MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
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TEXT: Philippians 1:1-11 (New Century Version)
This morning I would like for us to go back nearly 2,000 years to the city of Rome. It is an exciting time to be in Rome, a metropolis of gladiators, chariots, & palaces. But we’re not going to the coliseum or the emperor’s palace.
Instead, we’re going into a drab little room. Inside we see a man seated on a bench. He’s an older man, shoulders stooped & his head balding. Chains on his hands & feet are also attached by a longer chain to a Roman guard.
He is the apostle Paul, who has traveled all over the world of his day. He who was once bound only by the will of God is now bound by chains, restricted by walls, accused by enemies, & set for trial before the cruelest of emperors - Nero.
Paul is writing. Maybe he is preparing his defense before Nero. Or possibly, like the prophet Jeremiah, he is compiling a list of his hardships - a N.T. version of the book of Lamentations. You see, he has every reason to complain.
But no, he is not complaining. Instead, he is writing a letter that now, 2,000 years later, is known as the “Letter of Joy.” And that letter to the Christians at Philippi is the letter we will be looking at this morning.
ILL. A golfer once remarked, "Have you ever noticed how much golfers practice? And many smart businessmen have taken advantage of that, developing public driving ranges & putting greens where we can perfect our skills."
"But I wonder why someone hasn't developed public sand traps? Sand traps are an inevitable part of the game of golf, & every golfer really needs to practice how to get out of trouble."
APPL. I think that's true of everyone. For even as we talk about being thankful for the blessings that come our way, we must admit that problems also come our way.
ILL. Someone wisely said, "Problems are a part of life. All of us will have problems right up to the moment we die. And some of you will have problems after you die."
So it makes sense, if we're going to be facing problems, that we learn how to handle them. And the letter to the Philippians, written by the apostle Paul, can help us do just that.
He writes this letter while a prisoner in Rome under what we would call "house arrest." Today, courts enforce "house arrest" by attaching electronic monitors on the wrists or ankles of prisoners. But back then, they simply chained the prisoner to a series of Roman soldiers 24 hours a day.
Now that was usually better than being in a dungeon, but Roman soldiers could be cruel, & "house arrest" was not something to desire. Yet, Paul's letter to the Philippians is filled with thanksgiving. And in it, Paul writes that he is "always praying with joy..."
PROP. So let's look at the first 11 verses of Philippians 1, & see what Paul says about "praying with joy".
I. PRAYER SHOULD BE A FIRST RESPONSE, NOT A LAST RESORT
A. Paul begins by saying that prayer should be a first response rather than a last resort. Listen to Philippians 1:3, "I thank my God every time I remember you, always praying with joy for all of you."
Then, in chapter 4:6, he writes, "Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks." He is saying that whenever anything happens to him, whether good or bad, he prays. That's his first response.
He prays, "God, thank you for the blessings, & I even thank you for the troubles that come my way. Now teach me the lessons that I need to learn from them." Paul always started with prayer.
B. But many of us wait until we're knee?deep in the sand traps of life. Then we call upon God, "Help me. I'm in trouble." We turn to prayer almost as a last resort.
ILL. About 20 years ago a large cargo plane crashed near Pittsburgh, PA. The cause was a mystery, because the plane just seemed to fall from the sky.
So the investigators were particularly interested in hearing the information recorded in the plane's black box. It revealed that there were only a few seconds between the time the pilot detected trouble until the plane crashed.
In those few seconds the black box recorded these sounds in the cockpit: First, there was an "Oh!" followed by a profanity & a string of curse words, then came the crash, & silence.
If you suddenly discovered you had just a few seconds left to live how would you react? Would you curse or would you pray? Sociologists say that since you wouldn't have time to think about it, you would respond instinctively.
ILL. Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act. It is a habit." So what kind of habits have you developed in your life?
ILL. There's an old story of a soldier doing sentry duty on the front?line in WW1. After being relieved of duty, as a Christian, he wanted to pray, to thank God for protecting him, & to ask for His continued protection.
But the enemy lines were very close, & he couldn't go far, so he just walked a little ways away from where he had been standing guard, knelt & began to pray aloud.
The sentry who replaced him heard his voice & thought he was speaking to someone in the enemy lines. So he reported him. The officer in charge said, "You've been accused of revealing secrets to the enemy. How do you respond?"
The soldier said, "It's not true. I wasn't doing that." The officer replied, "Then what were you doing when you were out there facing the enemy & talking?" He said, "I was praying."
"You were praying out loud?" "Yes, I was." "Show me. Pray right now." So the young soldier knelt & prayed. And when he finished, the officer dismissed the charges. "Because," he said, "nobody can pray like that unless he has been practicing."
