we are citizens of God’s kingdom. Paul prays with joy for these people because they are part of his family, he sees them as his brothers and sisters in Christ. I wonder if our feelings about one another would be more joyful if we saw each other as partners in the gospel, as fellow believers.

c) God will complete his work in them

Thirdly, Paul prays with joy because God will complete his work in them. In verse 6 Paul says ‘6 being confident of this, he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6b)’ Literally he says, ‘I am confident of this…’ And the thing that Paul is so confident about is that God will complete his work in their lives. This is one of the three clearest verses that teach the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, the other two are John 10:27-28 and Romans 8:38-39. I encourage you to look them up when you get home. But this morning let’s take a look at Philippians 1:6.

i) The good work

Firstly, what is this ‘good work’ that Paul mentions? I think Paul has in mind the fact that they believed the Gospel. The good work is the work of salvation, of believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus said, ‘29 …The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (Jn 6:29)’ God’s work is bringing us to faith in his Son.

ii) God starts the work

Secondly, Paul makes it clear that God starts the work of salvation. If it was left up to us to save ourselves we’d all be doomed. Because of our sinful nature we naturally chose to reject God. The very fact that we believe the gospel is evidence of God’s work in our hearts. Elsewhere Paul says, ‘3 …no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3b)’ Our faith is God’s work. We so often focus on the fact that ‘I believed,’ or ‘I chose to follow Jesus,’ but the spiritual reality is that even our faith is a gift from God. We choose Jesus because God first chose us. Jesus reminded his disciples, ‘16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit… (Jn 15:16a)’

iii) God will finish his work

Thirdly, God will finish his work. This is our hope as Christians, that God won’t desert us, that he won’t give up on us. And that’s Paul’s point here, that what God starts he also finishes. In Romans 8 Paul says, ‘29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom 8:29-30)’ Notice the progression there – God chose, or predestined those he would save, God called us, God justified us, and God will glorify us. God will complete his work in us.

And that work is making us like Jesus. God saved us for a purpose, and he’s slowly but surely transforming us into the likeness of his Son. Think about that for a moment: God is so delighted in his Son Jesus Christ that he has saved millions of people in order that Jesus might reproduce himself in them. God wants us to become just like his Son, and he will do it, one day we will be just like Jesus, when Jesus returns and makes all things new. And it’s this truth that gives Paul such confidence when he prays for the Christians in Philippi. Paul is confident that God knows what he is doing. Paul is confident that things will turn out exactly as God plans. Paul is confident that no matter how messed up people might be that God is at work and God will finish his work. Doesn’t that add a whole new dimension to your prayer life? You are a work in progress and God isn’t finished with you yet. And the people around you are a work in progress and God hasn’t finished with them yet either. Our confidence, our source of joy, is in the fact that God is at work in us and he will finish his work.

d) They Share in God’s grace

Finally, Paul prays with joy because they share in God’s grace. Verse 7 and 8, ‘7 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. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:7-8)’ Again Paul is praying for ‘all of you,’ and the reason he is so excited about these people is that they share in God’s grace. They are all recipients of God’s undeserved favour in Jesus Christ. God has lavishly poured out his love on them, so that they are no longer his enemies, but his children. Paul’s joy comes from the fact that he understands God’s grace. Paul knows that he was undeserving of God’s love and that it was only because of God’s love that he was saved. And Paul knows that God feels the same way about the Christians in Philippi. Paul knows that God loved them so much that he saved them as well. Paul’s joy is fuelled by his knowledge of just how much God loves them. Listen to the four little phrases that give a glimpse of that. He says, ‘It is right for me to feel, or think, this way about you.’ Why, because that’s how God feels about them. God thinks they are awesome, and if God thinks they’re awesome so too does Paul. Then he says, ‘I have you in my heart.’ Paul has them in his heart, because God has them in his heart. God cares deeply about these guys in Philippi, and because God cares, so too does Paul. And then Paul says, ‘I long for you.’ Paul wants nothing more than to be with them, to fellowship with them. And Paul longs for them because God does. God wants nothing more than to fellowship with us, in fact God wanted it so much he was willing to die in order to make it possible. And Paul makes his point in his final words, ‘I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.’ Paul loves these guys with the same affection as Jesus loves them. The word translated ‘affection’ is basically the word ‘guts.’ Like Jesus loves us with everything in him, so Paul loves them with all his guts.

I just have to ask you: Do you love the people around you like that? Do you understand just how much God loves them? Do you understand that God loved the people sitting around you so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross in their place so that they could have a relationship with him? Do you think about your fellow brothers and sisters like that, because it’s right to feel that way about them because that’s how God feels about them? Do you have them in your heart? Do you think about them and pray about them every day? Do you long for them, do you take every opportunity to spend time with them? Do you go ‘I don’t feel like going to church or small group, but because they are there I’m going, I want to spend time with them, because they matter to God. Because Jesus loves them I’m going to love them as well.’ Maybe if we prayed for others as partners in the gospel, people whom God is at work in, as people God loves and who have received his grace… imagine the joy that would pour out of us, praying for each other that way.

