Praying Paul’s Prayers (Philippians 1:1-11)

Praying Paul’s Prayers (Philippians 1:1-11)

Philippians 1:1-11

Welcome & Prayer

Text Background

As we prepare to dive in, let me give you a little historical context. Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi from prison in Rome (AD 60). This was the first church that he planted in Europe, and was composed primarily of Gentiles. He planted this church 10 years earlier (AD 51) on his second missionary journey. This church was full of generosity and loyalty to Paul (v7), and this church was deeply missed and deeply loved by Paul (v9).

Philippians 1:1-11

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Indeed, it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Paul starts this letter to the church with his standard greeting, stating who he is — an apostle sent by God — and offering grace and peace from God. 

Then, he says he is thanking God for them.

Thanking God

  • for all memories/remembrance (v3)
  • [in] all prayer (v4)
  • always with joy for (v3)
  • all of the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi (v1)

That’s a lot of “all” isn’t it? This opening speaking of great joy and affection and prayer is something that he opens several letters with. It’s very similar to what we saw in his letter to the Ephesians last week, and we also see a similar thankfulness in 1 Thessalonians (which we’ll look at more in a minute). But this is not something we see in all of Paul’s letters, this deep affection and thankfulness. 

By contrast, in his letter to the Galatians, he gives his standard greeting of grace and peace, and then immediately dives right into a sharp rebuke. Listen to this in Galatians:

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Galatians 1:3-9

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel ​— ​not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!

This is a very different tone Paul takes with the Galatians. He sees a gospel problem, and brings the hammer down. There are no warm fuzzies. There is no cozy affection. If these churches were Paul’s kids that he brought back presents for, the Philippians get a Bluey plushie and a new bike, but the Galatians get a box of Clorox wipes because they have a mess to clean up.

What’s my point? My point is that Paul’s affection for the Philippians is not a generic love that he feels for everyone; it is a genuine love that flows from real relationships with only some. It’s a type of love that he does’t have for all the churches he was involved with, and that is okay. 

What does that mean for us? Well, when we hone in on one text of just one of Paul’s prayers, we might be tempted to think that his one prayer to one group of people is exactly what our prayers should look like for all people. But that’s not the case. We should not carry a burden that our prayers must look like Paul’s prayer that we see in Philippians in each and every way. 

This prayer is a model, but these words are not mandatory

This prayer is a model, but these words are not mandatory.

That’s important to remember as we consider how to apply this text to our prayer life.

Thankfulness

What is important here is that we see Paul’s thankfulness for this church, so let’s look at why Paul was thankful for the Philippians.

3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

He was thankful because of their continued partnership in the gospel. This word “partnership” can also mean “fellowship.” Sometimes other Scriptures give us insights into a word’s meaning, and this is the same word used in 1 Jn 1:3, which says “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship [/partnership] with us; and indeed our fellowship [/partnership] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

This is a partnership that wasn’t some random club. It was a partnership together with God the Father, and with God the Son — Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was a partnership in accomplishing the mission of Christ together — the mission of getting the gospel, the good news of Jesus, spread far and wide.

What did this partnership look like? Well, the Philippians were partnering with Paul in 2 main ways:

1. Financial Giving

The Philippians were supporting Paul financially, and not just while he was present with them, but after he continued on as a minister of the gospel to other places. We see this detailed out in chapter 4, starting in verse 14.

14 …you did well by partnering with me in my hardship. 15 And you Philippians know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent gifts for my need several times. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that is increasing to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full, and I have an abundance. I am fully supplied…

Philippians 4:14-18

We see a couple things about this financial giving: 

First, that they didn’t just give enough to barely keep Paul afloat. They were extremely generous. So much so that Paul says he is in abundance; he is fully supplied. He is not concerned about where his next meal will come from or how he will afford his extensive traveling. He is covered by the generous giving of the Philippian church.

And second, that they were meeting his needs consistently and faithfully. Even when other churches were not sharing with Paul or providing for him, the Philippians still gave. And they were doing it over the course of about a decade, which we see described in verse 7, that they were partners even in Paul’s imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. Paul was thrown in jail for his gospel witness, and it would have been easy to cut ties with him or to shift quietly to preaching a message that didn’t seem so scandalous or dangerous, but they chose to remain firm in the faith and to stand by Paul. I’m sure this wasn’t easy. 

What we see here is a picture of regular, sacrificial giving for the gospel mission that leads Paul to burst forth with thanksgiving.

2. Sending Support

But they weren’t just helping financially. They were also sending personal support in the form of one of their people to come minister to Paul. In chapter 2, verse 25, we see that they sent Epaphroditus to Paul. 

