Over the last week or so I’ve been reading through the book of Philippians. It’s a book I’ve always enjoyed. Paul is writing to the church he has established in Philippi, and, despite the fact that he is writing from prison, his letter bubbles over with joy. In fact, many people would identify joy as the theme running through the whole letter.
But, as I’ve been looking into it this week, another theme has stood out to me, and it has inspired me to write a series of posts tracing this theme through the book of Philippians.
The theme can be summed up in three words: what really matters.
Today we’re looking at Philippians 1:1-11. If you have a few minutes, I’d highly recommend that you read these verses before continuing.
I love how Paul opens each of his letters with a reminder of his identity and the identities of the recipients of the letter. Here, he describes the Philippians as “God’s holy people… who belong to Christ Jesus,” and he describes himself and Timothy as “slaves of Christ Jesus“. (v1)
It’s easy to gloss over these opening words, but I think it’s significant that Paul always begins by stating that, as Christians, our identity is found in Jesus – in belonging to him and in serving him. That’s what really matters, and it’s a good reminder, that we need repeatedly, to see ourselves, and others, through that lens.
However, the main thing that struck me in this section was Paul’s prayer for the Philippians.
If I think about the prayers I pray for myself and others, too often they are about circumstances – asking for God’s help in difficulties, or his wisdom for difficult decisions, or that ministry opportunities people are involved in would go well.
I don’t think those prayers are necessarily bad, but I was struck by the contrast with Paul’s prayers for the Philippians.
He begins by giving thanks for them, and then goes on to present his list of requests:
- that their love would overflow
- that they would grow in knowledge and understanding
- that they would understand what really matters
- that they would live pure and blameless lives
- that they would be filled with the fruit of their salvation
- that the way they live would bring much glory to God
The focus is not on their circumstances. It’s all about their character.
It challenges me to think about what I pray. I fear that too often it’s about quick fixes and an easy life, for surface transformation and visible results instead of the deep work of the Spirit. I pray for success, progress, and numbers, instead of love, growth in character, and God’s glory. And when it comes down to it, that’s what really matters.
It’s a challenge to pray well – to pray that way for myself, for my church, and for other friends, including you who read this blog… so let me do that now.
“I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” (Philippians 1:9-11 NLT)