Last week, I saw this meme that had a picture of the Apostle Paul with the following caption:
IF THE APOSTLE PAUL WERE ALIVE TODAY:
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, to the churches of the United States of America - grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ: I don't even really know where to begin with you guys..."
Although this is a fictional statement, there probably is some truth to it. We should be able to look at the examples of the churches in the Bible and be better, stronger, deeper, and more Christ-like than they were - simply because we can look at their examples of what not to do. We shouldn't want to be lumped in with the Corinthian church, who were sanctified but had all kids of issues. We shouldn't want to be compared to the Galatian churches who were "quickly deserting the one who called them to live a life a of grace and turned to a different gospel". We shouldn't want him to think of us like the Thessalonican church, who were "uninformed" and were too focused on times and dates of when Jesus would return. We shouldn't want him to think of us like some of the Ephesian church, who "departed from the truth and said that the resurrection already took place and destroyed the faith of some".
But what if we took a step back and looked at the church right here and now in the good 'ole US of A.....what New Testament church should we want to look like?!? There are no perfect churches, but one of them that we should want to be studying is the church in Philippi. This ancient city was like a retirement community for people who had once been successful leaders in Rome; now they settled there to live the easy life. And then one day, Paul and Silas came to town. When they were on their way to pray, Paul casted a demon our of a female slave that could predict the future. To thank them, the townspeople attacked, stripped them, beat them, and through them in prison (This is where they started singing in jail one night). After they left, Paul later wrote that church a letter and started it by saying this:
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now., being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:3-6)
If you read through that beginning, you'll find two great reasons for us to pattern ourselves after this church: they prayed and they partnered.
Why do we need to pray together?
Paul tells us that praying for each other and with each other will make a huge difference in the way we see each other. This begins with turning our eyes to God, helping us see each other the way God sees us. An approach like this eliminates us getting petty, selfish, guarded, frustrated, and isolated. It teaches us that we each need God to save us (there is no one righteous), and we need God to show us how to love the other people around us that He saved. Paul used a lot of absolutes here, saying things like "every time I remember you", "in all my prayers for all of you", and "I always pray with joy".
What an example he set for us! If we are going to pray, we need to pray together. As you pray this week, ask God to point out someone you can/should be praying for. And then ask God how you should be praying for them. You just might be surprised who He brings to mind and why you need to be lifting them up.
Why do we need to partner together?
While they are away at college, my sons attend a church called "Together Church". I love that! Every time they go, they get reminded of what they should experience within that local body. I think Paul would appreciate that, and I think he appreciated the way the Philippian church did that. When he prayed for them, it brought joy to him because of how they partnered together. No matter what was going on around them, they joined hearts and locked arms - trusting God to do something in each of them and then collectively among them. This all started with Him beginning a good work in them and then being allowed to carry on that work - until that work was completed (which would only happen whenever Jesus returned).
Whenever we decide to let God have His way among us (instead of us getting our own way), that opens up the possibility of Him starting, continuing, and completing a powerful movement. This week, I challenge you to find ways to help others in the faith with you to start this process. Ask God to start it in people that don't know him yet. Pray that they will be introduced to and will then embrace Jesus. Then, ask God to continue to build others up in the faith. Who do you know that needs to grow spiritually?!? Be praying for them. Finally, ask God to strengthen people around you to not give up on Him; pray that He will sustain them until he brings it all to completion. This will happen "some"day, so let's be praying that people in our church(es) will having staying power until it does!