Date:   03/14/04

Text: Philippians 1:3-11

Title: A Community that Prays

Theme: A united community learns to pray biblically.



We desire for a meaningful community living. The community could be as small as a husband and wife, plus children. Or it could be a small group, fellowship group or the entire church. To satisfy this need, we may move from one relationship to another, one group to another and one church to another. When we study the scriptures, we understand the cause of such a desire. The bible tells us that we are made in God's image. The Christian God is a triune God; father, son and the spirit. This is a community; a perfect community. Therefore when we are created in this image, the desire for community is an integral part of human identity.

However, from both the scriptural teaching and human experience, we recognize that because of sins, we have really messed things up. Very often we not only do not know how to live alone, but also not know how to live in a community. Since Adam's fall, one aspect of God's redemption is to form a community of the redeemed, a community that would reflect his love and holiness. He first started with the Israelites. They became a nation. God provided them with civil, ceremonial and political guidelines so they could know how to live in a community. Later on, with the coming of Jesus Christ, he gathered those who trusted him, and this gathering of believers is called the church, the body of Christ, or the community of the redeemed.

When we come into this community, we also bring with us our different baggages that are not conducive to community living. We are selfish, arrogant and needy. We expect others to serve us instead of serving others. This makes community living such a challenge to us.

For this reason, the scripture is full of instructions on how we are to live together. All except one NT epistles are written to the Christian community in different cities. Most of these letters addressed issues and problems within those churches.

In our study of the Philippians two Sundays ago, we saw how Paul used the common contemporary greetings and turned it into a vehicle for communication of great spiritual truths. In the greetings of the 1 st two verses, we learned that in the Philippian and any other Christian communities, there must be unity and humble equality among all believers. Again, in a traditional letter, after the greeting is a simple prayer or wish for well being of the recipients. In today's passage, Paul used this format to bring out some major themes that he would develop later on in this letter. Having called their attention to maintaining unity, Paul now instructs them regarding the importance of prayer. Instead of moral exhortation to prayer, he teaches them by example. He shows them how and what to pray for.

I.   A community that prays for each other.

  In vs. 3,4 and 9, we repeatedly read of Paul's prayer for the Philippian church. Paul knew very well the problems and challenges this church faced. What did he do? He prayed. We know this but we don't do too well, right? It is so easy to see what is wrong in this and other churches. Early on in my ministry, I was told by other experienced ministers that it does not take an advance degree to see what some of the problems are. When we focus on problems, we'll harbor and develop resentment and bitterness. What did Paul do? He prayed for them.

  I remember a mature believer shared this with me: whenever someone told her about problems in her church, she'd ask, "Have you prayed about it?" Pray for each other.

II.   A community that prays with joy.

  Paul not only prayed for the Philippian church, he also prayed with joy. Vs.4, "Always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy." When he prayed for them, he prayed with joy. Later on in this letter he would further develop the theme of joy; that we are to be joyful in all situations. Yes, they had their problems, and this was the reason for this letter. Yet Paul wanted to set an example that Christian joy transcends circumstances. Don't let problems wash away your joy.

  Paul also gave the reason for his joy and thanksgiving.

1.   We are joyous when we are partners of the gospel.

  What were the reasons for Paul's joy and thanksgiving? Vs.5, "because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." Paul's focus was not on their problems but on the positive aspects of the Philippian church. They were partners in the gospel with Paul since his first visit almost 10 years ago. The word partnership means fellowship. It is not just talk and share and eat, but working side by side. Ever since Paul met them, they were partners with Paul in proclaiming the gospel message. What brings them together? The gospel of Jesus Christ. They labored together so others could hear the gospel.

  Why do people come to this church? Often we hear that I come because my friends are here. Or sometimes, I come because I like the pastor. Certainly it is important to be with friends. And it also boosts the pastor's ego. But there is one thing I have learned in my ministry. If someone comes to church because his friends are here, then there is also a high probability that one day, the person will leave the church because of friends. Why? Being sinful human beings, friendships can turn sour. Once buddy buddy friends, can become strangers and even enemies. If the person comes to this church because of the pastor, then very soon he will discover that there is something about the pastor he doesn't like and decides to leave the church. However, if the person comes because of the gospel, then there is much stronger staying power. You may have come here because your friends or a pastor; but it is important to remember that having joined this community, we need to remember that it is the gospel that brings us together.

