Explore the Bible Study: Joy in Prayer

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"I'm praying for you" is something you have most likely told someone or someone has said to you over the past few days. It seems we are saying this more often these days because the need for prayer has never been more evident. The Explore the Bible Study: Joy in Prayer, will encourage you to remember that we can not only find joy in praying for others, but we can experience joy because of those who might be praying for us as we strive to live our Christian faith daily.

We begin a new study of the New Testament books of Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. These were all written as Paul sat in Rome waiting to appear before Caesar. All three letters begin with Paul passionately praying for these young churches:

  • Philippians 1:1-4 – Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons. 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer,
  • Colossians 1:1-3 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother:  2 To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters. Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
  • Philemon 1:1-4 – Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother: To Philemon our dear friend and coworker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home. 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers,

Paul’s prayers were not trivial words mentioned in passing. They were passionately offered on behalf of these young believers because of the relationship Paul had with each of these churches and individuals and his desire to encourage them to continue to grow in their faith.

The focus this week will be on Philippians 1:1-11 and Paul's prayer for the church in Philippi. In Acts 16:11-40, the church at Philippi’s early beginnings is described. This early church was an example of the unity we are to have in Christ while being from diverse backgrounds. The founding church believers were made up of a Seeker (a woman named Lydia), a Slave girl (possessed with a spirit), and a Sentry (a Philippian jailer, a gentile)! Even though they were diverse, they were partners for the gospel in this early church.

As you study Philippians 1:1-11, imagine yourself sitting with Lydia, the slave girl, and the jailer as this letter is opened and read for the first time. Consider how you would have felt if you were among the Philippian Christians and you heard Paul’s encouraging words and how he and Timothy were praying for you.

Paul and Timothy Affirm and Offer a Blessing -- Philippians 1:1-2

Servants (Slaves) - Their greeting was from a position of humility and not power. They described themselves as servants, literally meaning "slave," in verse 1. Timothy and Paul considered themselves to be completely at God’s disposal, in body and soul, ready and willing to serve him in any capacity as a slave would serve a master. 

This is a very distinct term that would resonate with the early church. When the Roman Empire defeated a nation, sometimes conquered people would be enslaved. Paul was writing to the church at Philippi from Rome in AD 62. According to the HCSB Study Bible, there were an estimated 3 million slaves (400,000 in the city of Rome) of a total population of 7.5 million Romans in AD 63. Yet God led Paul and Timothy to use this term to describe their relationship to Christ.

However, there was one big difference in Paul and Timothy’s servitude. It was voluntary and not coerced, stemming from grace and resulting in peace. Realizing they had been bought with a price, the death of Christ in their behalf, Paul and Timothy voluntarily became servants of God. They regarded service as slaves to God as a great honor. 

Saints - They referred to ALL the believers as saints or “holy ones.” A saint is not a super Christian but a normal Christian. To be a saint means to be “set apart,” “holy,” or “sanctified.” A saint is separated, consecrated, and devoted to God’s service by the Holy Spirit which takes place the moment one trusts in Christ as personal Savior. As his saints we are called out to serve him rather than pursue sin.

Overseers and Deacons – While all believers are saints, there were two primary officials in the early church—overseers and deacons. Overseer comes from the Greek episkopos meaning “superintendent,” “guardian,” or “bishop” and is most understood as the pastor or elder role today.

A deacon was another official office in the New Testament church and is derived from the Greek word diakonos—“one who serves.” The need for this position arose as the number of converts to Christ grew. Acts 6:1–6 revealed how this significant office began. The obligations of deacons involved practical service, ministering to the physical needs of the church. 

Paul and Timothy, from their position as servants, spoke a blessing to ALL the believers in the Philippian church. All were connected and given grace and peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All were blessed no matter their position.

Why He Was Praying - Philippians 1:3-8

Paul's prayers for these believers were rooted in the loving memories he had of their relationship. He said he prayed for them in his every prayer. He then tells them why.

They Were Partners! - Being partners in the gospel and in grace was vitally important to Paul as he sat in house arrest. Paul knew he was not alone in taking his stand with Christ. There were partners standing with him, seeking to live Christ-honoring lives in their locations. Paul represented those believers while inside the walls of that Roman house while they represented him outside those walls. They expected each other to represent Christ well in word and in deed, with Paul expressing the joy he found in their partnership. They were counting on each other to do the right thing.

Today, we join the efforts of missionaries and various ministries by supporting them with prayer, finances, and sometimes by donating our time to labor alongside them. Christian ministry is not meant for Lone Rangers, but as a team we labor together in the Lord’s harvest.

Paul then expresses his confidence in them in Philippians 1:6 by telling them that he knew that, "He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

  • Do you feel confident that God will carry out a good work in you? Why or why not? 
  • How would it feel if a fellow brother or sister in Christ put their arms around you and said, “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus"?

Prayer is one of the greatest ways we express our love and affirmation of other brothers and sisters in Christ. However, we should not just pray for one another, but we should tell others we are praying for them and why we are praying for them. This kind of praying spurs others on toward spiritual growth and encourages them to never give up.

What He Was Praying - Philippians 1:9-11

Paul prayed the believers' love would keep on growing, that they would be given discernment regarding truth, making decisions, and how to live for Christ. He prayed they would make choices that would keep them pure and blameless at the day of Christ Jesus—The Second Coming or the rapture. He prayed their lives would produce the fruit of righteousness. He reminds them that none of this is possible without Jesus Christ.

How Should You Pray?

Paul’s letter began with a prayer for believers whom he dearly loved and appreciated because of their faith and commitment to Christ. He desired to let them know that he was praying for them before he talked with them regarding anything else.

Based on Paul’s prayer how could you pray for the following? 

  • Believers in Afghanistan?
  • The servicemen you know who served in Afghanistan?
  • Churches in southern Louisiana who were damaged by Hurricane Ida?
  • Churches in Waverly, Tennessee who are trying to help all those who lost everything in the recent flood?
  • Families you know who have lost loved ones to COVID?
  • Individuals whom you know who are currently sick with COVID?

Friends who will pray for us are treasured. Their prayers encourage, direct, and challenge us in our spiritual lives. Who do you know that needs to hear from you today? Who needs to know how special they are to you and that you are praying for them? Consider writing a letter to them, sending them an email, texting, or calling them and letting them know today how you feel and that you are praying for them.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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