After having a weekend where we can join with our families and give thanks to the Lord for the many rich spiritual and physical blessings that we have in Christ, we are beginning a study of book that is full of joy and thanksgiving. What is particularly interesting about the letter to the Philippians is that the apostle Paul is writing from prison when he writes about the joy and thankfulness he has in the Lord. So while we are in a time of reflection and thankfulness, I would like for us to see what Paul was thankful for as he wrote from prison to the Christians in the city of Philippi.
Thanking God (1:1-5)
The letter begins by stating that Paul and Timothy are together as this letter is written to the Christians in Philippi. We must immediately be struck by the fact that Paul does not call himself an apostle but a slave. Paul and Timothy belong to another. Another interesting part of this introduction is that Paul writes not only to the Christians in Philippi, but also particularly to the overseers and deacons of this congregation. We see that this church has scriptural leadership possessing overseers and deacons, whose qualifications are found in 1 Timothy 3. Overseers are described in the New Testament as those who are appointed by the congregation to care for and shepherd God’s people in that local church.
In verse 3 Paul tells these Christians that he thanks God whenever he thinks of them and thanks God in every prayer he offers. In fact, his prayers are joyful because of these Philippian Christians. Now, do not forget where Paul is at. As we read this letter we will need to continually remind ourselves that Paul is in prison. Yet he says that he is thankful and joyful when he thinks of and remembers these Christians. Why is Paul so thankful for these Christians? Notice verse 5: “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” He is thankful for their partnership and fellowship in the gospel with him. The picture is that they are partners in the gospel. The picture is that they are in fellowship in the gospel.
Thankful For Fellowship (1:5)
Let’s talk about the concept of fellowship because this word has been so misused among religious circles today. Too often people will call having a potluck, “having fellowship.” There is nothing in the scriptures that indicates that fellowship is eating a meal together. The Greek word that is frequently translated “fellowship” in the New Testament is translated “partnership” by the ESV in verse 5. Other translations read “participation.” Notice what Paul say fellowship/partnership/participation truly is: it is in the gospel. Fellowship is not food. Fellowship is not coffee. Fellowship is not having a barbecue in the front of the church building. Fellowship is our work in the gospel together. Paul has joy and gratefulness because of the Christians in Philippi have been working in the gospel with Paul. Fellowship is working together in the gospel. Fellowship is serving together in the gospel. Fellowship is teaching together in the gospel. We do not have fellowship if we are not working together in the gospel. Pew sitting is not fellowship. Sunday attendance is not fellowship. Sermon listening is not fellowship. Being partners in the gospel together is fellowship. Please consider that the picture is not that we hire one person to do the work for us. We are to working together in the gospel and God calls that our partnership/fellowship. These Christians not only have been financial supporters of Paul as he has gone to other regions preaching the gospel, but they are continuing to do the work of the kingdom in the city of Philippi and Paul has joy in this.
Therefore, joy is not the apostle Paul pretending to have joy. Joy is not putting a happy face on a bleak situation. Paul’s joy comes from the partnership that he has with these Christians in the gospel. The gospel is the center of our relationships with each other. The gospel must be the center of our relationships. Otherwise we simply have a facade of people, pretending to care about each other, but not genuinely bound together. This partnership that we have in the gospel is important because the scriptures tell us that we are to consider ourselves a body that functions together in presenting ourselves as instruments of righteousness. We are members working together in fellowship to accomplish the will of the Lord.
What are we supposed to be doing together? What is the fellowship that we are to have with each other in the work of the gospel? Listen to all the New Testament tells us to do with each other. We are commanded in the New Testament to encourage one another, love one another, bear one another’s burdens, show hospitality to one another, stir up one another to love and good works, live in harmony with one another, instruct one another, have the same care for one another, comfort one another, pray for one another, confess sins to one another, agree with one another, serve one another, be kind to one another, forgive one another, sing to one another, submit to one another, admonish one another, seek to do good to one another, and show humility toward one another. These things are fellowship, not food! Our joy and thankfulness in spite of circumstances comes from this wonderful working together in these things. We have joy in participating in these things together.