  When the gospel is our focus, when we are partners in the gospel ministry, then it will be easier for us to overlook our personal likes and dislikes, to put down our pride, selfishness and personal agenda. We are here, so others may hear and see the gospel message in action.

2.   We are joyous because of our commitment to each other.

  There is another reason for Paul's joy and thanksgiving. Vs.7, "..For you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel." They were partners with Paul in grace. As we have learned two Sundays ago, Grace is associated with God's activity, his salvation. Defense and confirmation in the original language is a reference to legal courts. So Paul is saying that not only you were partners with me when I was free but now I am in chains and ready to appear in the courts to face the powers of this world for the sake of the gospel, you are still with me. You have sent a gift to me. This is commitment, and for this reason, Paul was thankful and joyous. And moreover, he was also very fond of them. He loved them very much, all of them, including those who are disrupting the unity.

  It is easy to be partners with someone when the person is successful. I think of the recent political scene in this country. Just over a month ago, John Kerry was short in funds and had to take money out of his own pocket. But now, money is coming in.We like winners; we want to associate with and give to the person who can win.

  Sometimes churches may also be affected by such a mentality. When we strategize, we like to identify with the fruitful, those with power and potential. But the Philippian church was not like that. They stood besides the apostle who was in prison. They were partners with him in the good and the bad times; in the up times and the down times.

  May this be a reminder for us. Let us not forget the churches, the believers in far away places. Their numbers may not mount to anything, according to our standards. As they do their best to share the gospel messages to those God brings to them, may we continue to be partners with them. So that they can be thankful and joyous when they pray for us for we are their partners from the first day until now. It will do us good to remember one commentator who makes this remark, "the only time Paul met the powerful and the affluent was in legal courts."

  Moreover, Paul is thankful for the Philippian believers because he knew that it was God that started the good work, that is, as partners of Paul's gospel ministry. He was confident that God would also complete the work. Vs 6, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Here is the mystery of human responsibility and God's sovereignty. It is God who works in us so that we can take part in sharing the gospel and stand by each other. It is God who works in us so that we can do the good work. With this in mind, then we realize that there is nothing we can brag about. Yes, we have our responsibility, but from the beginning to the end, it is God who works in us to enable us to do the good work. If we believe in this, we'll find ourselves so much more relaxed in ministry. It is God who works through and through.

III.   Paul's prayer for the Philippian Christians.

  Paul prayed for the Philippian church, and he prayed with joy. In vs.9-11 we learn about some of the contents of Paul's prayer. When we take a closer look at Paul's prayer, we'll notice that it is quite different from our prayer list. Our prayer list sometimes sounds and looks like a shopping list: for this week we need milk, eggs, bread, fish, ground beef and oranges. I always wonder, if we are not sick, with stable jobs, good kids and spouses, is there anything left for us to pray for? How did Paul pray for the believers in the Philippian church?

  1. Paul Prays for an increase in love. Vs.9, "And it is my prayer that your love abounds more and more….." It is not specified whether Paul is praying for their love for God or for each other. Most probably it is used in a general way: their love for God and men may increase.

  However, Paul also clarified the nature of this love. We sometimes associate love with certain sentimental emotions. But here, it is more: "With knowledge and all discernment (or depth of insight)." Knowledge generally refers to knowing God's will, that is, God's truth; God's word. 'All discernment' is used only in this passage. So, what does it mean to have love increase with knowledge and all discernment? Our love for God and men must be accompanied by our increase in knowing God's word and knowing how to apply it in our daily moral decisions. For example, someone comes to you and ask for $10 for food. Do you give him the money? If you don't, where is your love? If you give, how do we know what he will do with it? So knowledge with deep insight will say, let me take you to MacDonald and buy you a burger. Or let me take you to the grocery store and pay for the food. Or I'll go with you to the nearest gas station and pay for your gas.

