Praying for Others
Philippians 1:3 – 11
Praying for Others
What should I ask for?
In our family, presents at Christmas are quite a big deal, And so in the weeks beforehand, I generally get asked to provide a list, of gifts that I might like to receive.
And that’s an easy list to come up with, isn’t it?!
Things I’d like,
Things I’d find useful,
Stuff I want!
But then I get asked to provide of things that my wife, Kathy would like, and that’s a whole other story, isn’t it?
I know what I want,
But what does she want?
What should I be asking for for someone else?
I think that little dilemma, is often, paralleled by a much more significant dilemma in our prayers:
When it comes to praying for myself,
I know what I want,
I think l know what I need,
I can generally manage to squeeze some prayer for me and my needs into in my day,
But I’m a lot less sure about what I should pray for others.
And if I’m not aware of any particular pressing need, crisis, health issue, some specific ministry challenge , What should be, if you like, the bread and butter, of my prayers for others?
In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul, describes his prayers, for the Christians of Philippi, people, who we’ll see, are his “ministry partners”, and although he was geographically removed from them, Paul’s prayer has lots to say about our prayers for those people with whom we partner in ministry, that is, people in our church family.
Paul prays in thanksgiving for gospel partnership 3 - 5
See the first thing that Paul says about his prayers for the Philippians, is that every time he thinks of them, that he can’t help but say “thank you”, for their partnership in the gospel, but it’s not “thank you’ to them, it’s to God!
Verse 3, 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
Now, we all use our manners, I’m sure! We say, “please” and “thank you”, those “oil can” words. They help things go smoothly!
And so we know, that when someone does something for which we are grateful, we say “thank you” to them don’t we?
If you come into our office, and I make you coffee, and then you say to Sally-Anne, who sits in the office opposite me, “Thanks for the coffee!” , that would be weird, right?!
And yet, that’s kind of what happens here in the opening of Philippians 1 doesn’t it?
Paul gives thanks to God, for the Philippians partnership in gospel work.
Now, the word translated as “partnership” there in verse 5, is the Greek word Koinonia. So those of you connected to the Hills Christian Community School will be familiar with that word, as it’s on your school crest, and in some older Bible versions was translated as “fellowship”.
But that word “fellowship” has been so watered-down, that to our ears, it’s come to mean something like “spending time with other people”,
Some churches call their tea and coffee time after the service, “Fellowship Time.” Nothing happens! No-one even talks about gospel things, but people are standing around doing nothing, so it must be fellowship!
Koinonia, fellowship, according to the Bible, isn’t just spending time together, but a costly sharing in something with others.
Koinonia, means work!
Working together, side by side, for the cause of the gospel.
And in chapter 4 of this letter, Paul explains one element of the fellowship, the partnership that he enjoyed with the Philippians . was their financial support of his ministry.
He describes them as working in partnership in the gospel, even though they’re in a different city.
But through their financial support of him,
And because they are also engaged in gospel ministry, where they are, Paul can say “we’re partners in the gospel”, we’re in this together.
And yet even though there’s plenty to be thankful to them for, Paul knows that their partnership in the gospel, indeed their whole response to the good news of Jesus, is the work of God in them, verse 6, he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The reason he gives thanks to God, for the Philippians’ partnership, is because their partnership is a work of God’s grace.
God is at work in them and through them, and so it’s, not wrong, but entirely appropriate for Paul to give thanks to God.
So even before we get down to the real content of his prayer, in verse 9, we’re already given an opportunity to think about our prayers for others, aren’t we?
Do we thank God, for the partnership in the gospel of Jesus, that we enjoy with our brothers and sisters here at Trinity for example?
Do we thank God, for his work in our members, for their response to the good news of Jesus, that leads them to put themselves forward to serve us,
In leading Bible Study Groups,
Teaching our kids about Jesus,
Being in the gym at 7:30 on Sunday mornings, so that when the friends who we’ve taken a risk for, and invited them along to church, when they turn up, they can hear,
They have somewhere to sit,
And they can see something?
Do we thank God, for them, for the partnership we have in ministry with them, even if we don’t actually know them personally?
Do we thank God for those who give extraordinarily generously, who God uses to enable us to do all kinds of ministry that we would not otherwise be able to do?
Again, we don’t know their names, but we enjoy partnership in the gospel with them.
Do you think of those from our church, who lead our youth group for example, and think “I am in gospel partnership with them”?
Even those of us who don’t have kids in youth group, are in partnership with our youth group leaders, because we’re working side by side with them, for the cause of the gospel. They’re doing it over here, we’re doing it some place else, so, let’s thank God, for the partnership we enjoy with them.
It’s why this morning, we have particularly thanked God, for the leaders he’s raised up for us.
