Partners in Christ - Philippians 1:3-11
Sermon Series: Partners in Christ
I have always enjoyed the series of Ocean’s movies (Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen). The movies are about several guys who work together to pull off some of the most elaborate heists that you can imagine. In order to be successful in each of the movies they have to plan out a detailed series of moves and carry them out with near perfect precision. And in each movie and with each heist, each of the individuals has a very important part to play if they are going to successfully pull off the crime they are attempting to commit. Keeping up with the movie, trying to follow their plans, and the anticipation you experience when watching to see if they will actually pull the crime off, all make for a very enjoyable movie watching experience for me.
I find it really interesting (especially in light of the text we are going to examine today) to give some consideration to the relationships between the men and how their motivations change throughout the series of movies. In the first movie the men plot together to rob three Las Vegas casinos at one time. Their driving motivation for carrying out this crime is entirely self-centered. They want the payout that they will each receive and they want the fame of pulling off the greatest Las Vegas casino robbery that has ever been committed. Yet among the eleven men with self-centered ambitions (with the exception of two twin brothers, who like all brothers, tend to argue and fight a lot) there isn’t an emphasis placed on hierarchy, supremacy, or struggle for position in the group. There is a partnership that exists among the men and all of the men are content working towards the common goal that they are all trying to accomplish. However, by the third movie in the series, there is even more emphasis on the respect and partnership that exists between these men. The third movie begins with one of the men entering into a business contract with a casino developer to build and open another casino. Unfortunately the casino developer is an incredibly dishonest man and after using this individual for his money and land he forces him out of the contract. The loss of wealth and land is more than this aging man can handle and results in him entering a coma-like state. When the other men who have been partners in crime with this individual discover what has taken place they once again begin to plan an elaborate crime. This time though their motivation isn’t their own wealth or fame – this time their motivation is to look after and care for one of their own.
By the third movie we see that these partners in crime have formed deep bonds with one another. Having partnered together and worked together in some of the most difficult situations and environments to accomplish several nearly impossible tasks has caused their relationships with one another to move far beyond that of just simple association. These men have a deep love and respect for one another and a deep appreciation for what each one brings to the table. They aren’t indifferent towards one another but rally together if even just one of them encounters trouble. This is what it means for these men to be “partners in crime.”
The “partnership” that these men experience in the Ocean’s movies is a form of partnership that each one of us has a need for. While our culture teaches us that individually there isn’t anything that we cannot accomplish and that we don’t really have a need for others, the truth is that God created us with a deep need for “partnership” or “community” with others. Having others in our lives that we do life with isn’t just an optional addition – it’s an essential. We were created in the image of a Triune God who eternally exists in partnership (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). So for us to try to live without community is to attempt to live outside of the design of God for our lives. Still, there are many who say, “Isn’t partnership over-rated? Aren’t there tons of examples of people who have done great things on their own?” The answer to the second question is “yes, there are examples in history of individuals who have done and accomplished great things.” But that doesn’t change the fact that God’s design for all people is that they would live in partnership with others. So this week, as we examine the text of Philippians 1:3-8 I want us to give some consideration to two important parts of partnership, especially in the context of the mission of God.
The Gift of Partnership (vs. 3-8)
After Paul’s introduction (which we examined last week) he moves into the body of his letter. Paul’s begins the body of his letter to the church at Philippi in verse 3 by saying, “I thank my God . . .” Before he explains why he thanks God though he spends the rest of verse 3 and the entirety of verse 4 explaining the context in which his prayers are made. This isn’t the content of his prayers but it is still important for his readers as it helps them understand the mindset of Paul as he is offering these prayers to God. So before we examine the content let’s take a quick look at the context.
Paul begins his letter to the church at Philippi by saying, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy . . .” Paul explains to the church at Philippi that the context of his prayers for them is a context of authentic and sincere joy. Paul hasn’t given thanks for the church at Philippi on occasion or one time several months before. Paul says that every time he sets aside time to pray for their church he does so thanking God for them. And it’s clear that this isn’t an expression of thanksgiving coming from a sense of obligation - this is thanksgiving in its most sincere form. Paul adds emphasis to the frequency in which he offers these prayers saying, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” adding to it the expression, “always in every prayer of mine for you all . . .” When the church at Philippi comes to Paul’s mind the very first thing that fills his heart is great joy (note the end of verse 4 – “making my prayer with joy”) which moves him to thank God for the church.