  Another example. You are sorry that you have abused your spouse in anger, physically or verbally. Yes, you are sorry and ask for forgiveness and you are forgiven. However, love with knowledge and insight will go one step further. To make sure this will not be repeated, you need to seek out professional help so that you will know how to control and express your anger in a positive and non-destructive manner. To demonstrate your repentance, you may need to accept the church discipline by not taking the communion for a certain period of time.

  2. Paul prays for discernment. Vs.10, "so that you may approve what is excellent…." When we have love, knowledge and deep insight, we will then increase in our ability to discern what is best. In other words, knowledge and deep insight will enable us to know what is really important in life.

  As individuals, we need to know what is the most excellent in life. We are to know how to tell apart secular values from the biblical values. We know that Christ like characters, being obedient to God is more important than our professional and ministerial accomplishment. In St. Francis's prayer: we are to seek to understand and not to be understood, to serve and not to be served. Or, John Baillie expressed this so well in one of his prayers: Pray that we know it is more important to put right before interest; put others before self; put things of the spirit before the things of the body; principle above reputation.

  3. Pray for moral integrity. What is the consequence or result as our love increases in knowledge and insight, as we know what is important in life? vs.10, "and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ." Pure means being sincere and transparent.

  Lately I have been trying to scan many of my old slides into my computers. When I see the pictures on my computer, there is plenty of dust or dirt on them. A real good and well kept slide should be freed of such dirt particles. When you take that slide and view it under a bright light, it should be transparent. A person of purity is one who is transparent before God and men. There is no hidden agenda; there is no skeleton hidden in the closet. He is honest, what you see is what you get.

  Blameless means either not stumbling or causing others to stumble. It could be both here. A person with moral integrity is one who will not deliberately falter or cause others to stumble. As we grow in love, not only we avoid sinning but also will not cause others to sin. How about some of the words we use? To us, we are speaking the truth. But, if love is lacking, our true words can hurt others deeply.

  What is Paul praying for? That the believer will have more love towards God and men. Not just sentimental expression , but this love must be rooted in the knowledge of God's word and deep insight. When this love grows, it will bring about discernment, knowing what is most excellent in life , consequently becoming a person with moral integrity.

  How can this happen? Vs.11, 'filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.,…." What is the fruit of righteousness? Love, insight, discernment and moral integrity. Then there is also the fruit of the Holy Spirit. How? Through Jesus Christ. Again, it goes back to the idea that yes we have our responsibility but we need Christ to accomplish it. This is Christian growth. By the help of Jesus Christ, we become more and more like him. And what is the goal of all this? What happens when our love grows, when we know what is best in life, and when we become men and women of moral integrity? God will be glorified and praised.

  Isn't this the chief end of man? To glorify God forever.


   We desire a meaningful relationship, a meaningful community life where there is unity, harmony and love. We have this desire because we are made for it. However, because of human sinfulness, we are often disappointed with even the Christian community. Instead of unity, there is rivalry; instead of love, there is resentment and bitterness. So how do we maintain such unity and humble equality? Today's passage teaches us to pray.

A community that prays is not just a community or church that has many prayer meetings every week. Or how many people attending the prayer meetings. Sometimes it saddens me when I see churches that have regular prayer meetings but end up in quarrels and splitting. What went wrong? Not that they don't pray, but they don't pray rightly. A praying community is one that prays with joy, not focusing on the negatives or on the problems (we need to ask God's help to deal with the difficult issues before us), we need to go beyond and see individuals as partners in the gospel ministry.

May I suggest that in the coming next few weeks, you will design the prayer requests in your small groups according to Paul's prayer in this passage? That we thank God for John who is in Asia that he is our partners in the gospel ministry. We pray for William so his love may increase in God's word and insight. Please pray for me so that I will know what is truly important in life. Please pray for me that I'll pay more attention to become Christ like, that my life is transparent before God and men. Please pray that I'll stand firm and at the same time not to cause others to stumble. Please pray that God will help me, my family, my fellowship/small group to become men and women of moral integrity. So that other will say good things about our God.

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