Gospel Partnership Is Joyful Partnership

After Paul gives his initial greetings to the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:1-2), we immediately sense just how much joy and affection he has for them. In v3-8, we read of how their partnership in the gospel is a joyful partnership.

Prayers For The People

In v3, Paul gives thanks to God for this church. Even while in prison, he is reminded of them, thankful for them, and feels a great sense of joy for them because of the partnership he has in the gospel with them. I imagine Paul chained up in a Roman prison, a smile on his face as he lifts up prayers every time he thinks of his friends in Philippi.

In this, there is a small challenge for us. How often would we think of people in our lives or throughout the day and lift up prayers for them? I’m sure, like me, you think of numerous people throughout the day as you write an email to them, consider what they’re doing, or see them pop up on our social media feeds. What if we lifted up prayers for people we think of or hear about throughout our day? What a great challenge for us to do.

Partnership With The People

In v5, we are given insight into why this church is so precious to Paul. It is the partnership they have in the gospel.

What ties or binds Paul with the Philippians is the gospel. Together, they follow Jesus and have had their hearts and lives turned upside down because of the message of Jesus. And so, they are bound together as sisters and brothers in Christ as they know him and share his message with others.

In Acts 16, which is where we read of Paul’s first interactions with the people of Philippi, we learn of how the church began. Now, 10-12 years later, as he pens this letter to them, Paul continues to recognise the connection they have with one another, not only because of the support he has received from them but also because they serve and share the message of Christ together.

I began my ministry journey in a small village called Ain Zhalta, in the mountains of Lebanon. Over 15 years ago, my wife and I spent two years serving as teachers and mission workers among an ethnic group called the ‘Druze’. And each Sunday, we would meet in a terribly cold stone and tiled church that had very limited heating, with a handful of other foreigners and a handful of Lebanese people to worship together. But what I remember rather vividly in those services, while listening to Arabic worship songs and a sermon I couldn’t understand, was the connection I had with those in the church there and the connection I had with those in our home church back in Melbourne.

There was a partnership in the gospel. In the gospel, we met together. In the gospel, we prayed together. In the gospel, we had fellowship with one another. In the gospel, we served and shared the message of Christ together.

I’m not sure whether you’ve visited a church overseas, or across our city, or in another part of the country. But when you do, you have an immediate partnership—a partnership in the gospel.

A little while ago, we had visitors from the USA join our church for a month. In my brief conversation with them, they highlighted how great it was to come along and know the connection we have together because of the gospel.

The unity, the partnership in the gospel, is a key concept for us being the church, being the people of God.

There are lots of groups in our communities that meet, do activities, and build relationships and friendships. Many do them very well, whether it’s a kindergarten or a school, a sporting club, an art class, or a library. Whatever it might be, little sub-cultures and communities are formed and centred around something.

Partnership Centred On A Person

As the church, we are centred around the gospel – the person and work of Jesus Christ – the message of Jesus. This is who brings us together, this is who forms the nature of our community, the nature of our church, the nature of our partnership.

No Jesus. No church. No partnership.

Pretty simple, really.

However, when we recognise and embrace the foundation of our faith – Jesus Christ – we begin to see the beauty and richness of gospel-centred partnership. It is in Jesus that we find a common ground, a shared purpose, and a bond that transcends our differences and unites us in love and service.

As we come together in Christ, we experience the joy of true fellowship. Our shared faith, hope, and love in Jesus enable us to support, encourage, and strengthen one another in our journey of faith. We celebrate our victories, weep with one another in times of sorrow, and walk hand in hand as we strive to live out the gospel in our daily lives.

What a blessing, what a joy, that is.

Gospel partnership is therefore a joyful partnership.

No wonder Paul continues to use effusive language about the church and affirm the role God will continue to work in them until the day Christ returns.

Through the gospel, there is joy.

