May 22 Sermon Resource

Partnership in Gospel

Philippians 1:1-18a

Accompanying text: Luke 9:46-48


“It probably did not surprise Paul’s converts in Philippi when they found out their apostle was in a Roman prison. Several years before, during Paul’s first mission visit to Philippi, some of its citizenry had accused Paul of ‘disturbing our city’ and ‘advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe’ (Acts 16:20-21). As far as those colonists were concerned, Paul’s gospel ministry violated the Roman way of life — their social identity, their reason for having special status. Loyalty to the emperor compelled them to take extreme measures in silencing the troublemaker. That time, in the thoroughly Roman city of Philippi, Paul’s offense led to a public beating and literal incarceration (remember, the carcer was the harshest form of imprisonment). So, it is quite understandable if Paul’s converts in Philippi were sympathetic to Paul’s circumstances when he heard that he was ‘in chains’ in Rome…Knowing that Paul would need help with provisions, the Philippians sent a gift. This seems to be the occasion for Paul’s letter to the Philippians. At the beginning and toward the end of his letter, Paul thanked them for their support (Phil 1:5-7; 4:10-19)” [1]

“The Philippian church heard of his (Paul’s) predicament and sent Epaphroditus to encourage him and take care of his needs. Paul responded to this generosity with a thank-you letter, the epistle to the Philippians, in which he rejoices in their ‘partnership (Gk. koinonia) in the gospel’ (Philippians 1:5). He goes on to thank them for ‘sharing’ in his troubles (4:14), challenges them to ‘share’ in the sufferings of Christ (3:10) and encourages them that they also will ‘share’ in God’s grace with him (1:17). There is no doubt that the Philippian church was concerned for Paul’s plight but it is evident that they were also suffering…Paul’s Philippians partners were prepared to suffer for the same gospel and die for the same Saviour. They shared a common cause.” [2]

Thoughts re application today

“The concept of partnership, which Paul was espousing, contains both the warmth of companionship and also the power of covenant, and is fundamental to successful communication. It suggests a unity of purpose, working together toward the same goal. In fact Paul describes his friend Epaphroditus as a ‘fellow worker’ and ‘fellow-soldier’ (2:250 and another is called Syzygus which means ‘yoke fellow’ (4:3): in other words, they all shared their work, battles and burdens. Nonetheless, two of the congregation had fallen out with each other over some anonymous and no doubt petter matter. Euodia and Syntyche, whose names apparently mean ‘prosperous journey’ and ‘pleasant acquaintance’ respectively, were not living up to their names…Paul begs for reconciliation by reminding them of the cause of the gospel…Had they remembered the cause, they would have continued to contend for it and not with each other…Our communication requires a partnership in a common cause…What we need is an eternal cause: a purpose that is beyond our ability; a message that leaves no room for self-interest. It was for such a message that Paul and the church at Philippi gave their lives and such a cause that gave them their rich and lasting partnership”. [3]

“Paul expresses his church-missionary relationship in the brief but meaningful phrase: ‘Your fellowship (koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Phil. 1:5). A closely related passage is found in Romans 15:24 where Paul expresses the expectation that the church in Rome would set him forward with gifts and companions on his way to Spain. The key word for our studies is the word koinonia, a beautiful word and a concept rich in meaning. Thayer translates it as fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse. Vine gives partnership, partner, partaker, fellowship, communion, contribution…William Barclay speaks of it as a sharing of friendship, practical sharing with those less fortunate, partnership in the work of Christ.

Paul uses the word koinonia four times in Philippians: fellowship in the gospel (1:5), fellowship in the Spirit (2:1), fellowship in his sufferings (3:10), fellowship in my affliction (4:14). In 4:15 a related word is used to express the fact of financial sharing in Paul’s life and ministry.

The fullness of the concept of koinonia becomes evident if we consider its usage in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s vocabulary…Paul’s partnership relationship was one of full participation in the life of the churches and in their mobilization and enlistment in prayer, personnel and finances in evangelism…Paul and the churches labored in partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ…Fellowship and partnership grow out of the same root, and they feed from the same source: Christ Jesus our common Lord and our mutual fellowship with him”. [4]

Some other Scripture Resources

  • Romans 15:24
  • Colossians 2:1-5
  • Ephesians 6:18-20

GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. David B Capes, Rodney Reeves and E Randolph Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology, published by IVP Academic in the US in 2007:206-207.
  2. Robert Fergusson, Making Connections that Work: A Biblical Guide to Building and Maintaining Godly Relationships, published in the UK by Sovereign World Ltd., 2003:140.
  3. Ibid. 140-142.
  4. George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, first published in US by the Moody Press in 1972 and paperback in 1984:233, 235,236.
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