Have you ever known someone who brought a smile to your face whenever you thought about him or her? (If you’re married, you should probably say “yes.”) Have you known someone who, when you prayed for him or her, you couldn’t help saying, “Thank you, God, for this person”?
That’s how Paul feels about the church in Philippi. In Philippians, his letter to them, he says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil. 1:3). He mentions his love, affection, and thankfulness for them throughout this letter (1:7–8; 4:1). Paul has a special place in his heart for the Philippians.
Churches Paul planted didn’t always respond to him like the Philippians did. Sometimes, these churches filled him with anxiety. Right after greeting the church in Galatia, he writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6). The Galatians began believing false teachings after Paul left them, and he worried that his work among them might be “in vain” (Gal. 4:11). Paul knew what it was like to have churches turn against him.
And he knew what it is was like to minister and suffer alone (2 Tim. 4:16).
Why Do the Philippians Bring Paul Joy?
So, what did the Philippians do to make Paul so joyful? What was it that distinguished them from other churches? Why does he call them “my joy and my crown” (Phil. 4:1)?
It’s because of their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). He had spent time in Philippi at least three times beforethe writing of this letter (Acts 16:6–40; 20:1–2, 5–6). And from his first converts in Philippi—Lydia and the jailer—up to the present, they’ve partnered with him in his work in the gospel.
Partnership here suggests intimacy, fellowship, working closely together. He’s saying, “We’re on the same team. We’re working toward the same end.”
I’m not a big boxing fan, but if you’ve ever watched a match, have you noticed all the people by the ring who attend to the fighters? Boxers have trainers shouting at them. People bring them water between rounds. Medical personnel stand by and tend to the boxers’ wounds. It’s a group effort. A boxer’s helpers cringe when he gets slugged. They rejoice when he sends the other guy to the mat. They’re partners of the man in the ring.
That’s a little bit like Paul’s relationship with the Philippians.
Paul writes this letter in response to a visit from a man the Philippians sent to him. His name is Epaphroditus, and Paul talks about him later in the letter (Phil. 2:25–30). They sent him to check on Paul and bring him a gift of money. They felt concern for Paul and wanted to help.
So, he updates them, telling them not to worry. He expresses his affection for them, tells them he’s praying for them, and warns them of the dangers they will face. They’re his partners. They’re fully invested in Paul and his message.
Who Does the Work of the Gospel?
Are you a partner in the gospel?
I’m not asking if you believe the gospel. I’m asking, do you participate in it? Are its marks on your life? Are you invested in the fight?
The Philippians were. So when Paul thought of them, he couldn’t help but feel joy. He couldn’t help thanking God.
And he says this to all of them. He writes, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). The leaders and the laity. The Lydias. The women who opened up their homes for the work of the gospel (Acts 16:15). Pastors and missionaries may be “in the ring” more often. They have particular responsibilities. But all of us partner in bringing the gospel to the world.
So, what does it look like to be a partner in the gospel? Paul gives us a clear picture in verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” The Philippians shared in the sufferings the gospel brought into Paul’s life. He refers throughout the letter to the Philippians’ participation in his sufferings (Phil. 1:29; 4:2, 14).
You can see why Paul saw the Philippians as a treasure. Not every church shared in his struggles. Not every church labored with him.
Where Does Gospel Strength Come From?
Do you share in the suffering of the gospel? God calls us as members of his body to the very thing the Philippians were eager to do. He calls us to be co-laborers.
But how can we do it? This high calling may seem overwhelming. Maybe you’re barely surviving “normal” life. How can you partner in gospel work?
In verse 6, Paul writes, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
If we’re Christians, we’re “in Christ Jesus.” We’ve received “grace and peace” from Christ. We belong to him. And our “partnership” is fellowship with our Lord through the gospel. Paul tells the Philippians, “You are all partakers with me of grace” (Phil. 1:7). Gospel work can only be done through gospel strength. In other words, we need grace. God gives us all the strength we need to work and persevere.
Our work is his work. He’s begun to work through us, and he’ll complete what he’s begun in us. He’ll prepare us for “the day of Christ,” the last day, when our peace and perfection will be complete.
This is an excerpt from our new Bible Study, The Letter of Paul to the Philippians. You can get it here.