Philippians 3: 8-11
In Sunday school we’ve been reading the classic work “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. This book is probably his most well-known book and in it he argues that our greatest ambition in life is to know God. The church father Augustine also said, “I desire to know God in my soul. Nothing more? No. Nothing at all.” It was his great ambition to know God. Do you know how Calvin’s Institutes begin? He argues that we need to know two great things: we need to know God and we need to know ourselves. The famous question from the Westminster catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” As Christians it is our great privilege to know the living God.
Dr. Piper says, “He is infinitely greater than the greatest person you could ever know or have ever heard of. He’s the most important person who exists. Nobody comes close. Being infinite, he is inexhaustibly interesting.” We never have to worry that God is boring. Every pleasure we enjoy, everything we consider beautiful is derived from Him. Every delight we have – the food we ate today, the sunset we saw, is a shadow pointing to God. He is greatest delight; there is beauty in His holiness. Dr. Piper says, “It’s astonishing, if you think about it, how little effort in this world is put to knowing God. It’s as though the President of the United States came to live with you for a month and you only said ‘hello’ in passing every day.” We can spend a lot of time on trivial things, can’t we?
How do we get to know God? What are the two great revelations He has given us to get to know Him? His Word and His world. The world is His general revelation (Psalm 19 and Romans 1) and the Word is His special revelation. Some things we can only know through His Word. His justice, for example, and His holiness. What is the great danger when it comes to knowing God? We can know about God but not truly know Him. He says, “You can know as much about God as John Calvin and not know God at all.” Think of the Pharisees, who studied God’s Word but didn’t know Him. It reminds us how dependent we are on God to know Him well. We need His Spirit to reveal God to us.
We see in Philippians 3 that Paul’s great ambition was to know God. It’s obvious that it wasn’t merely an academic knowledge. Verse 10 points to an experimental, personal knowledge of God, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”. In order to share in your friend’s suffering, you have to really get to know them. Of course, we will never know God comprehensively. We don’t even know our spouse comprehensively. One of the delights of Heaven will be growing in our delight and knowledge of God for eternity. We can never know God too well or too much. We will always be growing in our knowledge of Him.
Exodus 3: 1-6
In this familiar passage, Moses is face to face with God. We call this Old Testament manifestation a theophany. (Read Ex 3: 1-6)
The most amazing thing about prayer is that we get to talk to God. We see how amazing it is when we realize who God is. Who is He? From our Bibles, the word glory tells us about God. His glory is reflected in his holiness. If we only had one attribute to describe God’s greatness and majesty, it would be His holiness.
Theologians used to speak of the two kinds of God’s holiness: His moral holiness and His majestic holiness. Majesty has to do with His greatness and holiness expresses how He is different, distinct and separate from us. He is a God who is transcendent, far above us. There is no one greater than God.
The first time we are introduced to holiness in the Bible is here in Exodus 3. This comes through when God tells Moses he is standing on holy ground. What is Moses’ response? He hides his face; he is afraid to look at God.
The classic Old Testament text that references God’s holiness is Isaiah 6: 1-6 when Isaiah has the sight of God, high and lifted up, and those mysterious creatures called seraphim who repeat “Holy, holy, holy.” It is a superlative, repeated three times. The thrice repeated “holy” is also found in Revelation.
We have seen in Exodus 3 that God’s holiness affects everything. The fact that Moses stands on holy ground, for example. What else? The holy temple and all the instruments in it, holy throne, holy people.
Where should we go to get a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s holiness? Christ and His cross, certainly. Christ Himself is the holy Son of God. Everything He did and said was marked by holiness. Also, God’s law. Paul tells us in Romans 7:12, we go to the holy law to learn about the holy God. We worship a three-person God, each is perfectly holy. What makes prayer amazing is that we get to talk to a perfectly holy God.
1 Corinthians 11:1
See how Paul begins his epistle, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” He says something similar in Philippians 3: 17, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Again, in 2 Thessalonians 3:7 he uses the word imitate. In Philippians 4:9 he expresses the same idea, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things.” So, the apostle wasn’t shy about suggesting people follow or imitate him.
Dr. Carson once knew a young man who was very evangelistic, very zealous so he brought two men to him, who seemed to be seeking the truth. To one of the men, he said, “Watch me. Spend time with me, move in with me, see what I do when I get up and go about my day. Watch me. At the end of a month, see if my life is different as a Christian.” Have you ever said that to anyone – “Watch me”? “Imitate me”?