Of course, there is a reflexive benefit. When we pray for these people who participate with us in the work of the gospel, it reminds us, doesn’t it, that we’re not alone in our efforts to see Jesus glorified in our region or in the world.
When we give thanks for Trinity Hills church, we’re reminded we’re not the only church in the hills,
When we give thanks for the work of our school chaplains, once again it’s drummed into my head, there’s lots of good gospel ministry, that we’re not directly involved in, and yet through financial support, and prayer, and training, and resource sharing, and whatever other means, we can partner with them.
It’s good for us, to give thanks to God for those with whom we partner in gospel ministry.
Paul prays, confident in God’s work 6
I wonder if you noticed Paul’s confidence, as he prays.
I thank my God every time I remember you., verse 6, 6 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.
Paul’s prayer in confidently grounded in his knowledge of God.
Did you notice he speaks of my God? His isn’t the “God, if you’re out there” prayer.
He’s praying to the God he knows well enough, “A”, to call my God, and “B”, he knows well enough, to be confident that what God starts, he finishes.
Last weekend Shane Langkilde painted the concrete floor in the youth and kids room in our new offices.
When I got there, Shane had done 1 coat, but he wasn’t around, he’d gone off to get lunch.
If you turn up, and the painter’s done half the job and is nowhere to be found, ordinarily you’d be a little bit anxious wouldn’t you?
Is he coming back?
Is he going to do what he said he would?
Is the room going to be ready by the time we need it?
Am I going to have to put on my overalls and try and finish it myself?
If I didn’t know Shane, I would have been thinking all those things, but because I do know him,
I know his character,
I know he’s not going to leave it half finished,
I didn’t even think about it, I knew he’d come back and finish it.
The confidence that propels Paul’s prayers, comes from his personal knowledge of God.
His prayers won’t be in vain,
The ministry of the Philippians won’t come to nothing,
Their response to the gospel of Jesus won’t fall short of its goal, Paul knows, because he knows his God.
In the pagan world of 1st Century Rome, it was common to add name, after name, after name, when you were speaking to your God.
You didn’t want to call them by the wrong thing, and maybe today, they wanted to be called something different to what they were called yesterday.
There’s no such uncertainty in Paul’s prayer is there?
If you’re with us this morning and you’re not a Christian, thanks for coming along!
I imagine that you might pray, from time to time. Most people do, don’t they, usually there’s a point where things get so bad, that we shoot up some kind of prayer. What do they say? “There are no atheists in foxholes!”
But I wonder, if that’s you, the occasional prayer, every now and then, when things really get on top of you, but not really sure if they’re heard or answered, can you imagine, having this kind of confidence?
Being able to pray to my God.
Being so sure of the character of God, that you know his work, and can trust him completely.
Have you encountered God in Jesus, such that you can say, “I know what God is like”, and you can live accordingly?
And if you’re a Christian person, of course, you do know God, as Paul does,
You too can speak of my God,
You too have every reason for confidence in God’s work,
And yet I wonder if that confidence shapes our prayers like it could.
When we pray for others, are we convinced of the reality of God’s work in them?
Do we pray for God’s work in others, knowing that God longs to act, in answer to our prayers.
When we pray for God to be at work in the lives of others, especially in the terms of Paul’s prayer that he’s about to explain, we’re not asking God to do something that he doesn’t really want to do, but he’ll do grudgingly.
We ask God to act according to his character that he has made known to us in Jesus, and to continue the work in his people, that he has already begun.
Paul prays with genuine heartfelt concern 7 – 8
So we see here also, that Paul’s prayers for others come from a genuine heartfelt concern for them.
See verse 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.
Supposedly it was Groucho Marx who said “Sincerity is everything, and if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made!”?
But not for Paul! His affection for the Philippians is genuine.
And when he speaks of his feeling for them, he uses a word that is heart and intellect and emotion, and action all rolled into one.
We would say something like “It is right for me to think and feel and act, this way towards all of you”, because even though they’re separated by distance,
And even though Paul is an Apostle,
And the Philippians are just regular Christians like you and me,
They all together, were recipients of the grace of God.
For Paul, the evidence of God’s grace at work in the lives of the Philippians, was that they stood with him through thick and thin;, supporting him, partnering him in ministry, whether he was in prison or free, or defending and confirming the gospel. Those are legal terms, for defending yourself in court.
When Paul prays for the Philippians, he’s praying for those closest to him,
Those who partner with him when no one else does,
Those he can count on, when there’s no one else to turn to.
I wonder who that is, for us?
Who is it that we pray for, that we could describe in the such strongly affectionate terms as in verses 7 and 8?
