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.
Psalm 61 “Why Do We Pray?”
I have one question to prime the pump of our praying: Why do we pray? How many reasons can we give? We pray because we need help for our personal needs. We pray because God expects us to pray. This is evident in Jesus’ teaching His disciples to pray; also, we are commanded to pray (Matt 7). We pray for guidance to know God’s will (Prov 3:6). Philippians 3 reminds us to pray with thanksgiving. We pray for forgiveness – to confess our sins. We pray because we have a familial relationship with God. He is called our Father. We want to spend time with those we love. We pray to enjoy our sonship privileges. We are given the Spirit of adoption. We pray to grow in grace (Ephes 4); one way to grow is by seeking God’s face and asking for His help. We pray for God’s glory – “hallowed be Thy Name”. This is the biggest reason. How many attributes are on display when we pray? All of them. God’s glory is displayed as the backdrop of answered pray. The psalmist says, “O how I love You; You answered my prayers.” We pray for the salvation of the lost (Matt 6) and for our own sanctification. We can also pray for peace and unity in the church. We have many reasons to pray.
2 Timothy 2:8
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel”. When preaching from this passage last Sunday, I quoted one of the Puritans who said, “Faith has a good memory.” That means, Christians make good use of their mind and memory; God wants us to use our minds and memory. The word remember comes up again and again in Scripture. For example, it is mentioned in the context of the Lord’s Supper. Also, the fourth commandment, with reference to the Sabbath day. God may use the related phrase, do not forget, such as when He brought Israel out of Egypt. At least nine times God says, “Don’t forget what I did for you.”
Why do you think this word remember comes up so often in our Bibles? Is God concerned that we might forget Him? We can suffer from spiritual amnesia. So, what can we do to keep on remembering God? How can we protect ourselves from spiritual amnesia? I have six practices to help us remember God.
First, make good use of the Lord’s Day. The primary use of the Lord’s Day is to remember God. The reason why the Pharisees made the Sabbath such a wretched day – they forgot God. They were so fixated on rules and traditions they forgot God. We can be sure the Devil doesn’t want us to remember God, or the Lord’s Day. He would like us to do anything but go to church and hear the Gospel. Go shopping, play sports, anything to get your focus off God.
Second, make your own memorials. Several times in the book of Joshua they build memorials. For example, when the Israelites cross the Jordan river they take twelve stones and build a memorial. What about us? We don’t necessarily have literal rock memorials, but we certainly have dates or markers in our minds to remind us of God’s goodness and faithfulness, certain times in our lives that God shows His marvelous providence to us.
Third, keep a daily journal. Many Puritans wrote down specific answers to prayer, opportunities they had to witness, the thousand and one blessings from God each day. It is good to remind ourselves daily of God’s mercies.
Fourth, practice thanksgiving. Thanksgiving focuses on God. It helps us remember His goodness and faithfulness. I think this is why the apostle Paul encourages us by his own example. He even gives the exhortation, “In everything give thanks.” His letters are filled with thanksgiving because he didn’t forget God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Fifth, make good use of the public and private means of grace: personal prayer, Bible reading, meditation, the ordinances of God – baptism, the Lord’s Supper, putting ourselves under the preached Word. These will help us remember God.
Sixth, follow God’s example. Does God ever forget us? God is omniscient, of course. But the Bible speaks of a special knowledge. God remembered Noah (Genesis 8). God remembered Abraham (Genesis 19). God remembered Rachel (Genesis 30). In Exodus 2, we read that God heard the groaning of the slaves and He remembered His covenant. The word used connotates affection. God remembers His people in a way He does not remember anyone else. As we remember those dear to us, so He remembers us. God even remembers the little things we do, such as giving a cold glass of water in the name of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
A few weeks ago, we talked about what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion – the fact that we worship a Triune God. The god of Islam, Allah, is not a three-person god, and Hindus worship 3 million gods. We worship one God, who has revealed Himself in three persons. This is a distinguishing trait of the Christian religion.