Why don’t we say that? For one thing, it sounds like pride. Who am I? Well, Paul said it; we have biblical warrant to say it. Did Paul say “imitate me” because of pride? He was a humble man. He said, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” (1 Corinthians 15: 5) He wanted others to see that the grace of God changes a person’s life. We shouldn’t hesitate to say this. Whether we say it or not, people do imitate you. Children imitate their parents. We are all imitators.
In 1 Timothy 4: 12 Paul says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Again, to Titus, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works” (2:7). Hopefully we invite people to see us at church, in the home and at work. We shouldn’t be ashamed to say, “Watch me. See what my priorities are, what I am living for.” The apostle Paul sets the example for us; he is someone we can imitate. Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” It’s one of the reasons we read the Bible – to imitate Christ.
Dr. Piper wrote a book, Thirty Reasons Why I Love the Apostle Paul. He says, “I love him for his single-mindedness.” Here was a man who set the course of his life and stayed on it to the end. He could say at the back end of his life, “I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) At any point in his Christian walk we could look at the apostle Paul and imitate him. Jesus even pointed to our being examples in the sermon on the mount when he spoke of us being salt and light. So, we can imitate Paul as he imitates Christ just as others will be imitating us.
This is a good passage to see a composite of the children of God. “The Godly Man’s Picture”, a book by Puritan Thomas Watson, sketches out a picture of several characteristics of a godly man or woman. In typical Puritan fashion, he has twenty-four. We will only focus on a few.
One characteristic of a godly person is humility. What is a text of Scripture that supports this? We could certainly use the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor in spirit”. Humility should shape our words and attitudes. It is the opposite of pride. Another characteristic of a godly person is patience. We could reference the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5. Also, James speaks of the patience of Job.
A godly man, says Mr. Watson, is a thankful man. We could look at the Psalmist and the Apostle Paul as examples of thankful men. How about faith? Hebrews 11 is a good place to go; all the saints are set before us in the gallery of faith.
A godly man is one who weeps. The Beatitudes remind us, “blessed are they that mourn.” A godly man loves the saints. We can look at the books of John, who tells us those who love God also love the brethren.
The godly man strives to be an instrument for helping others to be godly. Where do we see this in Scripture? All the “one another” commands. Also, Hebrews exhorts us to stir one another up to good works. A godly man is one who loves God’s Word. Psalm 119 and Psalm 1 are good texts which could be used.
Mr. Watson says, a godly man prizes Christ. We could go to the Apostle Paul and his desire to know Christ. Peter talks about Christ being precious to those who know Him. Finally, a godly man is one who prays. We could look at all the historical narratives, of Abraham, Elijah, Job and most of all the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s epistles begin and end with prayer. The first time we see the regenerated Paul, in Acts 9, he prays. Watson says, “When God comes down into us by His Spirit, we go up to Him by prayer.”
Philippians 1: 3-11
One theme that becomes apparent when we read the book of Philippians all the way through in one sitting is prayer. This theme is one we focus on when we talk about missions and the work of Gospel proclamation. Tonight, we are going to pray for the persecuted church. In Philippians we notice some subtle references to this. In verse 28, Paul encourages the believers - “and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” Paul knows the situation they are in, he thinks about them, he gives thanks for them and he prays for them. The relationships God has given us, the brothers and sisters in Christ we know, can fuel our prayers. We can give thanks for their perseverance in Christ. In verse 9, Paul prays for their growth in sanctification – “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” We see that this theme continues throughout the book.
In verse 19, as Paul reflects on their trials and how good God has been to them, he mentions their prayers. “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” Paul himself is under persecution and imprisoned. He knows he needs more than just the Holy Spirit. He tells them he depends on their prayers. Paul is not assuming he will be set free, but regardless of the outcome – life or death, he needs their prayers to be fruitful in his circumstance.
When we jump to Philippians 4: 6 & 7 and look at it in this context, Paul encourages them – “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” These saints weren’t just dealing with every day anxieties over work and church and school, but also worries over persecution. Paul opened with the theme of prayer and thanksgiving and he has come back to this. He showed them his own example and then encourages them to go to God with all their heart issues and desires. We see Paul entwining prayer with all his concerns in life. Prayer is a necessary thread in the fabric of the believer’s life.