Summary: What are the characteristics of a Church that's alive? See what Paul prays for.
Paul had some tough times as he traveled around the Mediterranean telling people about Jesus. He faced opposition from various sources: from the Jewish leaders who were worried that he was taking people away from their Jewish worship, from Roman authorities who were concerned that this new religion was causing civil disturbance and even from commercial interests who were bothered that this new found faith might take people away from their superstitions so they’d stop buying the religious mementoes that were on sale everywhere. This particular opposition came to a head in Philippi when Paul and Silas cast out an evil spirit from a female slave; an evil spirit that had enabled her to tell fortunes, at considerable profit to the woman’s owners. As a result Paul & Silas had been thrown into prison and even when they were released were asked to leave town quietly.
So Paul & Silas had left Philippi, not being quite sure how effective their ministry of the gospel had been. They had a couple of converts, Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth and the Philippian gaoler, who’d been converted when God had miraculously freed them from gaol. But you can imagine him worrying. Lydia and the gaoler were from opposite ends of the social spectrum. She was a well-off Jewish woman, he a working class Greek. How would they go working together?
So just think how he must have felt when he finally received word that the church there was flourishing. And now he’s just received another visitor with a gift of money sent from the Church in Philippi to help him while he’s living under house arrest in Rome. And so he writes to them, telling them about his joy and explaining what it is that he prays for them. In fact it’s quite instructive to see what he prays for them and to think about what it is that makes a Church alive.
I thank God for you - v3
The first thing to notice is that the thanks for their faithfulness goes entirely to God. Too often the person who gets thanked is the minister or the evangelist. I guess we’ll be thanking Roy next week for the work he’s done here for the past 6 years and it’s quite right that we should, but at the same time we need to remember that it’s God who brings the increase, God who gives the harvest. We need to remember that, because it’ll inform our prayers. So we won’t just pray for the ministry team but we’ll be praying that God would bless their ministry, that God would be at work among us.
I pray with joy - v4
Secondly he says he prays with joy. It’s not always easy to be joyful when things aren’t going smoothly. Paul would have had lots to worry about. He was in prison in Rome. The Church in Philippi, like the Church in most places, was under attack from those who wanted to bring Christians back under the control of Judaism and he had little control over what was happening so far away. Yet he says whenever he thinks of them he prays with joy. So what is it that gives him such joy?