Through gospel partnership, there is a joyful partnership.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we will dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:

Slaves + Saints: The Essence of Christian Partnership

It’s not very common these days to receive a physical letter in the letterbox. I’m not sure about you but what usually arrives in our letterbox is bills, junk mail, or some political party telling us what they’re going to do if they are elected. But on occasion, perhaps for a birthday, there might be a short letter written from one of the grandparents. And there’s still an excitement that comes from receiving a handwritten letter from someone. It shows they care; it shows they are thinking about me, and it shows they have gone to a bit of effort and cost to get it to me. 

As Paul opens his letter to the Philippians, we can hear the care, the thought, and the effort that Paul goes to show his joy and affection for this church. And knowing that the church in Philippi is aware of Paul’s imprisonment (1:13) and their worker Epaphroditus is with them and has been sick (2:25-30), I suspect they would be very excited to have received this letter. Then, upon opening and reading, they would have been buoyed by the genuine thankfulness, emotion, and love Paul expresses to the church right from the beginning. 

And so, from the beginning of a Paul’s writing here to the Philippians, we find this letter to be one of genuine partnership. 

Unlike the letters or emails we write, in which we state the recipient’s name and ask them how they are, Paul follows first-century letter-writing custom of stating his and Timothy’s name before giving a little greeting to the church. 

And it’s easy to skip right over these little greetings at the start of the letters we have in our Bibles. Here in Philippians it’s worth noting a couple of things. 

Slaves of Christ

First, notice how Paul identifies himself and Timothy. 

We read, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (1:1).

In the NT it is common to translate the word used here as either servant or slave, and this can be the case here. In our minds, ‘servant’ is a little softer to our ears and imaginations than ‘slave’, but for the church in the Greco-Roman world, this idea of being a slave was a common marker of identity. Slaves in homes, business, or on farms were part of life. And so the idea of being bound to someone else was not a foreign idea as it is for us today. Therefore, when Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ Jesus” he is identifying himself with Christ. He recognises he is bound to Christ. He knows he is under the authority and Lordship of Christ and at his service. 

Saints In Christ

Second, notice how Paul identifies the church.

We read, “To all the saints (NIV: God’s holy people) in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” 

Paul uses another couple of identity markers, this time for the people of God at Philippi. Those who have turned to God through Christ are called ‘saints’ or ‘God’s holy people’. Paul acknowledges those within the church, despite their non-Jewish background, are in the continuing line of God’s people. They are being set apart for God, which is a familiar description in the OT of this term ‘saints’ (Exodus 19:4-6; Psalm 135:3-4). This is a little marker of their identity and a helpful reminder in how they should think of themselves. 

I wonder how you think of yourself? Are you a sinner or are you a saint? 

We live in the tension of knowing we are sinners while being assured of the truth that we are in Christ. Through faith in Christ we are considered the people of God, the saints of God. We are the holy people of God who are in Christ Jesus. Paul writes this regularly as he opens his letters to the Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Colossians, and here in Philippians. And while we continue to fail, continue to sin against God, we can know that we are saints in Christ because it is Christ who has decisively dealt with our sin on the cross. 

This should be the regular way we think about ourselves as believers, as saints. 

After writing about reconciliation and peace with God through Christ Paul writes in Ephesians 2:19-20:

19 So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

If you are struggling with sin or struggling with God’s acceptance of you because of your sin, then I encourage you to dwell on what it means for you to be a saint. For that is what you are in Christ Jesus.

Leaders Under Christ

Alongside this identity marker of being saints is Paul’s reference to the overseers and deacons. These are leaders in the church at Philippi and he wants to make sure they listen to the content of this letter as well. 

In chapter four Paul encourages two female leaders within the church to agree with one-another in the Lord (4:2-3), but more than this Paul is highlighting how the message of this letter is for the whole congregation. There is no separation between the leaders and the rest of the church. They are together the people of God, no one is more special than anyone else. This letter isn’t just for a certain segment of the church, but everyone is called to walk the same walk as each other. 

