We’ve been moving our way through the Bible and, more recently, through Paul’s prison letters. As we start a new week, let’s look at Paul’s letter to the persecuted Christians of the church in Philippi. Paul uses his own circumstances as an example of knowing what it means to be persecuted, he is in prison for his faith. His desire is that his words to the Philippians will encourage and strengthen them in the midst of their difficulties. He calls them to holy living and joy – yes, joy and passion for Christ even when life is at its worst.
Paul knows things have been rough for the church in Philippi, that they have suffered persecution for their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. He too was in prison and understood what it meant to be mistreated for his faith. He encourages them to continue living for Christ and like Christ. But let’s go back and see how Paul starts his Philippian letter:
This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. – Phil. 1:1-2
Grace and peace – a familiar greeting used in Paul’s letter but written with great meaning. It was not similar to when we pass someone at the store and say, “Hi. How are you?” It’s a standard American greeting but we usually don’t expect the person to stop and give us a full explanation of how they are doing. We expect them to say, “Fine. How are you?” and be on their way. Not so with Paul. He is speaking a blessing over them as he starts out his letter. I wish God’s grace in your life. During good times and bad times, may God’s generous grace be evident and may His peace reign in your hearts.
He goes on to speak a blessing over them and let them know how he is praying for them.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
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. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:3-11
Paul prayed with joy and confidence regarding the persecuted believers – joy that they were fully committed to the gospel, and confidence that the same God who started a good work in them would faithfully carry it on to completion. Oh, how I love that verse! God will never abandon us. He took the initiative in sending His Son to die on a cross so that we could experience salvation and He can be trusted to continue to work in our lives beyond our salvation decision. He will take the good work that was started in our hearts and strengthen it, helping our faith to grow and our love to over flow.
Love – that is what Paul is praying God will grow in the hearts of the Philippians. Not just grow but ABOUND. Abounding love, knowledge and deep insight. Paul prays for these things because he knows that it will help the believers be able to discern what is God’s best for them and live a holy life until the day of Christ.
To have knowledge, depth of insight and discernment, while being filled with the fruit of righteousness – who wouldn’t want to have all of these things? But no matter how hard WE try, we cannot have any of these things of our own strength. It is God who started a work in us and who continues to work in us to make us who He wants us to be, not for our credit but for His glory, not for our plans but for His purpose. It is the fruit of our relationship with Him – of His Spirit living within us and producing within us a “good work”.
Lord, we open our hearts to you to this morning and pray that you will bless us with these same gifts. Will you fill us with abounding love? Will you give us deep insight and discernment as we study your word and consider your plan for our lives. Our desire is to grow in our relationship so that the fruit of your Spirit will produce good works and holy living for your glory. Help us to recognize your grace in our lives, even when life is difficult, and give us peace in all circumstances. We love you, Lord. Amen.