And if there is anyone, we could describe in those terms, longing for with the affection of Christ, are we praying for them?
And if we’re not, if we’re not praying for these Christian brothers and sisters closest to us, who we long for, with the affection of Christ, then hasn’t something gone wrong?
If we’re not praying for those, we depend on most significantly for ministry and encouragement,
If we’re not praying for those with whom we partner most closely in the gospel, I wonder if we’re praying for anyone.
Who is it for us?
One answer is each other.
We’ve already thought about how we labour side by side for the gospel.
Our ministry as a church, depends on each other.
Of course, praying for ach other like this is somewhat more difficult if we don’t know each other isn’t it?
It’s made more difficult by the size of our church.
But actually, if you were looking for 1 more reason to come to God, Church & Me, this is it!
Come along to find out, who are some of the people with whom you’re partnering in ministry,
And even, find out, how you might take your place alongside them, in contending for the gospel.
And of course there will be others too, for each of us, beyond out church, those who stand with us in different ways, sharing in God’s grace together.
Paul prays that love may grow 9
And so finally, we get to the actual content of Paul’s prayer.
And so if you want to know, what can I pray for people here at Trinity, Pray that their love would grow.
Verse 9, And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,
When I was training to become a marriage celebrant, I had to read lots of real-life examples of things that people had said and done at weddings,
Once I read about a toast that someone made, where they said “we wish for this couple, everything that they wish for, for themselves.”
“Hear, hear”, warm fuzzies all round, glasses clink.
But is that not among the most vague and empty platitudes you have ever heard?
It’s an admission, “I don’t have the foggiest idea, what is good for this couple, or what I should be hoping for in their life together, so whatever it is that they hope for, well I hope for that too!”
The Apostle Paul, is in no such state of confusion, is he?
When it comes to what he hopes for for others,
Specifically, when it comes to what he prays for for others,
He knows exactly what they need.
He wants their love to grow, to abound more and more.
Normally when we speak of love, there’s an object in view, and that object, the recipient of that love, helps us understand the kind of love that’s being talked about,
Because we might say, I love my kids,
I love pizza,
I love going away on holidays!
They’re all very different!
One is a whole of life thing,
One is something that better not be a whole of life thing,
And one is something that I might do only once or twice a year.
It’s the object that helps us understand what kind of love is intended.
And yet here in Philippians 1, there is no object to the love, and so that throws the emphasis back to the love-er, rather than the love-ee!
See Paul’s praying that the Philippians might love regardless!
That their love won’t be determined by what’s in front of them, but that their loving character, will grow.
But even more than that, that their love will grow in a particular way.
that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight
Or we could also translate it, that your love may abound more and more with knowledge, or,
Abound more and more according to knowledge, or even
That your love may abound more and more cultivated by knowledge.
And this knowledge is not just knowing stuff. Paul’s word for knowledge is a word that he uses 15 times across his letters, and every time it means knowledge of the things of God,
Knowledge of Christ,
Understanding the plans and purposes of God,
It’s doctrinal knowledge,
It’s the knowledge that comes to us through the Scriptures.
Which of course tells us also, what kind of love this is,
What kind of love we should be praying would abound in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s God’s kind of love,
The kind of love that sees God send his son to die for those who are living as his enemies,
The love of Christ, that sees him willingly lay down his life, for people, us, who reject him.
Do you pray, that that kind of love will abound in the lives of others?
Do you ask God, that your brothers and sisters here, will know and grow, the kind of love that costs them?
The kind of love that leads to sacrifice?
That seems like a strange sort of thing to pray, doesn’t it?! A bit like praying that someone becomes a martyr or something!
And yet that’s how Paul would have us pray, and so let me give you fair warning:, This week, I’m going to pray that for you, that you will grow in costly, sacrificial, Christ-like love.
I’m just giving you the heads up, because I don’t know God will choose for you to demonstrate that costly, sacrificial love, but I do know it will be costly and sacrificial.
But of course, even love, is not the end in itself is it?
This love is a means to an end.
So that they will be discerning v 10
Paul prays that the Philippians will be mature and discerning, able to distinguish right from wrong.
, this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that, you may be able to discern what is best
The purpose of a growing love, is first of all, for discernment.
This is the language of testing something to see if it’s genuine.
To my knowledge, I’ve never seen counterfeit money, but that’s the point isn’t it? It looks like the real thing!
The people who can spot counterfeit money are the experts, those with the knowledge.
Paul prays that the Philippians love would grow, cultivated by knowledge and insight, and that as a result, they would be discerning, always able to make the best choice,
Always able to exercise their freedom in Christ carefully,
Always able to demonstrate the love of Christ wisely and with good judgment.