We often see this occur in churches, where leaders are put on a holier-than-thou pedestal. But those who are in leadership are no more special in the eyes of God than anyone else.

At the church where I pastor I, and the rest of the pastoral team, sit under the teaching of scripture just as much as anyone else. We who are involved in the leadership of the church may have certain responsibilities placed upon us because of our roles, and according to Hebrews 13:17 we will need to give an account before God in due course. But our prayers don’t make it to God any faster, our sins still need to be repented of, confessed, and forgiven through Christ. Our conduct still needs to be worthy of the gospel (1:27). 

Here at the beginning of this letter, even in these first two verses, we see the beginnings of what is a special partnership. A special partnership that already speaks into our identity with God and with one-another.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we will dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:

The Enduring Joy of Christ

I am often amazed when I hear stories of people who have gone through such hardship and suffering yet they are still so filled with joy. Recently I heard testimony of believers and Christian workers who were still joyful and hopeful despite being displaced and impoverished because of the war in Ukraine. Those brothers and sisters from Myanmar, who have now moved nearby to where I live, are often full of joy, despite the tragedy to their families and communities. And then there are those closer to home who have gone through the loss of employment, significant health battles, or grief in losing a child and yet they have an enduring joy.

How can this be?

Well, the letter to the Philippians answers that question by giving us a picture of Christ. A picture of Christ that highlights the greatness of his character and who he is. For in knowing Christ and more of him we find an enduring joy and a persistent contentment in our lives.

In our world joy is portrayed to us differently. It is sold to us through material means, or short-term experiences, or goods and services we may use. I mean, even the box that held our online shopping recently had written across it, “a little bit of joy”.

When we come to the Bible, we find joy described in numerous ways.

In the Old testament joy comes through the religious practice of the people of Israel, through the festivals, celebration, and worship of God. The Psalms describe joy in personal adoration and through corporate worship (Psalms 42:4; 81:1-3; 16:8ff; 43:4). Isaiah associates joy with the fullness of God’s salvation and with anticipation of our future state with God (Isa 49:13; 61:10ff).

When we come to the New Testament, we find joy first described through Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:10) then through his entry into Jerusalem toward the end of his life and also after the resurrection (Mark 11:9ff; Luke 19:37; Matthew 28:8). Jesus speaks of joy being the result of a deep relationship with him (John 15:11; 16:22-24). In Acts and Paul’s letters joy is shown to come through (a) being part of the body of Christ, (b) the outcome of suffering and sorrow for Christ’s sake, and (c) a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from the love of God toward us and our love toward God (Acts 13:52), and described as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Given that joy is a gift to us we are called to share in the joy of Christ and walk with him in rejoicing in the knowledge and salvation of Christ.

Knowing Christ

In Philippians joy is attached to knowing Christ.

In knowing Christ, we find an everlasting joy that is deeper than that online shopping experience, or that Big Mac you craved for lunch, or the superannuation package you’ve just signed up for. Whatever joy is being sold to us there is nothing that compares to the joy of Christ, which holds through times of gratitude and happiness as well as through times of deep grief and sadness.

For Paul joy comes through his partnership in the gospel with the Philippian church (1:1-11). It comes through the friendship he has with them; it comes through the unity they strive to have with one-another (2:2), and it comes through the ministry he undertakes on their behalf and in his service to them (2:17-18). As they progress in the faith his joy abounds, and despite the circumstances he finds himself in and the heritage had as a Jewish leader (3:7-8), it is only through knowing Christ as Lord that he is able to say, ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (1:21).

Knowing Christ Forms Our Character

I don’t have a radical conversion story. I was bought up in a Christian home and God and faith have been part of my story since I was born. And for many of us we may look upon our own faith journey as being rather ordinary. But I’m aware of others, and you may be too, who have found Christ and had a total change in their character.

As Paul writes to the Philippians, we read that life in Christ impacts our character, whether we’ve had a radical conversion or not.

