Knowing How God Is Going to Answer Prayer (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 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. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 18b-19)

Paul says several remarkable things here.  First, he continues his plan to rejoice despite the fact that some are preaching Christ from selfish motives.  But to his joy that Christ is being preached is added his joy over the fact that he knows that he is going to be set free once he makes his defense before Caesar’s court.  Where does he get this confidence?  It is not from his certainty that Caesar’s judges will always give a just verdict.  It is not from the confidence he has in his own ability to make a Perry Mason like defense that will have the judge weeping at his bench.  It is the next two remarkable things he says that give him the basis for his certainty.  And they can serve to give us certainty, also.

The second remarkable thing he says is that he knows he will be delivered (from death, I might add) because of the prayers of the Philippians.  The Philippians have certainly been praying for Paul, but they have also been keyed in to the idea that their monetary gift is what is going to be so effective in Paul’s situation.  Paul sees things completely different.  He did not send a missionary support letter and add that if the Philippians couldn’t finance him would they at least pray for him.  He really wanted the prayer more than the money.

I walked by a children’s Sunday school class the other day and overheard the teacher tell her students that the Bible tells us that the more people we have praying for us the more likely God will answer.  I don’t see that directly communicated in the Bible and it creates some unique concerns.  It is, no doubt, what motivates some to create prayer chains and to broaden those out across the globe if possible.  But if it is a numbers game how many does it take to tip the scales for God to answer?  My wife, bless her, argued that James’ statement, that the prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much (James 5:16), could suggest that if you have more than one righteous person praying you could accomplish even more.  Perhaps, but who would argue that Elijah was hindered in his prayers in any way because he was alone?

Nevertheless, when we have many people praying for us it may at least signal that we have many people who love us and should increase the chances that a righteous person is praying in faith for us.  We know from Jesus’ own teaching that God is eager to answer our prayers and provide justice for us (Luke 18:1-8), and of course Paul knew this.  He had the Philippians, who loved him, praying for him, people who had demonstrated that they were righteous in the way they had given to him financially from the beginning of their faith walk with God.  And he knew God was eager to provide justice for him in answer to prayer.  So Paul felt confident.

But the third remarkable thing Paul says and that increased his confidence of being released in answer to prayer was that he had the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus was instructing his disciples about what they would face as they preached the good news he foretold that they would experience persecution and would even be hauled before courts and required to give a defense for their faith (Luke 12:11,12).  They would not be arraigned for true crimes but for following him.  And he told them that they would not need to prepare their defense in those situations because the Spirit would teach them what they should say.

Paul was taking this promise to heart.  He believed the Holy Spirit would give him the right things to say in this most tense and frightening of times.  He had no doubt heard how the Holy Spirit filled Peter and John in this very way when they were brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8).  They were able to give a powerful defense.  They were still beaten as a show of the Sanhedrin’s displeasure.  But they were released.  Jesus didn’t promise release, however, but simply a supernatural ability to make their defense.

So I believe Paul had one more reason for believing he would be let off of the charges against him.  We’ll see this when we get a little further into chapter 1 of this great letter.  But even lacking Paul’s extra reason for confidence, these he states here are available to us as well.  We can sometimes know how God is going to answer prayer.  When we see the alliance of the factors we have seen Paul mention here, we can feel confident of God’s answer to our prayers.  When we are serving him in the gospel and facing persecution that is unjust, we may know that God is eager to answer our prayers for deliverance and provide us with the filling of the Holy Spirit to enable us.  Paul had experienced this many times.

Admittedly, not all saints are so delivered.  We need only think of Peter and James who were imprisoned at the same time (Acts 12).  James was immediately beheaded, but Peter was released miraculously.  Both had the church praying for them to get justice.  Only Peter experienced justice.  There are times when God’s purpose is to use our suffering as a testimony to the unbelieving world as to the strength and purity of our belief.  But in many cases He wants to demonstrate His power to provide for His children.

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