Live to Create Joy in Prayer
As I began a study through the book of Philippians with a friend I came across these words from the Apostle Paul, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1:3-5). After reading these words several questions came to mind. The substance of this post will be used to explore those questions.
Question 1: What kind of church were the Philippians?
The Philippian church was located in Macedonia (present-day Eastern Europe) and was established by Paul during his second missionary journey. Paul had received a vision from God concerning the region of Macedonia recorded in Acts 16: 6-10. A prominent member of the church at Philippi was Lydia whose conversion is also located in Acts 16. God used this woman and her industrious spirit to assist Paul in advancing the gospel into Europe, the widest range of influence it experienced up to that time.
The Philippian church itself, as described by Paul in his letter to them, is exhorted by the Apostle to stand firm amidst suffering and persecution as he was in Rome (1:27-30). He commends their faithful partnership in the Gospel (1:5), their joy (2:17-18), dutiful obedience (2:12), and their generous giving (4:15-20).
All in all, we can conclude that the Philippian church was one of relative health. This church was a blessing to Paul during his life and ministry.
Question 2: What kind of lives had these Philippians believers been living to stir this up in the jailed apostle?
Do you live an intentional life? To ask it another way, do you live life with a certain desired end in mind? The famous Walden author Henry David Thoreau once said, “In the long run men hit only what they aim at.” This question of living intentionally could be asked of your entire life, specific decades, developmental stages, or even months, weeks and days. This line of thinking arose from the disposition that Paul was able to take in his prayers for the Philippian believers. As he prayed for and remembered them (Paul was most likely in a Roman jail while writing this letter) he was filled with thankfulness and joy. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 10:7 “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” Certainly, Paul was experiencing this blessing as he prayed for the Philippians.
But this begs the question, “what had the Philippians done to allow Paul this joyous prayer time?” The immediate context gives us some clues. For example, in verse 1 Paul cites that the church has “overseers and deacons” which speaks to the fact that the church was properly ordered. Verse 7 indicates that the Philippians shared in Paul’s sufferings and willingness to defend the gospel when the need arose. Another reason that surely filled Paul with joy was what he called their “partnership in the gospel” in verse 5. The entire next section will be devoted to unpacking that phrase but before we get to it, I want to pose one last question. Would it glorify God to live with the intentional aim of creating this kind of joy that Paul cites here in all those that pray for us?
Question 3: What does partnership in the gospel look like?
In the context of Pauls letter to the Philippians, it is fairly certain that the main meaning of their partnership in the gospel was their financial support of him as indicated in Phil 4: 14-18. However, this is not the entire meaning of what Paul has in mind when he penned these words.
The word Paul uses “Partnership” is Koininia in Greek and primarily translated as “Fellowship” in the New Testament but it has also been rendered as follows: Participation 1 cor 10:16; Sharing Phm 6; Contribution Rom 15:26. Here are some other aspects of the word Paul may have had in view.
- They embraced the Gospel just as Paul had. As the Expositor’s commentary points out, “with unusual heartiness and sincerity, [they] committed themselves to the cause of the gospel. They had made it their own cause. They had embarked in it as a fellowship to which they gave themselves heart and soul.” If you are a fan of classic fiction, think of the scene in the Lord of the Rings when a man from each of the realms of Middle Earth pledges to help Frodo bring the ring to Mordor and destroy it. His mission became theirs. This is the type of all-encompassing involvement that we are to have as partners in the Gospel.
- They were steadfast in their commitment to the Gospel. Paul says that their partnership had been, “from the first day until now” (v.5). Their passion for gospel ministry was unwavering. They put their hands to the gospel plow and pushed forward. This grace was so evident to Paul that the Spirit prompted him to affix a promise to their devotion, “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” (Phil 1:6). Their partnership in the gospel made them worker[s] who have no need to be ashamed (2 Tim 2:15).
- They were willing to share in suffering for the Gospel. Paul’s lengthy Roman imprisonment did not deter the Philippians from showing their love, support and willingness to pray and encourage Paul. And so Paul says, “I hold you in my heart” and “I yearn for you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Matthew Harmon writes, “the bond of Christian affection is deepened in the experience of suffering and persecution when the choice must be made to defend and confirm the gospel rather than abandon it out of convenience or personal comfort.” The Philippians entered into Paul’s sufferings much in the same way that Paul had, himself, entered into the sufferings of Christ (Phil 3:10).
Would it glorify God to live with the intentional aim of creating this kind of joy that Paul cites here in all those that pray for us?
I posed this question earlier and want to return to it now. There is much to be commended in the Philippian church but perhaps above all is that the sum total of their efforts in the gospel towards God created joy in prayer. Imagine if each Christian lived with the aim of making prayer for them a sweet and joyous experience! What could you do to make prayer for you a little less laborious and much more joyful? Let’s live in a way that at the mention of our names sweet memories of holy devotion and godly service flood the minds of the people who know us and allow their prayers for us to be filled with rejoicing and thanksgiving to God. If we do, we will have honored the legacy and the spirit of this ground-breaking church.
Matthew S. Harmon, Philippians: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Great Britain; Ross-shire: Mentor, 2015), 93.
Robert Rainy, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” in The Expositor’s Bible: Ephesians to Revelation, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll, vol. 6, Expositor’s Bible (Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton Co., 1903), 118.