The resources we really need – Philippians 1:18b-19

By: Northern Seminary

My online dictionary gives this definition of the word ‘resource’:

A source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed.

I like words like ‘supply,’ ‘support,’ ‘aid,’ and the idea of being able to readily draw on them when needed. When I left home I was determined to be independent. But, of course, my parents worried whether I was eating properly or had enough money for rent or bills. “Let me give you some cash,” my Dad would say. And I’d refuse, protesting I was fine. “Well,” he said, “always know we’re here, we care, and we’ll always help.”

That was fabulous – a resource that could be readily drawn on when needed.

Paul – a prisoner for the sake of Christ – might have seemed in a dreadful situation: shut away from most of the world and facing a very uncertain future. But Paul had resources, and he could draw upon them whenever he needed.

Philippians 1:18b-19

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.

Someone facing tough circumstances can all too easily sink down and down to a place where everything seems hopeless, believing there is nothing they can do to escape their problems. I saw that with Gary and Jeannie. They’d taken out loans and then followed up by overspending on credit cards. Their liabilities were well beyond their ability to repay. The day of reckoning came, with a likelihood of legal action against them. They were miserable. “It’s all hopeless,” they told me. “There’s nothing we can do.”

We talked, and I asked about family, friends, anyone they knew who could give them wise counsel, and whether they’d talked with their bank and other lenders to create a recovery plan. It turned out they had a lot of caring and helpful people around them. Those people weren’t going to hand them wads of cash, but there was support and guidance, and some were willing to help negotiate deals with lenders. Gary and Jeannie had been looking only at their problems. They’d failed to realize they also had resources.

Paul didn’t make that mistake. He was a prisoner, and some could have thought his situation was hopeless. Paul knew better, because Paul knew he had resources.

He mentions two of them to the Philippians.

Paul has the resource of their prayers.

Paul writes to them:

“I know that through your prayers… what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (v. 19)

Paul certainly prayed, but he emphasizes the value of their prayers. And this is far from the only time Paul was explicit about how much he needed the prayers of others.

1 Thessalonians 5:25 – “Brothers and sisters, pray for us”

2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 – “Brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored… And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people…”

2 Corinthians 1:10-11 – “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

Philemon 22 – “Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.”

Romans 15:30-31 – “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe…”

Paul is the great apostle. Most of the churches he founded would think he marched fearlessly around the Roman Empire with the gospel. Yes, he had setbacks, and yes, he was persecuted, and yes, some people failed him. But he kept going. He was knocked down but he always got back up. His way forward seemed impossible, but he always found a way that was possible. He was held captive, but always found some means to use his circumstances for God. What a man of strength!

Paul didn’t boast about his strength. In fact he wrote to the Corinthians:

“I will boast… gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. … For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Paul wasn’t strong, not in his own body, mind or spirit. But he had Christ’s strength and – he tells the Philippians and others – that’s because of your prayers.

From time to time through all my days in Christian ministry, people have said to me: “I pray for you every day.” Some of those were church members I saw often. Many were people I hardly knew but they’d heard me speak or cared for the church or institution I was leading. Every time someone has told me they were praying for me I have been surprised and humbled. I was surprised because it had never occurred to me they would do that, and humbled because they cared so much about what I was doing to keep bringing my needs before God. If ever I have been able to do something good for God and for his kingdom, it’s been because of the strength that came because people prayed. The prayers of others are an amazing and powerful resource in our lives.

Paul has the resource of the Holy Spirit.

People facing illness, betrayal or any very hard trial, have often told me, “I felt strengthened when I realized so many were praying for me.”

I knew what they meant, and there is strength in knowing that people care and are praying. But the deepest and greatest strength isn’t because many people pray. Strength comes because God answers their prayers.

Paul knows that, of course, so he doesn’t look on the prayers of the Philippians as a resource in itself. But he rejoices that along with their prayers has come his other resource.