The Christian life is full of choices, you and I face them and make them every day,
Sometimes it’s a clear choice between right and wrong;, Pizza for breakfast? , or Weet-Bix
Sometimes we have good options, and a best option;,
What ministry should I become involved in?,
What job should I take?,
How do I spend my money?
In my relationships and conversations, what issues should I stand up for, and what should I let slide.
It’s discernment in those issues, that Paul prays for, and that we can be praying for each other.
Between now and when we meet again nest Sunday, literally thousands of those kinds of decisions will have been made by the people in this building this morning.
Are they making those decisions on their own, or are you praying for them, that they may be able to discern what is best.
So that they will be ready for Christ v 10
The second purpose, of this growing love, is there in the 2nd part of verse 10,
that you may be able to discern what is best, and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ
Paul prays that the Philippians will be fully prepared for the return of Jesus.
We could say, here’s a prayer, that Christians won’t stumble in their faith, and won’t cause others to stumble in their faith.
Here’s a prayer that says, “Dear God, in your sovereignty, may those people who stand around me today, have such a grasp of your love, and an experience of your grace, that they will stand with me, on the day of Christ?”
My prayers for others, all too easily fill up with material needs, pressing concerns, and it’s not that those things are wrong.
But Paul has a different perspective doesn’t he?
He doesn’t even mention their material needs, but prays they might be found pleasing to God, and that their lives will bear the fruit of a relationship with Jesus, the fruit of righteousness.
Dear Jesus, please bear fruit in my friends.
So that God may be glorified and praised v 11
There’s one more purpose behind Paul’s prayer, and we could say it’s actually a higher purpose than these other 2.
Why be ready for Christ?
Why be discerning?
So that God might be receive glory and praise.
Westminster Shorter Catechism is one of the most important documents of the English Reformation. It’s a summary of the Christian faith, and the opening question asks What is the chief end of man?
The answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever
Paul finishes his prayer, with his hope that God will be glorified, that people will see God for who he is,
And although this is perhaps often a neglected element of our prayers, it’s right through the prayers we find in the Bible.
It’s the place the Lord’s Prayer starts, hallowed be your name,
It’s how Moses prays, concerned for God’s name.
King Hezekiah prays, motivated by the glory of God.
Every request of Paul’s for the Philippians, is set within this larger context, of seeking God’s glory.
And perhaps there’s no greater way for Christian people to glorify God, than to be ready, pure and blameless, for Christ’s return
It’s one thing to pray for others,
It’s something again, to remember that we pray for them, while seeking God’s glory.
But what a great privilege it is, to partner with other Christians, to contend side by side with them for the gospel, and for the glory of God.
When I was, about 10 or 11, I was given a copy of a book called “Young Man in a Hurry.”
I don’t think it was intended in any sense as a statement about me!
It was a kids’ version of the biography of William Carey a missionary to India round the turn of the 19th Century.
Carey founded the Baptist Missionary Society,
He translated parts of the Bible into 37 different Indian dialects,
He published significant books and articles about mission and evangelism,
And was a driving force behind much of the missionary movement in the 18th and 19th centuries.
So much so, that William Carey is known as the Father of Modern Missions.
Much less well-known, is Carey’s sister Mary, whom he called “Polly.”
Polly was paralysed and confined to her bed for 52 years.
She couldn’t do much, but she could pray.
And so pray she did.
Carey would write to her, and tell her his struggles and joys, and what he was working on, and who he was working with,
And Polly prayed,
She prayed for her brother,
She prayed for the missionary team, that they would persevere in God’s work of reconciliation,
She prayed for those coming to faith, that they would grow in knowledge and depth of insight,
She prayed for discernment,
She prayed that God would always be glorified.
And over close to half a century of Polly’s prayers, God heard, and answered, and did amazing work. And not just India, but the world was impacted with the good news of Jesus.
If William Carey is known as the Father of Modern Missions, then Polly as the sister of the father, well and truly deserves the title of the aunt of modern missions.
Imagine having that kind of ministry.
Imagine being used by God, like that!
Well we can!
We can pray for others!
The answers to our prayers may not be on the same scale, but they will be no less significant!
I’m going to give us a chance to pray right now. I’d love you to take out your outline, grab a pen, and write down some names, of people, in our community, people you labour side by side with for the gospel of Jesus, and we’ll pray for them, in the quietness of our own hearts and minds in a minute.
You might not know many people here, maybe you could just write down some ministry areas, and pray for the leaders, or the people in those groups.
God knows who they are.
You might think of others beyond our church,
If you’re not a Christian, not really sure about all of this, perhaps pray that God might give you that knowledge of him, through his Word, and then use that Green Communication Card to let us know that’s what you prayed, cause we’d love to help you work through some of those things.