Verses 3 and 4 tell us the context in which Paul gives thanks to God for the church at Philippi, but verse 5 tells answers the question why Paul was so incredibly joyful for this church and why he was so quick to give thanks to God for them. Paul told the church at Philippi that he gave thanks to God for them “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” The church at Philippi by definition was made up of those who had heard the good news of the gospel – that God had made salvation available to all people through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – and responded to it. So it that sense they all had a partnership in the gospel because they were all recipients of the salvation that the gospel declared. But it wasn’t only their participation in receiving the good news of the gospel that made Paul so joyful, it was their faithfulness to proclaim that good news and serve others for the sake of that good news that thrilled Paul’s heart. From the day that each of them had received Jesus’ gift of salvation they had found a place of service and a means of proclaiming the good news, and they had remained steadfast in that service and proclamation up to the very day that Paul was writing this letter. A quick look forward into Paul’s letter gives us some insight into how the church at Philippi had partnered with Paul in the work of the gospel. In 1:19 Paul says that the church at Philippi prayed for him; in 1:27-30 we see evidence that the church at Philippi suffered for their faith in Christ; in 2:15-16 Paul says that they shined the light of Christ in their witness; in 2:25-30 Paul says that the church sent Epaphroditus to minister to him while he was in prison; and in 4:10-18 Paul says that the church at Philippi regularly supported him financially. Though Paul wasn’t able to take the church of Philippi with him on his missionary journeys to serve side by side with him he knew well that this particular church wasn’t just sitting on the sidelines either. They were helping Paul in his ministry by praying for him, by supporting him financially, and by sending some from their congregation to assist Paul in his times of need. They were also serving in partnership with Paul by carrying out ministry efforts in Philippi while Paul was away. The church at Philippi was actively proclaiming the gospel in their community and shining the light of Christ in their community, even to the point of suffering for their faith. It thrilled Paul’s heart to have such faithful and consistent partners in ministry and to know that the work of the gospel was continuing to go on in Philippi even when he was away.
Paul’s joy in their faithful partnership and consistent ministry led him to make a great boast of confidence in verse 6. Paul says in verse 6, “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.” Philippians 1:6 is one of those verses that believers in Christ love to claim for themselves today. Unfortunately it’s also one of the verses in the Bible that is often taken entirely out of context. When believers in Christ today quote and claim the promise of Philippians 1:6 they are usually applying the verse only to their personal lives and the work of salvation that God has begun in their own life. They say to themselves, “I can have great confidence in what God is doing in my life because Paul says he is sure that God, who began the work of salvation in my life, will ultimately bring it to completion.” And the reality is, that is a true statement. Those who genuinely come to faith in Christ will ultimately experience the completed work of salvation when they will no longer experience sin and its effects on them, when they will be made new, and when they will be forever in the presence of God. Unfortunately though, many of those who love this verse and claim this verse for their lives never make any effort to serve Christ or proclaim the good news of salvation through Him. They want the benefits of salvation but have no desire to serve the One who made their salvation possible. If we are honest with ourselves though we have to acknowledge that Philippians 1:6 isn’t a reference to individuals and God’s work of salvation in their lives – Philippians 1:6 is a reference to a church faithfully engaged in and committed to the work of the gospel. Even though the church at Philippi seemed to be experiencing some opposition from those outside the church (see 1:28) and some conflict from within the church (see 4:2) Paul was confident that God would not allow those attacks to prevail against a church that was faithfully working to advance God’s kingdom and the proclamation of the gospel.
In verses 7 and 8 Paul digresses momentarily from sharing about his prayers to talk about his feelings. Paul says, “It is right for me to feel this way 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. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” From Paul’s perspective his great love for the church at Philippi was the appropriate response in light of their participation in his ministry. And so Paul loved all of the church of Philippi with an affection that was so great that he compared it to the great affection that Jesus has for all those who are believers in and followers of Him.
