Prayer as Thanksgiving, Part 3
Phil 1:7–8: Prayer as Thanksgiving, Part 3
I don’t really like the question, “What’s your life verse or favorite Bible verse?” The reason whyfI don’t like the question is because I try to make all the Bible my favorite. I don’t like excludingfor not think about verses I don’t like. Further, my favorite verse tends to change from week tofweek. Depending what I am going through or studying, I might have a different favorite verse.fIt’s hard to say. There so many good ones.
Now, if I was forced to answer the question, “What’s my life verse?” there are a couple of versesfI might provide as an answer. One of those verse has relevance for this Sunday’s sermon. It’sfRom 1:16. Turn with me there. It reads,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
One reason why I love this verse so much is because this statement, “for it [the gospel] is the power of God for salvation.” This gospel that we gather to understand and proclaim is not important. It is not weak. We don’t gather in weakness. We gather in the power of the gospel. This is the most powerful message ever to be given to man. It is the very power of God. When the gospel gets a hold of someone’s life, that person’s life changes. They’re different. I love that. I love to see the power of the gospel. That gospel brings about incredible realities in the lives of Christians.
This morning we will be focusing on some unbelievable truths regarding the power of the gospel in the life of believers as evidenced in Paul’s life. These truths are hard to believe because they are contrary to how we so often experience life. Paul’s example shows us what the power of the gospel looks like in a believer. If you have a Bible this morning, which I hope you do, go ahead and turn with me to the passage that we will explore this morning. That passage is Phil 1:7–8. This is the third and final sermon on “Prayer as Thanksgiving.” Next week we will begin a two-part series on “Prayer as Supplication.” Philippians 1:7–8 reads,
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you kin my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both min my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
I will have two points for you this morning. Like last week, I will conclude each point with some application.
Paul’s Motive in Thanksgiving
For this first point, we will investigate the emotions, attitudes, and feelings that Paul has that motivate his thanks for the Philippians. What is it in Paul that it driving him towards his thankfulness to God for the Philippians? What is Paul’s motive in thanksgiving? This is our first point. Paul’s motive in thanksgiving.
We see Paul’s motive, we see the emotions, attitudes, and feelings that are driving Paul to give thanks for the Philippians in vv. 1:7 and 1:8. We will look first at 1:7 and then 1:8. The part of v. 1:7 that I want you to see is found right at the beginning. It says,
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart
This first interpretive question we must address to understand what Paul is saying here is to ask, “What is the ‘this’ referring to?” This “this” in this verse refers to Paul’s general positive attitude towards the Philippians—his thanks thankfulness towards them mentioned in v. 3, his towards them in v. 4, his recollection that they’ve been co-laborers in the gospel “from the first day until now” in v. 5, and his conviction that God will bring about in them a full a complete salvation in v. 6. We might summarize this by paraphrasing what Paul says in 1:7 (look with me there) this way: “It is correct for me to think of you Philippians in such a positive manner because I hold you in my heart.” Paul feels nothing but love towards the Philippians. And he is saying that it is
right that he feels this way. Why is it right that Paul has such a positive reception of them? That is spoken of in v. 7.
because I hold you in my heart
Paul feels in such a manner “because he holds them in his heart.” This is a statement that we ought not interpret “literally.” What odd conclusions we would come to if we did. Paul did not literally hold the Philippians in his heart. So, if it’s not literal, what is it?
This is not a hard phrase to understand. To hold someone else in your heart is an expression that you love them. Paul loved the Philippians. He loved them. That is his motive in thanksgiving: love. Paul is so thankful for the Philippians because he loves them. Christian love for brothers and sisters in Christ manifests itself in thanksgiving for one another.
Now go ahead and look at 1:8.
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Paul here further explains his love for the Philippians. Notice the intensity of this love. Look at that word “yearn.” That’s a strong word. It implies an intense affection. This is the definition of the word:
to have a strong desire for something, with implication of need, long for,
To better understand the idea here, we might contrast Paul’s yearning for them with one word that I do not really like. That word is “sure.” “Sure” is a very weak word. It’s somewhere between a “yes” and a “no.” I think it’s a very flimsy “yes.” A “kinda,” “sorta” yes. A very week yes. Let’s say you ask a woman to marry you, and she responds, “Sure.” “What kind of response is that!? Do I even want to marry this woman?” you might think.
