By Pastor Glenn Pease.
Chuck Swindoll was told this true story of Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Washington Red Skins. Joe's friend Frank looked out the window one morning and there was his faithful Labrador Retriever sitting on the front porch with something hanging from the dog's jaws. A closer look revealed it was his neighbor's pet rabbit. Frank panicked-what was he to do? His mind raced through the options, and landed on one he thought was best.
He pulled the rabbit from his dogs mouth, and brought it into his kitchen. He washed off all the dirt and gunk. Then he too it into the bathroom and pulled out the hair dryer and blew the dead creature until it was nice and fluffy. For a dead rabbit it looked quite nice. That night after dark Frank crawled over the back fence and placed the dead rabbit back in his cage. He then slipped back through the darkness, hopped the fence, and breathed a sigh of relief. His scheme seemed perfect until the next morning when there was a loud banging on his front door. When frank opened it, there was his neighbor with the dead rabbit clutched in his hand. "Frank," he said, "we have a real sicko in the neighborhood. My rabbit died three days ago and I buried it in the back. Some nut dug it up and cleaned it off, and stuck it back in the hutch."
You can just imagine how stupid Frank must have felt in hearing the facts which totally altered his whole perception of reality. He had totally misread the evidence and assumed his dog had killed the rabbit. It is amazing how we can turn reality into fiction by not knowing the facts. Most of the major divisions of history that put men at odds with one another are based on this demonic inspired ability to jump to conclusions without the facts. Men are forever trying to make divisions where the Word of God is making unity. Men often live in a world of fiction of their own making, and not the real world that God has made.
Man tries to divide the more female feeling approach to life, and the more male intellectual approach, and thus, separate the head and the heart. Paul makes all who so think feel stupid, for he links the two together as one, and says that love is to abound more and more in knowledge. Man tries to divide life into the good things and the bad things-the positive events, and the negative events. But Paul says that this neat classification is an exercise in futility, for God uses the bad things and negative events for our good, and His glory. You cannot compartmentalize life and keep the good and bad separate, for going to prison was the way God advanced the Gospel through Paul. The good and bad are linked together.
Man tries to separate the bad preachers from the good ones by focusing on their motives, but Paul says that what matters is not the motive, but the message, and so all the differences are not the issue, but the unity of all who preach Christ. The fact of the united message changes the whole picture of how you see the great variations and divisions of the church. Man is constantly looking for ways to divide and separate. God is looking for constant ways to link and unite. Division is the goal of man, but unity is the goal of God.
Man tries to say there are saints and non-saints, but Paul says, all who are in Christ are saints. Man says, there are clergy and lay people. Paul says to the Philippians, you are partners with me in the Gospel. There is no division in Christ. Man says, there is male and female in Christ, but Paul says, there is neither male nor female, and in 4:3 he says, the women equally contended for the Gospel at his side. Paul says, you cannot even divide between God and man, for in chapter 2 he says, God became man, and in Jesus Christ the divine and the human were linked forever as one. Men love to distinguish between what is human and what is divine less in mixing the two the divine gets contaminated. Apparently God was not worried about this, for He sent His Son to enter wholly into human nature. We don't have to worry that God will be offended by linking man to Him as partner.
It is true that man at best is sinful, and God is holy, and some things don't mix well, like gas and water; sin and holiness. We don't want to pretend like many cults do, that man is God. There will be an eternal distinction between man and God, and man will never be God. But the fact is, God made man in His image, and He makes man His partner in the history of His plan of salvation. It is this unity that we want to focus on, because of Paul's doing so in verse 19. "For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance."
I have read that verse many times and never saw the implications. It seems like a mere matter of fact, common place statement. But let me call your attention to the rather shocking thing Paul has done in this verse. He has linked together as one in partnership the prayers of the Philippians, and the help of the Holy Spirit. He even puts their prayers first before the help of the Holy Spirit. Will this not grieve the Spirit to be put in second place in the providence of God? Not at all, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ who humbly welcomes the cooperation and oneness of man's prayers for the cause of the kingdom.
We love to make division, and distinguish between the role of men and the role of God. Paul does not do this. He links the prayers of men and the providence of God. He makes them partners, and makes them one. We cannot claim to know that this is a fifty-fifty deal with the prayers being equal with the Spirit. But we cannot say its one percent prayers and 99% Spirit either. There is no percentage breakdown, for that is not the issue, but the issue is the partnership. God includes man in his plan. What we do, and what we pray for as Christians is not irrelevant to the plan of God.
Paul counted on the help of man and God. Here was one of the greatness men of God who ever lived. He was full of the Holy Spirit. He was gifted and empowered by the risen Christ, and yet, he needed the prayers of lay people for his success. Christian leaders do not succeed just because they are gifted and full of the Spirit. They need the support of God's people in prayer. Billy Graham has reached millions of people with the Gospel because of the masses of lay people that back him up in prayer. I don't know how God is going to credit people for their role in the kingdom of God, and reward all according to that role, but I have a hunch it is going to be surprising when we get to heaven to see the great rewards that go, not to great leaders, evangelists, and pastors, but to the unknown lay people who back them up in prayer.
Some of the big names are like the preacher Paul deals with in this letter. They have false motives and sinful attitudes, and you will see them poorly rewarded, but obscure unknown people who prayed for them will be greatly rewarded. The credit for the success of many God uses may not belong to them at all, but to the people who pray for God to use them. This gives every child of God an equal chance to get the highest rewards of heaven, for every Christian, however, handicapped and ungifted, has an equal opportunity to pray for the gifted instruments that God is using. That makes praying partners as partners also in rewards. Prayer is the great equalizer. We cannot all be Pauls or Billy Grahams, but we can all pray for the Pauls and Billy Grahams of history, and be partners in the plan of God on all levels.
