Sharing in the Work of the Gospel

Philippians 1:3-7 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.  Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.  And I am certain 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.  So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.

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It is very clear that Paul had a close and special relationship with the believers in the church at Philippi.  He prayed for them, often.  And it says here that he gave thanks to God whenever he remembered them, and in his prayers for all (not just some of them, but all of them), he was filled with joy as he prayed.  And note how he says, “for you have a special place in my heart.”

We must ask ourselves, why did Paul has such a strong and positive emotional attachment to these people in Philippi?  If we look back into the book of Acts (chapter 16), Paul spent a very short time in Philippi, probably a few weeks or so.  And the highlight of his visit there was spending a night in a dirty, dingy jail.  Or was it?

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We are fairly certain that there was no active worship building, like a synagogue for the Jews.  Paul and his companions had to go outside the city to the river where they found only a few woman gathered there for a time of prayer (Acts 16:13).  By the time Paul left Philippi, he had preached the gospel and we know that Lydia and her household, plus the jailer and his household had accepted Christ and were baptized.

There may be more who joined the fledgling church when Paul was there, although we don’t know who they were.  But what we do know from the book of Philippians in this short passage is that Paul says they were “partners in spreading the Good News about Christ.”  And in 4:15 he says, “you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.”

To fully appreciate what is going on here, we want to exercise the skills I introduced a few articles back about doing an Inductive Bible Study.  There are a few very interesting key words in these verses that are worth taking a closer look at.  Specifically, I want to examine “partners”, “defending and confirming”, and “special favor of God”.

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Partners:  In other versions, the term for “partners” has also been translated as “partnership” or “participation”.  Upon reflection, it suggests to us that there was a close relationship between Paul and the people in Philippi in evangelizing the city.  It was not as we might think today of a “business partnership” where the executives decide how the employees should do the work, but they themselves do not get involved.

The partnership in mind here is the shoulder-to-shoulder “let’s go out and get this work done together”.  Now the reason why I find this word so interesting is that it comes from the Greek work “koinōnia“.  And this word is quite often translated as “fellowship”.  In one Bible dictionary, this word is explained as “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement”.

The key for me here is that “Christian fellowship” is meant to have an emphasis upon “involvement” with others and in other’s lives.  Don’t get me wrong, I love when we have potlucks at church, but I wonder how deep the thought is when we say, “Let’s stay for the potluck fellowship.”  I think it often just means to people, let’s chit-chat and fill our bellies with food.

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Defending and Confirming:  This leads us to consider in verse 7 what it was exactly that Paul was doing, and that which the Philippians were partnering together to do.  We have already said that they were “spreading the Good News“, but in this verse, Paul says that he was defending it and confirming it.  And the implication in this passage is that Paul was engaged in doing this activity whether he was free or whether he was in prison.

Both of these key words are Greek words which carry a legal courtroom-like aspect to them.  The first one “apologia” means to “defend publicly that something is not wrong”.  We get the word “apologist” and “apologetics” from this word.  And many 1st and 2nd century Christian leaders were called apologists as they stood up and declared that Christianity was not a false religion, but was the very Truth of God.  And that is the other side of what they did, they were “confirming the Truth of the Good News“.

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Special Favor of God:  Now I don’t know about you, but I must admit that there are many times that I feel awkward and embarrassed to share my faith.  But Paul tells the Philippians that it is a “special favor of God” or “grace” (the literal Greek) to be serving God by publicly standing up for the faith.  And if that is the case, then God would provide the courage and the words to be His spokesman or spokeswoman.

And Paul says here that for these kinds of people, those who count it a privilege to be followers of Christ and let others know publicly about it, he has a special place in his heart for them.  Just as Paul is bound or “united” with Christ in his faith, so he is also bound intimately with those who are willing to share their faith with others.

So how about you?  Do you feel the same kind of passion as Paul had, to be willing to live out your faith in public?  And even to suffer because of it?  Then you stand as a partner with Paul, and are in true fellowship with the apostles and prophets, and are united (stuck) to Christ, who grants us His grace / favor to do this awesome and important task.  May God bless you as you live for Him.  Amen.

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