Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Yesterday, we began looking at the main body of the letter, and three things in those first few verses of the body. We looked at the first thing last week, Paul’s thankful heart, a heart that is filled with joy despite Paul’s circumstances. This week, we’ll look at second, Paul’s joyful prayer and introduce the third, Paul’s gospel focus in light of the community of believers at Philippi. Next week, we’ll finish looking at that section.
II. Paul’s joyful prayer.
It was easy for Paul to think about the Philippians and to thank God for them. He had a special connection with them. And he goes on to say in verse 4, “…always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” Paul characterizes his prayers for them as joyful; that the work of prayer that he engaged in on their behalf was sheer delight to him. It was a joy to pray for the Philippians!
There are a couple of things that we learn out of that. First, we ought to be thankful and joyful in our prayers for others. Second, and this especially, do we make it easy for others to be thankful and joyful in their prayers for us, in the way that it was easy for Paul to be thankful and joyful in his prayers for the Philippians?
That ought to be an aspiration for all of us, that we would be the kind of people who would be so encouraging, so gospel-focused, so grace-filled, so mutually supportive that our brothers and sisters find it joyful and delightful to engage in prayer for us with thanksgiving.
III. Paul’s gospel focus.
We see Paul’s gospel focus in verse 5. Paul begins in verse 5 to list two specific things which cause him to give thanksgiving for the Philippians. (the second thing is in verse 6.), “…Always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all (verse 5), in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Paul is saying it’s especially the fellowship, the shared life which he enjoyed with the Philippians, the participation [or the mutual cooperation and involvement] that he and the Philippians had in the work of the gospel that made Paul joyful when he thought of them.
In Acts 16 we see the kind of people who were in the Philippian congregation and the kind of context in which God saved them. First of all, the vision—and I’ve always thought it interesting that God gives Paul this vision of a man calling him over to Macedonia, and when he shows up in Philippi, who are there at the riverside? All women! That was the core group for the church in Philippi!
There’s Lydia, the accomplished business woman, but as pagan as the day is long. And Luke especially wants to emphasize that the Lord opened her heart to believe, the sovereign grace of God breaking through into this very accomplished and competent (but pagan and lost) business woman and saving her, drawing her to Jesus Christ so that she rests and trusts alone in Him for salvation.
There’s also the slave girl with a spirit of divination. And she’s bugging Paul, and at one point he finally says to the demon, “Get out of her!” and goes on. I wonder if she’s in this congregation.
And the Philippian jailer. After Paul has been badly treated and has been jailed and is waiting for the local officials, there’s this extraordinary event, and Paul has every opportunity to walk away from the jail free; and the Philippian jailer is getting ready to kill himself, and suddenly Paul is sharing the gospel with him, and suddenly the jailer and his family are coming, and they’re part of this congregation.
In each of these stories, in each of these particular cases, notice how the sovereign power of God is emphasized. Paul seems to be saying to the Philippians, ‘You guys get me. You understand when I tell you that I was a Christian-hating Pharisee bent on wiping Christianity off of the face of the earth, on the way to Damascus, and Jesus met me and saved me, but you understand that, because the sovereign grace of God was displayed in your conversions in the same way.’
Isn’t it a beautiful thing? Here’s the Apostle Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews, educated as best as a Pharisee could have been educated, a Jew of Jews, saying, ‘you Macedonian pagan Gentile Philippians-now-Christians, you understand me. We have a fellowship in the gospel. You understand the sovereign grace of God because it happened in your lives.’
Have you ever been in a room and there are people there who because of certain, sometimes traumatic, shared experiences, and they just understand one another, and they know how to talk to one another? They can understand one another sometimes without even saying a word. You may be in a room, with godly women who have lost children at very young ages. By God’s grace they’ve been brought through that trial, but they understand things about one another and what they’ve experienced and what they’ve lost that you have no clue about. And we could go on and on. Oftentimes those experiences create a bond of fellowship, where there’s a mutual understanding, where sometimes you don’t even have to say things, you just understand them.
And Paul is saying, ‘Philippians: it’s like that with me and you. We have a fellowship in the gospel.’ And the beautiful thing about that is this is Paul the Jew saying this to Gentile Philippians! They are, from a human and natural standpoint, nothing like him! But they have a fellowship in the gospel of grace because they all have experienced the grace of the gospel.
And this is so important for us to understand, because this fellowship that the Apostle Paul has with the Philippians is not based on having natural background affinity, Paul is talking about a gospel fellowship, and we will look more at that next week, the gospel fellowship.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 10:29 AM