Paul avoids that type of flimsy response in 1:8. He is the farthest removed from that. He “yearns” for these people. His emotions and affections are captivated by them. He loves them deeply. Paul is all in with his love for these people. There’s no holding back from Paul about his feelings.
The reason why Paul can have such an intense love for the Philippians is found in the phrase “the affection of Christ Jesus.” This is a massively important phrase. A phrase that I have been contemplating for weeks now. To understand what it means, we must hone in on the word “of.” What does Paul mean by “the affections of Jesus Christ?” This is what it means. One commentator puts it this way. When Paul says he longs for the Philippians with the affection of Jesus Christ he means that he longs for them with
the love Christ has for you, which is also at work in me for you.
Wow. So what Paul is saying here is that he longs for the Philippians with the very same love that Christ has for them. Paul is an extension of Christ. Paul has in his heart the very same love that Christ has for the Philippians.
To better understand what Paul is saying here, turn with me to Col 1:28. This, too, is a powerful
passage. We will read through verse 29. It says,
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
What I want us to notice is v. 29. Paul says here that he toils to preach Christ by using Christ’s own energy that is at work in Paul. Paul doesn’t say that he struggles with all his own energy. He says that he struggles with Christ’s energy that is present in himself.
That same idea is what Paul is saying in Phil 1:8. The love that motivates Paul to give thanks to God the Father for the Philippians is Christ’s very own love for the Philippians. Paul holds the Philippians in his heart because Christ holds the Philippians in his heart. That intense, passionate, affectionate love that we see Paul writing of here is Christ’s love. Paul is an instrument and extension of Christ’s love on earth. Wow.
Paul speaks at length in Phil 1:7–8 at length of his feelings, his yearnings, his emotions, and his affections for the Philippians. He speaks at length about how he feels towards the Philippians. He feels the love of Christ towards him. In making this point, it is important that we understand that Paul did not always feel this way towards Christians. Paul did not always exude affection towards Christians. In fact, previously in his life, Paul felt the exact opposite towards Christians. Turn to Phil 3:4 with me. Look what Paul says of himself as he was prior to his conversion to Christ.
Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.
I want you to see that last phrase, “a persecutor of the church.” As this phrase and the book of Acts shows us, Paul, during the time when he went by the name of Saul, hated Christians. He approved of their executions and sought to arrest and punish them.
What Paul’s example shows is that Christ can change our affections towards others and that this needs to take place. There’s the possibility and the responsibility of Christ changing our affections towards others.
Basic to Christianity is the idea that God can change you. God’s grace is powerful. It changes us. Part of that change exhibits itself in the emotions, the affections. Now the emotions and the affections are not something we have complete control over. Sometimes the run wild and we can’t seem to control them. Our emotions, the way we feel towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, are difficult to manage.
Nevertheless, if you struggle feeling affectionate towards your brothers and sisters in Christ, you need to seek to model Paul’s example. Jesus’ control and command of Christians extends to our emotions and feelings. We don’t have the option of feeling any old way towards one another. I know in a previous message I have said that Christian love does not demand that you feel buddybuddy towards all Christians. But that statement must be challenge with Paul’s example. Jesus Christ demands that he have a say in how you feel towards one another. He commands us to have his affection towards others. And that which Jesus commands, he can accomplish in your life.
Paul’s Context in Thanksgiving
For our second point this morning, we will investigate the context in which Paul is giving thanks. The context in which Philippians was written. I have touched upon this point in previous sermons, but I have not elaborated on it. Paul’s thanksgiving is given within the context of his imprisonment.
Paul eludes to this at the end of v. 7. He states,
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
One difference between the ESV and other translations is the different way that the English word “imprisonment” is translated. Other translations might translate it as “bonds” or even “chains.” The idea those translations express is that Paul is actually chained down to the floor. He’s not just imprisoned; he’s chained. I’m not sure which one is correct. Commentators differ on this issue. The idea I want you to get, though, is that Paul is being held in a prison, whether chained or not, I don’t know. His circumstances are far from ideal.
And why is he imprisoned? What actions of his have led to him being imprisoned? Paul explains that for us when he states,
and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Paul is imprisoned for the gospel. The gospel is everything to Paul. It is worth living for; it is worth dying for. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It is the means by which man is made right with God. It is true. It is the story of the person and work of Christ in his first and second. It is of such value that it is worth forsaking all for. Paul’s main pursuit as an apostle is the gospel.