Allow me here to point out one thing that we often read right over when we read through this text. Notice that Paul isn’t writing to the church at Philippi to thank them directly. Do you see that? He expresses his gratitude for the church at Philippi, but he does so in the context of sharing with them a portion of his prayer life. He’s telling them that he is thanking his God (demonstrating the personal nature of God) for them because God is the One who has placed the church in Paul’s life and moved them to partner with Paul. This has great significance! Paul loves and is grateful for the church at Philippi, but he is ultimately most grateful to God for His gracious provision of those who are willing to partner with him in the work of ministry. This is huge! Those who are partners with us in the work of the gospel aren’t there by coincidence – they are a gracious gift of God to us! Those who are serving with us in our church and the other churches who are committed to the proclamation of the gospel and the advancement of God’s kingdom are gracious gifts from God to assist us in our times of need and to help us by proclaiming the gospel in the places that we can’t physically be.
So with that in mind let me ask you this question, “Are those who are partnered with us in ministry a source of great joy to you? And if not, why not?” Could it be that deeper bonds are formed in the midst of service, rather than in the midst of spectating? When’s the last time you were really joyful for the unknown couple sitting next to you at the movie theatre? Probably never! But what about a time when you were serving last summer at Hickory Alive? Did you ever look around at others serving with you and think to yourself, “I’m really glad they’re here”? I did! So I wonder this week, if you walked into this place not disliking those who are here, but just feeling kind of indifferent towards them, could that say something about either your service or theirs? Perhaps there’s no joy for another because you aren’t serving alongside of them or because they aren’t serving alongside of you. We have to ask the question of ourselves, “Are we really partnered together for the work of ministry?”
The Grower of Partnership (vs. 9-11)
In verse 9 a small transition takes place. While Paul is still writing to the church at Philippi about his prayers, he shifts his focus from recalling his prayers of thanksgiving to sharing about what he is asking God to help the church at Philippi to do. Paul says in verse 9, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” The verses leading up to this verse don’t really speak at all to the quantity or quality of the Philippians love. But at the same time it would be hard to imagine that this church wasn’t a very loving church. Paul was incredibly grateful for them and for their demonstrations of their partnership with him in ministry. It seems that both Paul’s great gratitude for the church and their willingness to partner with Paul through their prayers, sufferings, and generosity speak to the fact that the church at Philippi was indeed a loving church. Paul however didn’t want this church to just continue on, loving and serving in the same capacity – he wanted them to go even further. So Paul, after expressing his thankfulness to God for their love and partnership in ministry, tells the church at Philippi that he is asking God to cause both the quality and the generosity of their love to abound more and more. Their demonstrations of love to both him and others had been incredible but there was always room for growth. Part of their responsibility and calling as a church was to put the love of God and Christ on display. And while this is something we all ought to strive for it’s also something we won’t ever achieve. The love of God and Christ is so extraordinary, so selfless, so giving, and so costly that we won’t ever be able to put it on display completely. But Paul was praying that this wouldn’t keep the church at Philippi from continuously striving to love more and continuously growing in their ability to love more through the gracious working of God in their lives.
Paul also says that along with their growth in love he was praying that God would give to them “knowledge and all discernment.” Having the ability to love others with the love of Christ was incredibly important. However, having the ability to love would not be as valuable if the Philippians did not have proper knowledge and discernment in regards to how they ought to love and put the love of Christ on display. G. Walter Hansen says, “without insight, love does not know how to express itself with actions and words that are appropriate to each situation of life . . . only by insight does love have the direction to act wisely in ways that give healing, joy, and life to those who are loved.” Paul wanted to see the church at Philippi abounding more and more in love and doing so in contexts and in ways where that love would have the greatest impact on others.
