By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Philippians 1.4, 9-11, 19; 4.6
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the letter of Philippians in conjunction with this article.
Paul and Prayer
As we enter into our study this week, we will be looking at Paul’s comments about prayer. In the first chapter of Philippians Paul references prayer three times (1.4, 9, 19) and in the fourth chapter (4.6) her references prayer once. As we look at these four passages, we can see Paul express these thoughts on prayer:
- 1.4 – Joyfulness in Prayer
- 1.9-11 – Substance within Prayer
- 1.19 – Deliverance through Prayer
- 4.6 – Essentialness of Prayer
So let us take a brief glimpse at the magnitude of each of these thoughts on prayer.
Joyfulness in Prayer
Perhaps the first thing we should do is identify joy. Thayer defines joy as “gladness” and Strong’s identifies joy as “cheerfulness, that is calm delight” but perhaps dictionary.com’s1 definition describes joy the best, “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” This definition seems to provide the best framework for understanding Paul’s joy in verse four. What is Paul joyful about? Paul is emotionally overwhelmed with delight knowing that “the saints in Christ Jesus which [were] at Philippi” chose to share in the proclamation of the Good News (1.5) and were sharing, in what the Complete Jewish Bible translates as “privileged work” (1.7). The application and question for us: when was the last time we prayed having joy for our fellow workers, knowing that they willingly participate in the glorious work of sharing the best news of the age?
Substance within Prayer
Paul is not averse to telling the recipients of his letters (epistles) that he prays for them, and he is also willing to mention, specifically, the items he includes in his prayers. What we see here in Philippians 1.9-11 is a summary of his prayer for the Philippians. It seems that Paul prays for three specific items
- 1.9 – For them to abound in love,
- 1.10 – For them to approve excellent things, and
- 1.11 – For them to be filled with righteous fruits.
These three areas are as important to us as they were to those brethren in Philippi.
As Paul mentions overflowing love, Paul wants them to have fullness of knowledge. This knowledge not only includes God, Jesus, and hope, but also biblical history, facts and how the Scriptures work together to tell God’s plan (mystery). Paul does not want their love to end with knowledge, but from their love and knowledge is to flow discernment – wisdom. Wisdom of how to communicate eternal truth, wisdom of how to live daily lives, wisdom of how to be a godly father, mother, brother, sister, son and daughter, to name only a few.
However, Paul does not want the brethren to only have love, he wants them to examine every thing so that they may be able to remain sincere, pure. But Paul does not leave them with the idea that they can remain loving and pure, no. Paul, mentions that he prays that they will be fruitful. Fruits of righteousness mean not just fighting against personal works of the flesh,2 but also sharing the Good News with others so that the lost are found, and bearing the burdens of each other.3
The application for us – while we may pray thanking God for our family, our life, home, cars, clothing, food, and other material wealth, include a plea for God’s healing hand for the sick, a supplication for God to bless our nation, and maybe a number of other items, the question is: do we ask for the specific growth items that Paul speaks of? Are the items that he prayed for any less important than our regular prayer contents?
Deliverance through Prayer
Prayer is powerful. We often say so, and often quote James 5.16 “… The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” which we understand to mean that the prayer is both powerful and effective. Yet sometimes we do not pray while truly trusting that God will answer. Consider Philippians 1.19, Paul has a completely trusting attitude. He believes in and values the power of righteous prayers. He values those prayers to such a high degree that he empowers the Philippians to be a source of his salvation (KJV), which seems best as a reference to his freedom from prison. Our application: do we really believe in the power of righteous prayer? Or do we doubt and hesitate?4
Essentialness of Prayer
It seems right to conclude that Paul was a man of prayer and was a man who believed in the effective power of righteous people’s prayers. Because of his temperament, we can see the beauty of the encouragement in Ephesians 4.6. Sometimes it is difficult to pray. We may feel unworthy. Or we might feel ashamed, frightened, or feel we are too sinful. While we do sometimes feel these emotions, we still should feel the security that prayerful supplication can provide and somehow find even the smallest of blessings and be thankful. Prayer is beautiful. Prayer is powerful. Prayer is needful. May we all become more prayerful people.
- Dictionary.com definition of “joy” April 9, 2008.
- Galatians 5.19-21
- Galatians 6.2
- James 1.5-7