He writes:

“I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (v. 19)

Hollywood has created an image of the ‘tough guy,’ the one who feels no fear, survives appalling hardships, endures torture, and keeps going even though dreadfully wounded. It’s as if nothing really harms the hero. They leap out of planes without a parachute. They march through deserts or blizzards. They keep going even after being hit by machine gun fire. They never give up secrets no matter what is done to them. They’re beaten and left for dead, but five minutes later they’re back in the fight. Oh, to be that kind of strong person.

But it’s only an image. It’s not real. Real people actually die, and those who survive great trials say, “I’m not at all brave. I was in pain and I was frightened. But somehow I got the strength to keep going.”

That’s what Paul would say too. He didn’t fit the Hollywood image. He bled, he cried, and sometimes he feared he would die. In Asia, he told the Corinthians,

”We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.” (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

He had gone past the point of human endurance and into a place of no hope. He was sure he was facing his last days. In fact he still had a resource greater than anything the human body or spirit could muster. So he adds:

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:9, italics added)

Paul turned to God – to the God who loved him, held him, and who would rescue him even from death.

And that’s how he has strength through imprisonment. He tells the Philippians that God has given him the resource of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

We have that resource too, but most of us are not too good at recognizing what this means for us. Here are two things.

First, the gift of the Spirit means we’re never on our own.

Sometimes we remember the famous last words of Jesus to his disciples recorded right at the end of Matthew’s gospel:

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

But Jesus didn’t promise that only at the end. He had said it before. In John 14, several times in only a few verses, he told his disciples he would always be with them by the Spirit:

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17)

“…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:17-18)

“My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)

“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things.” (John 14:26)

Jesus was pledging to his people that they would never be abandoned, never left to cope as best they could, never faced with impossible tasks. He’d be there. His power would be there.

Back in my teens, when I started on my first driving lesson, I was frightened. A car is a powerful machine. What if I let it get out of control? What if I killed someone? Thankfully I didn’t. Nor would the car have gone out of control, because not only did I have a great instructor beside me who talked me through every maneuver, I was in a car fitted with dual controls. My teacher could take over anytime I was struggling. He was always there, and he was always in control. I wasn’t in danger, and neither was anyone else.

Knowing the Spirit of Christ is always there with us transforms life. Paul was never alone, nor are we.

Second, the gift of the Spirit means we have power for the impossible.

By the Spirit, God illuminates our thinking, strengthens our bodies, puts hope in our spirit, gives courage to our resolve, and opens our eyes to see great things ahead.

The Spirit is empowering, enlightening, enabling. There are things we could never do on our own, and places we could never reach on our own, but with the Spirit we are not on our own and therefore all things become possible. By the Spirit, we are transformed and what we can do is transformed.

Later in his letter to the Philippians, Paul will write this:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:12-13)

Paul was an overcomer. He could face dreadful circumstances and impossible tasks, and he could do them. Yes, but how? Paul is very clear about what or who makes that possible.

“I can do all this…” but not by my grit and determination.
“I can do all this…” but not because of my superior intellect or creative genius.
“I can do all this…” but not because of my charm, wit or force of personality.
“I can do all this…” but not because I am one iota more spiritual than anyone else.

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Italics added) Paul is saying: “not because I’m better; not because I have any superior powers; but simply because Christ gives me strength.”

There is no relationship without struggles.
There is no task without tension.
There is no call from God which is easy.
There is no plan without opposition.
There is no uncertainty without fear.

But, also, there is no day without Christ’s presence, no work devoid of his help, no task greater than his strength, and no Christian exempt from his Spirit and his power.

We are not alone. We are not without power.

Paul was shut away from people, but could not be shut away from their prayers. He knew that, and believed their prayers were one of his greatest resources.

Paul was shut away from human help, but could not be shut away from God’s help. The Spirit of Christ lived in him, and so he had hope, courage, and a deep sense that God yet had purposes for his life.

There’s an old hymn with opening words about lightning flashing and thunder rolling. The hymn describes many of life’s temptations, dangers and struggles. But after each verse comes the simplest of refrains:

No, never alone,

No, never alone,

He promised never to leave me,

Never to leave me alone.

Paul, a prisoner, found that promise to be very true.

August 21, 2015

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