Read: Philippians 1:1-11
Key Verse: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1: 4, NIV)
Introduction: Certainly you’ve heard the word “fellowship” be used to describe several things in the Christian world. Mealtimes, retreats and other social activities among believers are often referred to as “fellowshipping.” These activities may become the context of fellowship but it is not fellowship itself. The way Paul describes fellowship in his letter to the Philippians is a timely model for us to follow in these days of crisis.
In the letter, Paul expressed his joy and gratitude for the “partnership in the gospel” (v 5) of the Philippians. The word for “partnership” used here by Paul means, “to have in common.” This type of fellowship happens when believers realize that they have a family in Christ and become invested in their spiritual well being. One of the proofs the gospel has spread and taken hold is the presence of fellowship; this what caused great joy in Paul. His enthusiasm is clear in his writing!
3 I thank my God whenever I remember you, 4 always in all my prayers, praying with joy for all of you, 5 for your communion in the gospel, from the first day until now; (1:3-5)
Christian fellowship is a source of joy for the believer because it is the evidence that the message of the gospel has taken root. What is the Christian fellowship like? Paul describes and demonstrates three examples of true Christian fellowship.
- Paul Kept The Philippians In His Thoughts (1:3-6)
It is pretty impressive Paul could even think about the Philippians while he was in chains. Paul was not overcome with thoughts of self-pity but instead gave thanks (1:3). In Acts 16 we can read about Paul’s first experiences in Philippi and we know that not all of them were pleasant. It was in Philippi that Paul was stripped, flogged, and arrested for preaching the gospel with power (Acts 16:16-23). But this memory brought him joy because his suffering opened the door for a jailer to be saved (16:33). Also in Philippi, Lydia and her family were saved during while Paul preached the gospel (Acts 16: 11-17). When Paul thought of the brothers in Philippi, he was glad that they had become “partners in the gospel from the first day” (1:5). The growth and maturity of the brothers in the Lord caused him great joy because he knew that the Lord would continue his work.
“I am convinced of this: he who began such a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (1:6)
- Paul Kept The Philippians in His Heart (1: 7-8)
It is already evident that Paul was very interested in the welfare of the Philippians because he loved them. Paul wrote to them:
“God is a witness of how much I love you all with the deep love of Jesus Christ.” (1:8, NIV)
It is much easier to write, “I love you” but Paul didn’t stop there. How did Paul manifest his love for them?
- Paul Suffered for Them:
His chains were proof of his love for the Philippians. In another letter Paul wrote: “For this reason I Paul, prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3: 1, NLT). Paul considered that his chains would give him the opportunity to defend the gospel before the Roman officials and this would help his brothers everywhere (Philippi was a Roman colony).
- Paul Comforted Them:
It is worth mentioning again. It is impressive that the imprisoned man is writing to encourage free men and women. But the consolation went beyond written words, he sent someone to comfort them.
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs…Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. (2:25, 28, NIV)
Paul was left alone in a difficult time (Timothy was also sent at a later time) because he wanted to put the needs of his brothers in Philippi before his own.
- He Kept the Philippians In His Prayers (1: 9-11)
Paul could not do much more for the Philippians being so far away and without freedom, but he still fulfilled his “debt to love them” (Romans 13:8) by praying for them.
- He prayed for their maturity of character and love (v 9-10)
Paul’s desire was that his brothers grow in the love and knowledge of God. For Paul it was not necessary that he be there for this to happen. Paul perceived that it was very likely that his time was ending and his desire was that his brothers be ready on the “day of Christ.”
- He prayed for their maturity in Service (v 11)
The fruit of righteousness is the service we are called to do in Christ Jesus. Paul’s desire was for the Philippians to develop as servants in his absence. In other letters Paul used the full weight of his God-given authority and identified himself as an “apostle” but in this letter he identifies himself as a “servant.” Every believer is called to serve. By discovering the role of serving the believer finds satisfaction, identity, and purpose. Paul wanted this for his brothers.
Conclusion / Application:
The fellowship of which Pablo writes and expresses is much more than a social activity, knowing or having friendship. Even though he was distant physically he remained spiritually close. It’s self-evaluation time. Am I participating in the “partnership of the gospel?” Do I have fellowship with my brothers? What can I start doing today to practice true Christian fellowship?
- How often do we think of our spiritual family? What kinds of thoughts do I have about my spiritual family? Paul’s thoughts were of joy and gladness despite having good reasons to have bad memories of Philippi. It’s worth asking “What types of thoughts do I provoke when my family things of me?” Pablo did deal with difficult churches but it was not the case with the Philippi because of their partnership.
- Are you loving your spiritual family? Love does not stay idle; has to express itself. Your spiritual family better from your deeds that you love them. Although Paul was forced into “social distancing” he remained spiritually close by practicing love. What can you do these days to participate in communion even while practicing social distancing?
- Are you praying for your brothers? Praying for one another is essential to fellowship. In the days of crisis we will think of our immediate families and ourselves. Have you thought of someone outside your immediate circle? Have you prayed for someone outside your immediate circle? I invite you to commit to keep a member of your spiritual family in prayer.
Christian fellowship is a source of joy for the believer because it is the evidence that the message of the gospel has taken root. Is it a source in your life? We’ll see more about joy the remainder of Paul’s letter so stay tuned.