Paul was no independent evangelist doing his own thing. He was a part of the body needing the body to support him. He was not on who says, "I don't need anybody. I've got God's support, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pray for yourself, but not me."" Paul needed the prayer and support of the body , for he did not divide the support of God and man into two categories where some needed one and others needed the other. Paul linked the two and said they are one, and all of God's people need the prayers of men and the help of the Holy Spirit.
If someone ever asks you if you depend upon people's prayers or the Holy Spirit, do not fall for this false division as if you are being more spiritual by saying you only depend on the Spirit. The only truly spiritual choice is the say you depend on both. Anyone who gets so spiritual that they no longer need the prayers of men are fanatics who have forsaken the Word of God for fantasies of their own making. If they sound spiritual to us, it is because we too have forsaken the facts of God's revelation. God has made men partners in His providence, and we are to be grateful, as Paul was.
One of the best illustrations I have ever read of this partnership comes from the book Simple Faith by Chuck Swindoll. He found this true story in Elmer Bendines book The Fall of Fortresses. It is the remarkable story of a B-17 Flying Fortress that flew a bombing mission over Germany at the end of World War II. The bomber took several direct hits from Nazi antiaircraft guns. A few even hit the fuel tank, but by some miracle the crippled bomber made it back without exploding. After landing, they discovered it was a man made miracle. Eleven unexploded shells were removed from the bomber's fuel tank, and each was dismantled. To everyone's amazement they were all empty of explosives.
Why in the world would the enemy be firing empty 20 millimeter shells? They mystery was solved when a note was found in one of the empty shells. It was in the Czech language, and had to be translated. It was a short sentence that said, "This is all we can do for you now." A member of the Czech underground working in a Nazi munitions factory had deliberately omitted the explosives in at least these 11 shells on his assembly line. He slipped this note in one hoping someone would benefit. He would never know, at least in this life, if his prayer was answered and someone was blest, and even saved by his small effort to overcome evil with good. But there is a crew from a Flying Fortress who no longer questions the role that men can play in the providence of God. They have their lives and a future because of the partnership of God and man. Thank God for man, for he is one of the key tools God uses in getting His will done on earth as it is in heaven.
The lesson we need to grasp is that it does make a difference who we pray for. If you dismiss your prayers for someone as being so insignificant as to be irrelevant, you may be cutting yourself out of a partnership with the Spirit of Christ to achieve a goal that God will not achieve on His own, because He depends upon your partnership. This is both scary and exciting. It is scary to think God might let a plan fail because He did not get our support. But is it is also exciting and encouraging to think God lets us play a role in His plan. Prayer may be all we can contribute to the plan, and it seems like a mere penny toward the national debt, but don't minimize it, and lose your motivation to pray. Your partnership in prayer is a mystery, and why God ever bothers to make it a factor is beyond our comprehension, but we need to take it seriously. If you know of a need of any child of God, lift that need to God in prayer.
You may feel an impulse to pray for someone you know little about at a very strange time of the day. Do not quench such an impulse, but pray for that person, for you could be playing a key role in their victory. The poet has captured the idea-
I cannot tell why there should come to me
A thought of someone miles and miles away,
In swift insistence on the memory
Unless there be a need that I should pray.
Perhaps, just then, my friend has fiercer fight
A more appalling weakness, a decay
Of courage, darkness, some lost sense of right
And so, in case he needs my prayer, I pray.
Is it pride to think there is anybody who needs your prayer? Not at all. If Paul is right, and God makes man a partner in His providence, then your prayer may be just that needed element for the success of God's plan. The Holy Spirit will do His part without fail, but if His partner does not do his part, there may be failure where success would have been easy.
If Paul did not believe he could be self-sufficient, and get by without the prayers of the saints, and if he could not be content with the help of the Holy Spirit alone, but felt the need for the prayers of men, who are we to dismiss the prayers of others as a mere meaningless ritual of no real consequence for life? Listen to Paul's amazing testimony in IICor. 1. Paul says he was facing pressures beyond his ability to endure in Asia. He felt like he was going to die it was so bad. But he says in verse 10, "He had delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us." Then he adds in verse 11, "as you help us by your prayers."
Paul credits the power of God for his survival to be sure, but he does not dismiss the role of men and their prayers. He links them with God as a factor in his overcoming the hardest battles of his life. The challenge of the poet was right-
Draw if thou canst the mystic line
Severing rightly His from thine-
Which is human, which divine.
Paul did not waste his time trying to determine the distinction between divine deliverance and human help. As far as he was concerned, they were one.
This partnership of God and man really gets front page covering with Jesus. He implies that God often will not act on His own as the senior partner until He get the O.K. from us through prayer. In Matt. 9:37-38 we read, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field." Why doesn't he just make an executive decision and do it? But no, He waits for the prayers of his junior partners. But what if they don't pray? We can then assume the issue is tabled until they do. By our lack of prayer we can hold up the progress of the plan of God.
You have three theological choices as you study Paul. You can be a Calvinistic Christian and focus on the sovereign acts of God, or you can be an Arminian Christian and focus on the human acts of obedience, or you can be a fully biblical Christian, and focus on the two of them as equally a part of God's revelation. God is clearly sovereign, and man is clearly free to obey or disobey, and so fully responsible for his choices. Paul refuses to pick one and reject the other. He makes them partners and nowhere is it more strongly stated than in Phil. 2:12-13 where he writes, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you..."
Everything you do, and everything you pray matters because God has made you a partner in building your own life, and in building His kingdom on earth. God made Paul a partner, and Paul says we are all partners with him, and so we are all partners with God.