But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. – 1 Corinthians 13:7-9 ESV
Paul was the consummate pastor. He had a pastor's heart and cared deeply for the people under his care, whether they were part of church he helped start or members of a fellowship he had never had the pleasure of meeting. And as a result of his pastor's heart, Paul prayed pastoral prayers. At one point, Paul had urged the elders of the church in Ephesus, “So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock--his church, purchased with his own blood--over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). He wanted the elders to share his heart for the people of God. In Paul's mind, the members of the local fellowship were far more important than he was. They took precedence over his own well-being, safety and reputation. Paul wasn't in it for the glory or the gain. He didn't do what he did for recognition or reward. He was a servant of God, serving the people of God – selflessly and sacrificially. And the great desire of his heart was that they do might do what was right. He wanted them to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. He wanted them to understand the full scope and benefit of the gospel message. It was that message that was the heart and soul of his ministry, and he would never have done anything to harm or alter that message in any way. Paul was willing to suffer persecution, misunderstanding, rejection, physical abuse, verbal threats, false accusations and assaults on his character – all in order that the people of God might live godly lives. If he had to appear weak in order for those whom he discipled to become strong, so be it. Paul knew that his calling by Christ was to a life of service and humility. So he put himself last and the people he served, first.
And as usual, Paul turned to God for help. He prayed. He prayed regularly and fervently. He prayed expectantly and hopefully. He asked His loving Father to provide the strength, wisdom, and guidance needed so that the flock might live according to His will. It is God's desire that we do right, not wrong. When we pray for spiritual growth and godliness in the lives of others we can pray with assurance, because we are praying within God's will. “God's will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). God's greatest desire for His children is their continual transformation into the likeness of His Son. And so that is what Paul prayed for. That is what he longed for and expected God to bring about, because he knew that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Ultimately, Paul's prayer was for the perfection. He was longing for the day when they would be fully completed in Christ. He knew that God was in the process of perfecting them, sanctifying them, step by step, from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). Christ-likeness is the objective. Godliness is the goal. And in the meantime, it should be our prayer that each believer live their lives, empowered by God's Spirit, and doing that which is pleasing to God – that which is right, not wrong. Only God can give us new hearts. Only God can transform our behavior. But we can pray to that end – regularly, expectantly, passionately and thankfully.