Thankful For Sanctification (1:6)
Now listen to what Paul says to them in verse 6. After praising them and taking joy in them because of their partnership in the gospel, Paul continues to express his confidence in these Christians. “And 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.” Paul says that this is God working in them (a point that he will make a couple of times in this letter). We must not be apprehensive or nervous at this kind of language. You would not be in this partnership in the gospel and doing these good works if God was not working in your life. This is the point Paul is making. God began his work in these people at Philippi on the very first day. From the moment of salvation forward, God is working in them bringing about the good works in them. We will discuss this concept in more detail when we come to Philippians 2:12-13 where the apostle gives us a fuller explanation.
The point that Paul makes at this moment is that he is confident that God will bring to completion at the day of Jesus Christ the good work that was begun in them. Since Paul speaks of the completion of this work being at the day of Jesus Christ, we cannot understand Paul to be merely referring to the financial support these Philippian Christians had provided for him. Paul is speaking more broadly of what God is accomplishing through them. God is working through them and Paul is persuaded that this work will continue until the end. The grace of God is working in them from the beginning and Paul is confident that this will continue to the end. Perhaps a way to express this is the way we see the apostle speak about justification and sanctification. The grace of God not only brings us salvation, but continues to transform our lives until the day Christ comes. Our hope remains in the grace of God to transform our lives into his image. If you give yourself to the Lord, your transformation will continue until it is brought to completion. Paul is confident that this will occur with these Christians.
This teaches us to present ourselves to Lord so that we are transformed by his grace as revealed to us in his word. Are we allowing God to work and change our lives or are we resisting the transformation that he works through the word of the Lord?
Thankful For Partners In Grace (1:7)
Listen to what all of this means. Because they are partners in the gospel, working together in the kingdom, and because God is working in their lives which is seen in this work they are doing, Paul says that they are “all partakers with me of grace.” Partnership in the gospel means that they are fellow partakers of grace. This is how we are to consider each other. Notice in verse 8 that this leads Paul to proclaim how he yearns for them with all the affection of Christ Jesus. The gospel is what joins us together. Working together as partakers of grace will generate this affection for one another that we are to have. The scriptures teach us to love one another with brotherly love (Romans 12:10). The apostle John wrote that we were to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16). We are to give our possessions to each other if there is any need (1 John 3:17). How will this love come about? How can we have the affection of Christ Jesus toward one another?
It will not be by sitting in pews for an hour once a week. Rather, we will have this affection for one another by being partners and workers together in the gospel. When we focus our attention on the gospel and do the work that God has given us to do, allowing our hearts to continue to be transformed by grace through his word, we are going to develop the brotherly love and self-sacrificing love that God calls us to have. We must look at each other as partakers of grace. When we are partners in the gospel then we can see each other as partakers of grace, as God is working to transform us into his image.
We are called to be partners in the gospel. God has called us to do far more than simple sit in a church building on Sunday and be friendly. Fellowship is not enjoying each other over a cup of coffee, but growing together as we work together in the gospel. But think about what Paul is saying concerning this fellowship. Our gratitude is rooted in our mutual participation in the gospel. Our joy is found in working side by side for the gospel. What unites us as Christians is not our common interests like politics, sports, hobbies, fashion, culture, or anything like this. The gospel is what glues us together in spite of any of these differences. We love each other and sacrifice for each because we are bound together by the gospel and work together in the gospel.
We are all works in progress. We must remember that we are partakers of grace together. Each of us needs grace. We are sinful. We fall short. We are lacking in many areas. May we open our hearts and lives to allow God to continue to transform us into what he desires us to be. This means we are regularly and consistently opening our hearts to the scriptures, ready for God to teach and change us. May we open our hearts toward each other with brotherly love recognizing that we are works in progress, confident that God will continue to work in each other to bring us to greater holiness.
We are partakers in grace. How will we treat each other if we see each other as fellow partakers in grace? We are spiritual partners. We need each other. God has given us to each other to love and to give ourselves to each other. Let us be thankful always for the grace of God that sustains us when we fail. Let us thank God always that we have each other to support each other and help each other. This is a group of people who care help bear your burdens and assist in your walk with God.