25 But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus ​— ​my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need ​— ​26 since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you heard that he was sick. 27 Indeed, he was so sick that he nearly died. However, God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. — Philippians 2:25-27 (CSB)

They sent someone to minister to Paul’s needs, and it almost cost him his life because of sicknesses that he picked up on this journey. Again, we see sacrificial giving. And it was not just one-way. In 2:19, we see that Paul wants to send his ministry partner Timothy back to the church in order to bless them and get a report of how things are going. And Paul had built into the church when he planted it, established it, helped it become a firmly rooted church with appointed elders and deacons. 

This was a two-way, deep partnership, and Paul thanks God for them because of that partnership in verse 5. 

Carry it to Completion

And then he says something that at first glance seems like it may be a little out of left field, a little disconnected. It’s a verse that is often memorized, sung about, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it written on a coffee mug or two (probably in Comic Sans), but we don’t often think about it in the context of Paul’s thankfulness.

Philippians 1:6

I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

I think we need to answer two questions:

  1. Why is this statement here in the midst of Paul’s thankfulness over their partnership, and 
  2. What exactly is this talking about? What are the good works that God will carry on to completion?

Let’s start with “the what.”

What are the good works?

Is the good work that God is carrying on to completion the work of justifying salvation? No. Or, as Paul would say “by no means!” 

Christ Jesus proclaimed on the cross “it is finished, it is complete.” There is no additional work of justification needed from our Savior. Paul writes about this in Romans 4:5 that “the [person] who does not [rely on] works, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” And in Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord of your life, that right then and there, your belief and repentance results in salvation. 

The righteousness of Christ that you failed to live up to, is transferred, is imputed to you like a bank transfer that has been completed. You started with a negative balance of righteousness that is now paid in full. And not only is the debt paid, but you are in the will as an heir with the son, with the inheritance that he has won for you, and that is written in ink, never to be erased. 

You are now and forever counted as completely righteous in your legal standing before God. You cannot become any more righteous than you are in Christ, and you can’t be any more saved than all-the-way-saved, which is what you are if your faith rests in Jesus. 

It’s not the work of salvation that God is carrying on to completion, so what is it?

I think this becomes pretty clear if we look at another passage that’s almost a twin passage to the one we’re looking at today and was written around the same time. Flip to the right just a few pages to 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 2.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

2 We always thank God for all of you, making mention of you constantly in our prayers.

Sound familiar? We’ve got some deja vu going on here with all the “alls” again.

3 We recall [or remember], in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to praise them for their gospel work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as they took the message of Jesus to the entire surrounding area.

The work he describes that God is carrying on and bringing to completion in them, is

  1. Work that flows from faith in God
  2. Labors of love
  3. Endurance caused by their hope in Jesus

What this passage clarifies for us is that it’s not just any type of work that God will be faithful to complete. It is work that comes out of our faith, that is done in love, that is carried out with our hope fixed on Jesus. It is God’s work in and through us that He will complete. What God says he will complete, we can have full confidence that He will complete. 

So, how does this tie into Paul’s thankfulness for the Philippians? Paul is thankful for the gospel work he sees God completing through them. He sees their acts of love to him, their endurance through the hardship of gospel opposition, and their firm faith in God. 

Sanctification and Glorification

That is absolutely worth thanking God for. But I think there’s even one more layer to this. 

You see, we’ve been looking at the merits of this church, the good stuff. They are generous, firm in the faith, and steadfast in their support. But they’re also some not-so-good things that Paul has to rebuke and instruct them about. We’ll call these the Philippian faults.

The Philippians are divisive, so much so that Paul has to call out some people by name who aren’t getting along. He has to urge the church to cast off selfishness and consider the needs of others instead of only their own — to serve and care for others like Jesus did. He has to tell them to avoid grumbling and arguing, to rejoice in the Lord, and to watch out for evil. And much more.

That doesn’t sound a whole lot like something to be thankful about, at least to me. But Paul sees things with different eyes. 

A few years ago, I read something that changed my life. I was reading this book The Unwavering Pastor by Jonathan Dodson and he was observing that we tend to look at ourselves and others from where we are now forwards. We look at ourselves in all our sin that we’re stuck in, in all our brokenness — our inability to do what we know we should, in all the work of sanctification that still remains — we view ourselves and the people around us in that perspective. 

But in Romans 8, Paul shows that God views us through a different lens. Romans 8 says that those who God called he justified, and those God justified he sanctified, and those God sanctified, he has glorified. When God looks at us, He sees the glorification that Christ has brought us, not just in the future, but right now! 

So what if we viewed our brothers and sisters in Christ, not from where we currently are forwards, but from glory backwards — the way God sees us? 

I’m going to say that again: what if we viewed our brothers and sisters in Christ, not from where we currently are forwards, but from glory backwards?

How might that change our attitude towards one another? 

How might that change our actions toward one another? 

How might that change our prayers for one another? 

How might that make space for a thankfulness that says “I know, yes I know that the God who has saved this imperfect person that I am struggling to love will be faithful to bring to completion their sanctification and glorification. 

That one day we will stand side by side as two sinners saved by grace and fully redeemed and restored and made right. 