In verse 10 Paul provides the church at Philippi with two purpose statements, explaining to them why he is making this prayer of intercession of them. “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” The first purpose statement is “so that you may approve what is excellent.” The ability to love is good. But as we just mentioned above it wasn’t as impactful if it was not accompanied with “knowledge and all discernment.” A love that is truly genuine and sincere should always seek what is best for another. But it’s also true that what is really best for another isn’t always obvious to us. Sometimes we have to make decisions between choices that both appear to be good (it’s not always as simple as choosing between good and bad) and we need godly wisdom to know which is the most excellent of the available choices. Love accompanied with knowledge and discernment would help the church at Philippi to show love to others in ways that would most clearly demonstrate the love of Christ and in ways that were best for them. The second purpose statement is, “and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” We’ll see in the passage we examine next week that there were individuals who were preaching and teaching with wrong motives. Paul says in Philippians 1:15 “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” There were those who were involved in ministry not for the glory of God but for their own selfish gains - they weren’t really looking to love others with the love of Christ. Paul tells the church at Philippi that he’s praying that their love will abound more and more with knowledge and discernment so that when they are loving others it won’t be from selfish motives, but rather from pure and blameless motives that have as their goal the glory of God and Christ.
Paul continues in verse 11, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” When believers in Christ are humbly serving Him by loving others well from selfless motives the chances are good that they won’t benefit financially or with great name recognition or fame. In fact, loving others well from selfless motives could actually come at great personal costs. But when we abound more and more in love with knowledge and discernment our greatest personal reward will be our growth in our Christ-likeness which will ultimately put God’s character and love on display in clearer, more evident ways. When that happens we won’t be the ones receiving praise and glory - God will. And that is the ultimate goal of God’s mission – His creation in right relationship with Him worshipping Him and ascribing to Him the praise and glory due to Him.
The vastness of God’s love for His creation is beyond what we will ever be able to really understand. Paul writes in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). And God’s greatest demonstration of His vast love for His creation is this, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul understood that he (like all of humanity) was a sinner and that his sin was so offensive to a holy God that he was without hope of being able to earn God’s forgiveness and that his sin meant that he would be eternally separated from God. But He also realized that while he was without hope of accomplishing his own salvation God did the most amazing thing for us. God loved us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to accomplish what we could not. Although we were the worst of sinners God sent Jesus, His completely perfect and righteous Son, to die for us in our place and to pay the penalty for our sin completely. Now, because of Jesus death and resurrection, we can find forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation with God by placing our faith in Jesus and surrendering our lives to Him. And it is in experiencing the forgiveness and salvation of Christ on our behalf (even though we don’t deserve it) that we begin to experience some of the vastness of God’s love for us. This is the faith that God calls each and every one of us to. And yet there are still countless millions of people who have not responded to this news, countless millions who have are still separated from God, and countless millions who still have not experienced the vastness of God’s love for them. If you haven’t ever placed your faith in Jesus as your Savior and Lord we would implore you not to wait any longer. And if you have questions we would love to help answer them for you. We would love to help you understand what God has done for you and how you can quit striving to accomplish what you can’t ever accomplish and receive what Jesus has already completely accomplished for you.
If you have placed your faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, the question this text begs is this, “Are you partnered with other believers in the work of ministry?” Are you engaged in a local church? And if so, are you doing more than just being a spectator or consumer in your church? God has created us for ‘partnership’ with other believers, specifically for the purpose of putting His love on display and proclaiming the good news of Christ as the One and Only Savior who has made reconciliation with the Father possible. He calls us to be “partners in Christ!” And when we are striving together, even in the midst of difficult and hard tasks, for the purpose of making great the name and fame of God and bringing others to faith in Christ, we will also find that we have formed deep and lasting relationships with others that will be a source of great joy for us as we recognize them as gracious gifts of God to us.
Connection Point Questions for Discussion:
1. Think about someone outside of your family who causes you to have great joy. Who is the person, what is your relationship with that person, and what is it about the relationship that causes you to have such joy? Do you ever express gratitude for that relationship? If so, to whom do you express your gratitude?
2. Is there anyone with whom you consider yourself "partners in Christ?" If so, who are they? How are you partnered with them in the mission of God (in other words, how are you helping them put the love of Christ on display and proclaim the good news of the gospel)? How can you be a better "partner in Christ" to them? How are they partnered with you in the mission of God (in other words, how are they helping you put the love of Christ on display and proclaim the good news of the gospel)? How can we help them be better "partners in Christ" for us?
3. When we have a sincere and genuine love for others how do we demonstrate it? Are words ever enough to demostrate our sincere and genuine love for others? So if we began to pray that God would cause our love for Him to abound more and more and He answered that prayer, how would He and those around us know it? Do we have the courage to pray that prayer?