"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." Philippians 1:4-5
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Paul is filled with joy because his friends from Philippi are partners in the gospel with him, and they have been from the beginning of their relationship. Our aim today is to define what it means to be in "partnership in the gospel." Here are a few possible (and really good!) definitions:
* A relationship with other believers that involves mutual sharing.
* Self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. (D.A. Carson)
* Gospel-centered friendship.
And here is one more, a lengthier description from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, Life Together (a highly recommended read - click the title to see it on Amazon): Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ.”
From these brief descriptions, which are based on good exposition we have only a little room for here, we get the sense that gospel partnership is beefier and more profound than
what we call "fellowship" even though the Greek koinonia is translated both ways. The fact of the matter is, gospel partnership demands something of us. Jesus said that if we're going to follow him, we'll have to "take up our cross" (Mark 16) and if we want to gain our life, we must lose it (Matthew 10).
So what exactly is demanded of us? What is required? What kind of commitment are we getting ourselves into? There are at least five facets of commitment that gospel partnership entails:
1. It is a prayerful commitment. We’ve seen Paul’s example of prayer for the believers in Philippi. Later in chapter one, (verse 19), Paul expresses his confidence in the Philippians’ prayers for him! So, a very real part of their partnership is prayer. If you scan Paul’s letters, you see a priority of prayer among the churches and the believers who fill them. A partnership in the gospel means we will pray.
2. It is a financial commitment. In the 1st century, koinonia commonly had commercial overtones. As D.A. Carson explains, if two men bought a boat to start a fishing business, they entered into a fellowship, a partnership. In the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. For example, when the Macedonian Christians sent money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26), they were entering into a partnership. Later on in chapter 4 of Philippians, it becomes evident that this congregation had contributed to Paul on what appears to be more than one occasion. A quick perusal of the NT letters would reveal a lot of giving and receiving going on, among the churches, the people, and the ministers & missionaries. Have a look at Acts 2:44 and Acts 4:32 and be amazed! A partnership in the Gospel means we will give.
3. It is a growing commitment. The writer of Hebrews exhorts the collected Christians to whom he speaks to consider how they may "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (10:24). The description and use of the "body" metaphor used in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 implies that every believer should be growing and become stronger. Paul's prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 is all about growth! A partnership in the gospel means we will grow.
4. It is a serving commitment. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that God's people are to be equipped "for works of service" and the result of this equipping is the body being "built up,", reaching "unity in the faith" and becoming mature. As Paul continues with his metaphor, he mentions "every supporting ligament" and "each part" doing its work. In so many words, no one is left out, and every individual has a role to play, a job to do. A partnership in the gospel means we will serve.
5. It is a long-term commitment. Paul rejoices in their partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now and then continues the thought with his confidence that God will bring the work to completion. The reality of running a race is that when you know you're going to reach the finish line, you're actually energized to keep running. Herein we see the balance between God's preserving power and our own perseverance. When we grab hold of the knowledge that God started the work in us and is going to finish it, we become even more motivated. A partnership in the Gospel means we will finish.
Partnership in the gospel is not a commitment to a particular denomination or a particular way of doing church or a particular style of worship. It is a commitment to the superior and simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If that is not at the heart of what we’re doing – if it is not the prow of the ship – then we are wrong, no matter what our style or programs or denomination.
A partnership in the Gospel means: We will pray, we will give, we will grow, we will serve, and we will finish – TOGETHER.