Specifically, Paul seeks to defend and confirm the gospel. Going back to 1:7, we see these two words “defense” and “confirmation.” The word “defense” is the Greek word ἀπολογία. This is the Greek cognate for the English word “apologetics.” When you hear of Christian apologetics, this Greek word stands behind it. Paul was an apologist. He sought to defend the gospel against those who attacked it and attempted to undermine it. Like what we do in apologetics, Paul sought to remove obstacles for people in their belief in Christ. This is what ultimately got him in trouble. Paul sought to defend the gospel and was thus imprisoned.
Paul also sought confirm the gospel. This word “confirmation” in 1:7 ought to be understood as the opposite of “defense.” Defense is a negative idea—removing obstacles. “Confirmation” is a positive idea—establishing, confirming, validating, vindicating. Paul saw his whole life as a means of confirming the gospel. He also saw his imprisonment as way to confirm the gospel.
Paul was imprisoned for doing the right thing—defending and confirming the gospel. That was the circumstance in which we find Paul in the book of Philippians. And what was Paul’s response to all of this? As I wrote in a former “From Pulpit and Paper,” what’s missing from Paul’s writing is any hint of self-pity. Paul did not view himself as a victim. He did not feel sorry for himself. He did not pity himself. Instead, he saw his imprisonment as a means of grace from God towards him.
Look again at 1:7. Paul mentions that the Philippians
are all partakers with me of grace
There are two ways to take this notion of “grace” mentioned here. One way would be to say that both Paul and the Philippians have partaken together in the saving grace of Jesus Christ; that is, both Paul and the Philippians have had their sins forgiven, their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ. While this interpretation is theologically correct, Paul is saying something a bit different here. He does believe that he and the Philippians have been given grace, but that’s not what he is talking about here.
Well, then, what does Paul mean by “grace” here in 1:7. Go to Phil 1:29. We read this passage last week. It reads,
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake
The Greek word that stands behind the English phrase “it has been granted” is the verb form for the word “grace” in 1:7. Another way to translate this 1:29 passage is, “For it has been graced to you.” This “granting” in this passage is a “gracing.” All gifts from God, all grants from him, are acts of grace. In 1:29, Paul is saying that two blessings have been graced to the Philippians. The two blessings that have been graced are belief and suffering for his sake. Whenever Paul says in 1:7 that the Philippians have shared with him in “grace,” what he is referring to is the “grace” of his imprisonment. It is the “grace” of suffering for Christ’s sake. This is what this means for Paul’s mindset. Paul views his imprisonment—his physical suffering for the defense and
confirmation of the gospel—as a gift from God, as a blessing.
Woah! Wait! What! Paul viewed his imprisonment as grace? Yes, he did. He did not view himself as a victim but as a recipient of a blessing from God.
This truth here, that Paul understood his imprisonment as “grace,” highlights what the gospel does in our lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ reorients our lives. It flips them upside down. The gospel completely changes our priorities and what we deem as valuable. Prior to coming to Christ, we viewed suffering, difficulty, and trial as experiences that we ought to avoid at all costs. Signs of God’s displeasure. In the gospel, though, these negative experiences take on a completely different meaning. Rather than signs of God’s displeasure, suffering, difficulty, and trials now become means of blessing to us. It is through difficulty that God works in us the process of salvation. It is through difficult, trial, and suffering that God shows forth to us his grace.
Turn with me to 2 Cor 12:7. We will read through v. 10. It states,
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In this passage, Paul discusses suffering and the benefits it brings to the Christian. Specifically notice v. 9 and 10. Paul boasts in his weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest on him. This theological truth, v. 10, leads him to be content with trials.
Many of you suffer. Many of you struggle. Many of you are struggling through trials. Death and sin are all around us. How should you respond to your difficult circumstances?
First, we need our perspective changed. The gospel teaches that loss is gain. That is the message of the gospel. In Christ, he makes our loss gain. Suffering, trials, difficulties are to be embraced as God’s way of working in us redemption. Don’t run from your trials. Jesus didn’t. Embrace them. They are the means by which the power of God is manifest in your life.
Second, give thanks in them. Just as Paul thanked God for his work in the Philippians while he was imprisoned, so to you should thank God for what he is doing in your life, in this church, and in the world. Sometimes this is the hardest thing to do. But this is what God calls us to. Praise his name in your storm. Thank him for the power of the gospel.