SUM. So what do you instinctively do when troubles come your way? Paul says that prayer should be a first response & not a last resort.
II. PRAYER SHOULD BE OFFERED WITH A GRATEFUL HEART
A. Secondly, prayer should be offered with a grateful heart. In vs. 3 Paul writes, "I thank my God every time I remember you..."
That's an amazing statement because if you read in the ?Book of Acts about Paul's first visit to Philippi you'll find that some bad things happened to him while he was there.
He could have said, "I remember Philippi & that demon-possessed slave girl who followed & harassed us. Then after the demon was cast out, her owners seized us, dragging us before the magistrates where, without any trial, we were stripped & severely beaten. Then they chained us & tossed us into a dungeon. Oh yes, I remember Philippi!"
But no - what Paul was remembering was Lydia & how she & all her house-hold became Christians. He remembered the jailor & his family, & all those others who became followers of Jesus. And he says, "When I remember, I thank my God for you."
APPL. Like Paul, we have a choice. Good & bad things happen every day. You can focus on the bad & become an unhappy complainer. But if you'll focus on the good, wonderful things can happen in your life.
B. It's obvious that Paul had deep feelings for the people in Philippi. In vs. 5 he thanks them for the "help you gave me while I preached the Good News - help you gave me from the first day you believed until now."
And in vs's 7 & 8 he says, "I know that I am right to think like this about all of you, because I have you in my heart. All of you share in God's grace with me while I am in prison and while I am defending and proving the truth of the Good News.
"God knows that I want to see you very much, because I love all of you with the love of Christ Jesus."
When you're experiencing problems, it's good to have friends who will stand beside you, whom you can count upon.
ILL. Cleve McClary is an ex-marine who was badly wounded. He lost one eye, all of his teeth, an arm, & most of the fingers on his other hand. He also lost hearing in one of his ears.
When you meet him he'll reach out with what's left of his one good hand, & grip your hand tightly. Then as he talks with you he'll look at you with that one eye & you know you have his attention.
Cleve has a personality & an optimistic spirit that just draws people to him even though life has been tough for him. He has a special license plate on his car with the letters "F I D O" on it. When asked what that means he says it means, "Forget It & Drive On."
SUM. There are times when we need to let go of our burdens & just "drive on" in life. So pray with a grateful heart, instead of complaining.
III. PRAYER SHOULD HELP YOUR LOVE GROW
A third thing Paul mentions is that he is praying that their love will grow.
Listen to vs's 9-11, "This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love; that you will see the difference between good and bad and will choose the good;
"that you will be pure and without wrong for the coming of Christ; that you will do many good things with the help of Christ to bring glory and praise to God."
ILL. A young man wrote, "Our youth group had volunteered to do a mission project in a very poor neighborhood. We had done such projects before, & it was usually fun to be working together. But this time, we weren't happy at all.
This time we were working on a woman's house & yard. Evidently she had done her best, but there were so many things that still needed to be done.
As we looked around we were dismayed by what we saw. The whole neighborhood - porches & yards - seemed covered with old sofas, discarded furniture, junked cars, & garbage, lots of garbage! And we began to talk about & make fun of the way those people lived.
The more we talked the more hateful our words became. We were no longer just unhappy with the neighborhood - now we were unhappy with each other. We argued & complained among ourselves. We picked on each other. We acted like a group who didn't want to be there at all, & I guess it showed.
Suddenly the woman who owned the house came out, & there were tears streaming down her face. She sat us down in the grass & said, "What’s wrong with you kids? Don’t you know I’ve been praying for a long time for someone to help? Don’t you know how badly we need to have bedrooms & a bathroom that works?
"I’ve been praying & praying. Don’t you know that you are the answer to my prayers? Then why don’t you treat each other like you're the answer to someone's prayer?"
From that moment on, everything changed. Instead of drudgery, our work became a true mission. Instead of tearing each other down, we built each other up. It was amazing. When you realize that you're the answer to a prayer, everything changes. (Adapted from David Clark on Sermon Central)
Think about it. Maybe you & I could be the answer to someone's prayer!
Well, is prayer a first response to you? Or is it a last resort? Do you pray with a grateful heart? Or are you always grumbling? When you pray, do you make sure that the love of God is growing in you?
INVITATION: If you're here this morning & you're not a Christian, you can change that. You can make Jesus the Lord & Savior of your life. That's why we extend an invitation. We give you the opportunity to come & join with us as we seek to serve Him here.
Will you come as we stand & sing?