That our current frustrations and inconveniences and frictions will seem like absolutely nothing compared to the glory that awaits in eternity. 

That the surety of that future reality produces a present reality that allows a gratitude not just for what they are but what they will be.”

That is what I see in Paul’s heart, in his prayer here. That is why Paul can thank God with incredible joy for even those who don’t have it all put together. 

May we see one another with those same eyes and pray for one another out of that same heart. May we thank God with joy for the imperfect souls around us that have in one sense already been made perfect in Christ and one day will fully and completely be made new by their loving Savior.

Paul’s Prayer

With that backdrop, let’s look at the things specifically Paul prays for the Philippians in verse 9.

Philippians 1:9-11

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. 

Paul prays that their “love will keep on growing.” What kind of love? Love that is rooted in “knowledge and every kind of discernment.” This love that he desires for them is love that is based in knowledge, understanding, wisdom, discerning what is good and true and right. This is a love that expands, that grows, that develops and matures through the pursuit of knowledge of the things of God, which are found in His Word, the Bible. If you want to love more, the way to get there is to know God more fully. And we can do that as we read, meditate on, and apply the Scriptures.

Paul also walks out what this type of expanding love results in: choosing the better things, the superior things. Loving this way and walking in purity and righteousness also produces good fruit and results in glory for Christ and praise for God. Galatians 5 teaches what kinds of things come out of us when we walk by the Spirit, things like love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. And Christ will produce good fruits like these in us as we pursue Him.

What Paul prays for is important, but also notice what he doesn’t pray for. He doesn’t pray that they would avoid persecution and live comfortable lives. He doesn’t pray that they would prosper financially so that they could buy him a private jet, I mean, boat. He doesn’t pray that life would get easier for them, as nice as that would be.

Instead, he prays that their love would expand, that their minds would be filled with discernment, that they would pursue the best things, the things of God, that they would walk in holiness, bearing much fruit that Jesus provides until his return, so that God would be praised and glorified.

Make Your Requests Known

We’ve looked at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, but what does Paul exhort them to pray? He expresses this towards the end of the letter. Flip over to chapter 4.

Philippians 4:5b-7

The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Paul knows there will be a lot to worry about for the Philippians. They may be worried about their friend Epaphroditus that they sent (Paul says he’s anxious about that). They may be worried about how confessing the name of Jesus may impact their lives through persecution or even martyrdom. And like us, they have the trials of every-day life that can overwhelm.

But in the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the worry, Paul calls them to petition, to call on the God who is near to them. 

The God who has given them things to be thankful for, even when the world around them crumbles. 

The God who is able to deliver a bright peace in the darkest night, a peace that protects and a hope that perseveres in their hearts and minds even when all seems lost. 

There is life in the One who defeated death. 

There is victory in the One who lost his life — giving it up freely — to win salvation for us.

So Paul exhorts to call on that Savior, with every request, big and small, and to come receive the peace that will surely come when we do that.

Conclusion

With all of that in view, where does that leave us? What can we take away for our prayer life? As Brad mentioned in week 1 of this series, the Bible doesn’t instruct all that much about how to pray — the mechanics of it. It certainly does that some. But what we see a lot are the prayers of God’s people that are brief, and prayers that are different.

We see not uniformity but diversity. We see prayers flowing from people in ways that align with their God-given personality with contrasting flavors of expression. 

David’s prayers are emotive and raw and free-flowing. 

Paul’s prayers are intense but warm. 

The prayer Jesus modeled was basic and beautiful and humble. 

Sometimes we see people praying alone. Other times, they’re praying together. Some prayers are public, and others are private. Some prayers are detailed, others simple. Some prayers are repetitive, others follow a single thread.

We are not given a single, uniform, specific prayer playbook — no set of rituals to abide by or words to chant day in and day out. Instead, what we see are beautiful prayers that flow from an ever-increasing love for God and love for others. 

We see prayers of adoration that exude from those who sit and ponder in awe and wonder, meditating on the nature and attributes of God. 

We see prayers of confession as people consider their rebellion and brokenness before a holy God. 

We see prayers of longing as people experience grave injustice and deep woundedness in a grievously broken world.

We see prayers of thanksgiving as people set their eyes on the cross and  reflect on the great mercies and love displayed by their Savior. 

We see prayers of intercession as people more deeply trust in God’s powerful hand of sovereignty and as they believe in the healing power of Jesus to mend not just physical sickness but spiritual sickness 

and to address not just broken hearts but broken relationships with God.

So if you want to improve your prayer life, seek to know God more fully. 

Grow your love through the ever-increasing knowledge of God’s love. Pursue purity and walk in the righteousness that comes through Jesus. Joyfully cling to the reality that the God who has started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until Christ returns. 

And know that Christ is with you, that He is near, so bring your requests to Him early and often. And receive the peace that surpasses all understanding and guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer

Benediction

Philippians 4:8-9

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.