Another distinguishing trait, perhaps the second biggest difference from other religions, is grace. This is a key word to understand God’s Word, the Scripture. John Newton wrote, “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” We owe everything to grace. Our salvation starts with grace and ends with grace. It is never dependent on us. We have some involvement, obligations and responsibility but our salvation is all of grace. We are elected in grace, justified in grace, sanctified in grace, we persevere in grace, and will be glorified in grace.
It is grace from beginning to end. We need strengthening grace, enlightening grace – on and on. The good news is that God’s grace is infinite and sufficient. Think of how much grace God has poured into your life every day. We don’t have to worry that we are going to exhaust God’s grace. Think of the millions of Christians over centuries of time to whom God has shown grace. Has God every been exhausted? Has He ever said, “I don’t have enough grace for you”? No, He has infinite grace and sufficient grace.
We need grace to face our trials and difficulties. When Paul talks about grace in 2 Corinthians 12, it is against the backdrop of a severe trial. He describes it figuratively as a “thorn in the flesh”. There are may images of suffering in the Bible: fire, the valley, and a thorn. Perhaps he uses the thorn because of the trial’s longevity. Fire might refer to a quick, intense trial. This trial of Paul’s is obviously very severe. He says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (v 8). It doesn’t seem the Lord removed it, at least not in the short term. Paul could have gone to his grave with this thorn in his flesh.
We don’t know what exactly this thorn was, but God did not remove it. He tells us why in verse 7. It wasn’t because he was proud, but to keep him from becoming proud. We can all struggle with pride, self-sufficiency, self-reliance. We think we can handle situations on our own; we think we have all the answers. God will put thorns into our lives, perhaps quite regularly, to remind us we don’t have all the answers and keep us from arrogance. They keep us humble, depending on Him.
God doesn’t want us to go through life thinking we are strong. He wants us to realize how weak we are, how much we need Him. The trials of life are used to teach us how weak we are, to deliver us from the delusion of strength. Paul even celebrated his weakness; he gloried in it. Have you ever celebrated your weakness on a resume? We focus on how good and strong and wise we are.
Paul tells us why he boasted in his weakness. Verse 9, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He boasted in his weakness because it gave him the opportunity to glorify his Savior. Trials give us the opportunity to put Christ on display – His grace, His goodness, His wisdom, His power. Newton said, “Grace has brought us safe this far and grace will lead us home.”
We can certainly say that Christianity is like no other religion. To prove this, we can start with God Himself. Any of His attributes show that our God is incomparable. If someone from another religious background were to visit our church, what difference would stand out to them more than anything else? Perhaps the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship a Triune God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
When we pray, we pray to all three Persons. Dr. John Stott, each morning would begin his day by worshiping the Triune God. He would begin, “Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.”
Can we justify biblically praying to each Person of the Godhead individually? Arguing that we pray to the Father is easy. We can go to the Sermon on the Mount, to the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6: 9, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name.” What about the Son? We could go to Hebrews 4: 14- 15, “Since then we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God”. He is our Mediator, able to sympathize with our weakness. Also, in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My Name, this I will do.”
Even if we do not pray to the Son directly, our prayers are to be marked by Trinitarian flavoring. We pray in Christ’s Name. This is a blood-bought privilege. What about the Holy Spirit? Does the Bible ever speak of talking directly to the Holy Spirit? John Piper says, “If I grieve the Holy Spirit, I should probably talk to Him and find out how I grieved Him.” We could use Ephesians 6:18 to speak of praying to the Holy Spirit. “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” We can’t ignore the Spirit when praying. Also, Romans 8: 15 & 26-27, Paul makes it obvious that we need the help of the Holy Spirit. “But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by Whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” As well, Jude 1: 20, “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit.” We certainly cannot pray without the Holy Spirit.
So, our prayers should be flavored with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. This is what separates our prayers from the prayers of the Hindu or Muslim or other false religions.