 

2) The Prayer of Joy

So they are the four reasons Paul prays with such joy, but what does a prayer of joy look like? How does someone filled with joy pray? What do they pray for? Well that’s what we’re going to see in the next three verses. Paul starts, ‘9 And this is my prayer… (Phil 1:9-11)’ and Paul asks God for one thing and then he tells us why he wants that for them, giving three outcomes that will result.

a) That their love may Abound

So let’s start with what Paul wants for them. The rest of verse 9 says, ‘9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. (Phil 1:9)’ What Paul wants is that their love may abound. Paul wants God’s love to overflow into and then out of their lives. So what does this abounding love look like?

i) A love that increases

Firstly, it means that our love increases. Paul talks about how our love is to abound more and more. What does it mean for our love to increase? Well it means that if God’s love is pouring into your life than your love for your spouse should be growing. It means that your love for your children is meant to grow. Yes, they’re frustrating, but as you grow in your understanding of God’s love for you in Jesus then your level of patience and gentleness towards your kids will also grow. It means your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ will grow. We just looked at how Paul’s prayer life is filled with joy and thankfulness and confidence because of his understanding of God’s love for the Christians in Philippi. It means your love for the lost will grow. It means your love for the weak and the ostracized will grow. When God’s love abounds in our lives our love for others increases.

ii) A love that increase in knowledge

Secondly, it increases in knowledge. Paul isn’t talking about some sort of wishy-washy sentimental kind of love, but a love that is based on a clear understanding of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Our love will never increase unless we grow in the knowledge of God’s love for us. And the best way to grow in the knowledge of God’s love is to read about God’s love for us in the pages of Scripture. According to 1 John 3:16 ‘16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 Jn 3:16)’ When we know God’s love for us in Jesus our love for others grows.

iii) A love that increase in insight

Thirdly, it increases in insight. This word in the Greek is only used in two other places. Luke uses it to describe how the disciples didn’t grasp what Jesus meant when he predicted his death. He says ‘45 …[it’s meaning] was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it… (Lk 9:45b)’ The point was that the Holy Spirit hadn’t opened their minds to understand what Jesus was saying. The writer of the Hebrews talks about mature believers who ‘14 …have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:15b)’ These two verses help us see that there is a spiritual dimension to God’s love. The Holy Spirit helps us understand how best to love others. God gives us insight into people's lives so that we can love them more effectively.

That’s the sort of love that Paul asks God to give, not only the Christians in Philippi, but us sitting here this morning. My prayer for you is that God’s love will abound in your life, so that as your knowledge of God’s love increases and the depth of your insight increases, that your love for others may increase as well. This area of practically showing love to others is actually our weakest area according to our Natural Church Development Survey. Not that we don’t love one another, we just struggle to show it. It’s just not increasing to the next level.

b) Discerning what is best

So let’s take a look at why Paul prays that our love may increase? The answer is founding verse 10, ‘10 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)’ As our love increases we are able to discern what is best. In our day and age we are bombarded with options. When we go to the supermarket to buy milk there’s not just milk, there’s skim milk and calcium enriched milk, and omega 3 milk and low-fat milk and smart milk, and it’s ridiculous. Or when it comes to choosing a mobile phone provider, you have to compare the monthly rental, and the call costs, and data allowance, and coverage. How do you choose what’s best? According to Paul when your life abounds with God’s love it helps you discern what is best. What’s really important becomes clearer. And according to Paul what matters most is that we are pure, that we don’t allow sin to clog up the flow of God’s love in our lives. The two words he uses speak of purity in terms of having pure motives, of being sincere, and of having a pure conscience, of being blameless. Later Paul talks about focusing on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). And of course that means getting rid of whatever is false, or indecent, or wrong, or impure, or unlovely, or contemptible, or second-rate, or worthy of condemnation. As God’s love increases in us, so does our awareness of what’s good and right.

c) Being filled with the fruit of righteousness

A life abounding in God’s love will not only increase in love and discernment, but it will also be ‘11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ... (Phil 1:11a)’ When Paul talks about fruit he talks about what is visible for everyone to see. This isn’t how God sees us as righteous in Christ, but the results of our right relationship with him. Just like you can walk past an apple tree and tell it’s an apple tree because it’s got apples on it, so people should be able to see that we’re Christians by our fruit, because we behave like Jesus Christ. And the truth is we can’t bear fruit unless we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus says, ‘5 …If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5b)’

d) Bringing glory and praise to God

Finally, a life abounding in love and discernment is a life lived ‘11 …to the glory and praise of God. (Phil 1:11b)’ As God’s love abounds in us, and increases our love for others, and our ability to discern what is best, and as it produces fruit in our lives, God gets the glory and the praise. Our greatest joy will be giving God all the credit for what he has done in our lives.

One commentator used the formula for electricity as an illustration – volts x amps = watts. Volts measure the pressure, amps measure the flow, and watts measure the power. God’s love is the pressure that builds up in our lives, but our lives need to be free from resistors, which impede the flow, or condensers which store it up for private use. But if God’s love is allowed to flow through our lives it results in the fruit of righteousness that brings glory to God. 

 

Brothers and sisters, my prayer is that God’s love will abound in your life, that you will get rid of anything that might hamper its flow, so that it produces fruit to his glory. That’s the prayer of someone who loves their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, who sees them as partners in the gospel, who is confident of God’s work in their lives, and who understands God’s grace, his undeserved love for them. When we think of others as God thinks of them our prayers will be filled with joy and a desire to see God’s love grow and increase in their lives for God’s glory. This morning I hope you have been inspired to pray for your brothers and sisters, and to pray with great joy. Amen.

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