January 4, 2014
“Prayers for Confidence”
This morning on this first Sunday of the New Year, I’d like to leave Christmas behind us and jump right into a new study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is a wonderful book to lift our spirits through some cold and dreary days of winter. This is Paul’s most joyful letter, even though he wrote it while confined in prison. He helps us look for joy despite painful circumstances. The truth is that we cannot control all that happens in our lives, but we can choose how to respond out of the faith we have received.
Let’s begin with some background for our reading. Paul was on his second missionary journey. God called Paul to cross over into present day Greece from what is now Turkey. Philippi was a leading city in the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony; many retired Roman soldiers lived there. Acts 16 tells us that on the Sabbath, Paul and his company went outside the city gate to find a place of prayer, and there met Lydia, a seller of purple cloth. She became a believer and invited them to stay in her home. From this beginning the first Christian church was founded in Europe.
While they were in Philippi Paul and Silas were thrown in jail because of a healing they performed on a girl who had been a fortune-teller. Around midnight Paul and Silas were singing hymns in the prison when suddenly an earthquake flung the prison doors open and their chains flew off. The jailer was about to kill himself, thinking his prisoners had escaped, but Paul told him the good news of Christ and the man became a believer.
Paul and the people in the Philippian church forged a close bond. Ten years later when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, the Philippian believers put together funds to support Paul’s needs. They sent these funds through a messenger, Epaphroditus, who became sick, but when he recovered Paul sent him back to Philippi with thanks, along with the letter we know as Philippians.
It is a letter of joy – Paul uses the word joy or rejoice fourteen times in just four chapters. Paul prays for the Philippians and loves them, and sends his good wishes to them. Paul’s joy is rooted in his faith in Christ. Paul talks about Christ’s example of humility and his sacrifice for us. Paul encourages the people of Philippi to be unified in Christ as they take on Jesus’ attitudes of sacrifice and humility.
Paul begins his letter with a customary greeting from him and Timothy, addressing those who are in Christ Jesus. In using this phrase “in Christ Jesus,” he means those who trust in Jesus and allow Jesus to live within them, which enables them to live a holy life. Because they are in Christ Jesus they are set aside for a holy purpose. Paul wishes them to know grace and peace, gifts that come only from God through his son, Jesus.
In verse 3, Paul writes that he thanks God every time he remembers the people of Philippi. He says that in all his prayers, he always prays with joy because of their partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. That’s how I feel about all of you as we seek together to be faithful in serving as God has planned. It is a joy when we are all on the same page, endeavoring to move forward together in Christ’s name. We accomplish much more when we will pull together in the same direction. We support one another in our walk of faith, and we try to lighten the load any one individual has to shoulder.
Paul prays with confidence that Christ who began a good work in them will carry it to completion on the day we meet our God face to face. This is an amazing promise, and a confidence I want for each of you. Jesus our savior began his work on this earth with the first tiny breath he took in the stable in Bethlehem. He continued this earthly work through his death on the cross when he took upon himself the punishment that should have been ours. When we came to faith and embrace Christ’s work as done on our behalf, God begins to work in us. As we allow God to move within our hearts through the Holy Spirit, we become more like Christ and God fits us for heaven.
We are not complete yet, but God took the initiative to begin that work revamping us and remolding us into his image. Salvation always begins with God, so our confidence is in God’s work, not our own. Consider what a joy it is that God takes responsibility for guiding us and helping us become truly new creations in Christ. That gives us hope for a bright future, even if right now we are unfinished products. But it also means we cannot ever be content with how we are today, because God has a plan and we need to get on board with it.
Paul says be confident and encouraged in your life of prayer. Approach God with reverence, as we should, because God is greater than any other thing. Yet come in prayer with confidence, because God wants us to draw near. This is an amazing privilege, not to be taken lightly.
Imagine for a moment that you were invited to meet the president of the United States. You would expect that you would have to undergo a number of screenings and security checks before you would be admitted to the White House. The president’s schedule is jammed packed on a daily basis, so your meeting with him would be carefully planned in his calendar, taking but a few minutes out of his day.
In contrast, through prayer you enter into conversation with God, who is president and CEO not of some company or country, much less the world, but is master builder of the entire universe, all we can see or imagine. It is an amazing truth that you pray, God’s time is yours, just for the asking. God will give you his full attention whenever and wherever you happen to be, no waiting in line, no need to be penciled in for some future appointment. God is here for you – right now. That’s the wonder and privilege of prayer.
You belong to God, so you are invited to come with confidence into God’s presence, as it is written in Hebrews 4. Draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, to receive mercy and grace to help us in time of need. 1 John also talks about having confidence in approaching God: if we ask anything according to God’s will, God hears us.
Paul prays 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 Christ Jesus – to the glory and praise of God.
I think about a line graph – if I was in charge of a business I would want my company line graph to show an upward line. I would want it to gain a better market share, show greater profits, and develop further growth in productivity. God is in charge of us, so God wants to measure a similar upward graph of our lives. Let’s see – is she growing in faith, love, knowledge and depth of insight? Is he learning to discern what is best, becoming pure and blameless, and filled with the fruit of righteousness? In their lives do they give glory and praise to God?
I began a new Bible plan on You Version the other day. The devotional reminded me that every morning, first thing, how good it is to talk with God before making any decisions for the day. Maybe it will be a good day but maybe it will not, but no matter what, God has promised to be with us and will get us through whatever the day brings, if we remain in him. Ask God to guide your decisions, your thoughts and plans, so you can live as God has planned for you.
Be confident of God’s presence and God’s love. Be confident that God has a good plan for you, and that the work that God has begun in you will continue until the day you are complete and standing before the Lord. Pray that your love will abound more and more. Pray that God will give you new knowledge and depth of insight that enables you to praise God more and more. Pray that each day you may come to discern what is best, so that you may be called pure and blameless on the day of Christ. Pray we may be unified in love as we grow in faith and knowledge. It’s a process that has begun but won’t be complete until we stand before God some day.