This is most clearly seen in the high note of this letter, a poetic-like section, that speaks of Christ’s humility. In 2:5-11, Paul encourages the church to adopt the attitude of Christ. He writes,

5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
7 Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
9 For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
11 and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Here is the call to follow Christ’s example in his humility, but it also highlights the character of Christ. It is what we might call high Christology, helping us understand more of who Christ is.

And what do we learn of the character of Christ?

We learn that he is humble.

Even though Christ is God and was with God and existed together with God he did not use his position to his advantage or to advance himself. Instead, he let go of such a position in order to become a servant to God and to humanity. He humbled himself, came into our world as a man, and then was obedient or submitted to the will of God to such an extent that he would die on a cross to serve and save the world.

This is the gospel, this is the good news.

And in this good news we see the character of Christ.

Christ willingly leaving his elevated and first position in order to become last and be of service to the world.  

In Jesus’ lifetime he not only displays his character, but he also teaches his disciples about this virtue of humility.

On at least one occasion the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest among them. I’m amused when I think of what that conversation must have been like because I wonder if it was like those conversations people have about who is the GOAT – the greatest of all-time, whether it me a footballer, or basketballer, or cricket player. They just turn into a bit of a mess. But in response to their debate among themselves Jesus tells them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all” (Mark 9:33-37).

And this is exactly what Christ does. He has become last and a servant for all and in doing so he is exalted and lifted on high.

Christ’s character was modelled through his preaching and teaching and through what he does.

Knowing Christ Impacts Our Conduct

Early in the letter Paul deals with those who are preaching the message of Christ out of selfish ambition (1:17), in chapter two he calls the church to be united (2:2) and encourages them to hold to the word of life (2:17). In chapter three Paul speaks about the confidence many have in the flesh and their own actions. He talks about his own heritage which many would believe puts him in a good position to be right with God (3:4-6). And as he writes these things he has Christ at the forefront. For in knowing Christ we will conduct ourselves in a way that is worthy of the gospel (1:27).

And this is what he writes to the church in 1:27, “Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

First, note that we have a heavenly citizenship. We are part of the people of God who have an everlasting citizenship. This is assuring in and of itself.

But second, the way in which we conduct ourselves is to be worthy of the gospel. There are practical implications for us as we know and grow in Christ.

For the church in Philippi this conduct is expressed in being united with one-another and putting others first (2:2-3). It is doing everything without grumbling and arguing (2:14). It is holding firm to the word of life (2:16). It is standing firm in the faith together despite those who wish to add to the gospel or destroy the church through self-centred and law-adding false teaching (3:2-6). It is rejoicing in the Lord (3:1; 4:4). It is by being gracious toward others (4:5). It is by not worrying about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, presenting requests to God (4:5-6). And it is by dwelling on that which is just, pure, lovely, and commendable (4:8).

Joy in Christ comes from knowing him. And in knowing him we find our character and our conduct transformed. Transformed into conduct worth of the gospel of Christ.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we will dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians.

Published: Fighting for the Joy of Our Students

For many of us there is the daily fight for joy, to find something to be joyful about in our day-to-day and week-by-week existence. As youth ministry leaders we also have the opportunity to fight for joy for those in our church and youth group. In fact, given the pressures on teenagers, and the ever-increasing stress and anxiety rising within the generations, we can play a part in fighting for their joy too.

With this in mind, I have written a piece that’s been published on Rooted Ministry. You can read the whole thing here.

“How often and how easy it is to lose heart. A dysfunction in the family. A relationship breakdown. A disagreement with friends. An unexpected medical result. Whatever it might be for us and our students, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Through stories of believers of long ago, we are given examples of faithful people persevering to the end. But in Jesus we find something greater, an everlasting joy that is gifted to us through the work of the cross. As we seek to take hold of this joy for ourselves we also call others to do the same. For our students, the teenagers in our churches and in our homes, we call them to come and take hold of this joy.”

Other pieces published elsewhere can be found here.

Screen Shot fight for joy for students