1 From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.
To all God's people who belong to Christ Jesus at Philippi and to all your bishops and deacons.
2I pray that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
Paul's Prayer for the Church
3Every time I think of you, I thank my God. 4And whenever I mention you in my prayers, it makes me happy. 5This is because you have taken part with me in spreading the good news from the first day you heard about it. 6God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won't stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns.
She has just finished an Alpha course when her company relocates her to the other end of the country. International students in your outreach café become Christians in the final months of study and return home to Iran and France and Mexico. Your cousin, a believer, works 12 hour shifts offshore two weeks a month. Letters and emails are no substitute for face to face encouragement and mentoring, but sometimes there is no choice. What do you say? What is it necessary to include?
Paul is a master at long distance discipleship. He packs the conventional letter writing style full of gospel explosives which send shards through the rest of the letter. Unusually, he omits to mention his apostolic credentials and simply refers to himself and Timothy as servants of Christ, modelling equality, partnership and servant leadership. His recipients are called ‘saints.’ Overseers and deacons are acknowledged, but every Philippian Christian is part of God’s holy people.
In the face of some selfishness and disunity, right from the start, Paul reminds them of what is more important than anything: who they are in Christ. The stereotypical greeting is transformed as they are showered with ‘grace and peace’ – unmerited kindness, harmony and security granted through the Father and the Son. Well before the age of tweets and sound bites, Paul encapsulates the wonder of the gospel in a couple of verses packed full of depth and glory.
If we share Paul’s concern for new believers far away, we may also be encouraged by his joy. Thankful prayer gobbles up the kilometers of separation. When someone becomes a Christian, God is at work, continuing what he has begun. As we pray for a believer’s protection and flourishing in Christ, as we write messages they read and reread, we can trust God to complete what he has started (v 6).
First used in Encounter with God July – September & October – December 2014, written by Fiona Barnard, copyright Scripture Union. Used with kind permission.
Thank you, Father, for Paul’s example of long distance discipleship. Thank you, too, that what he wrote centuries ago still speaks and disciples us today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.