June 30, 2010 David Balzer

Philippians 1:1-11: Partners in the Gospel

Imagine Paul. He’s writing this letter from prison. Probably in Rome. And most likely, chained to 2 Roman soldiers. And he’s thinking back to ANOTHER time he was in prison. Back when he was in Philippi. It was only about 15 years ago. But it seemed like a lifetime.

He’d only been there a short time. And ended up on the wrong side of an angry mob. The magistrates had ordered that he and Silas be beaten, and then thrown into prison.

A pretty miserable experience!

And yet, when Paul thinks back to that time, and the people he’d met in Philippi, he remembers it with JOY. Why? For one simple reason – their PARTNERSHIP with him IN THE GOSPEL. Look at v3 of Phil 1.

(Phil 1:3-5 NIV)  I thank my God every time I remember you. {4} In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy {5} because of YOUR PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL from the first day until now,

What’s Paul mean by this phrase? And why does it make him so joyful? They’re the questions we’ll look at this morning.

Let’s pray, and ask God to help us understand what he’s saying to us.


Phil and Paul were mountain climbers. Real mountains. Sheer rock cliffs, icy peaks, windswept ridges. But they were MORE than mountain climbers. They were climbing PARTNERS.

And that meant more than just going climbing together. Being climbing partners meant EVERYTHING. Because you trusted your partner with YOUR LIFE. One slip, and it was only the strong hands, and the alertness, of your partner between you and .

Phil and Paul were connected by more than just a rope. They were connected by trust. The closeness that comes when you give yourself completely to another person. They were committed to each other.

And they’d learned everything they knew from the old master. A legend of the sport. Theo. They’d watched him. Listened to him. Climbed with him. He was their hero. And they were committed to him.

Theo had climbed everything there was to climb. Except Everest. And this time last year, he’d been killed trying to climb it. A freak avalanche.

And now, Paul and Phil were climbing Everest. Doing it for Theo. And as they did, Theo was with them. Every step of the way. Every knot they tied, they’d remember how Theo had made them practice. Over and over until they could do it one-handed. Or do it with gloves on. “You’ll need that one day”, he’d say.

Every piton they drove in, they’d remember Theo teaching them how to find a safe anchor point.

And sometimes, they’d run out of handholds, and the rock above them looked as smooth as a pane of glass. And the fear and anxiety would rise in their throats until they felt dizzy. And they’d remember Theo’s words “Keep calm. Take you time. Give each hand a shake, take a deep breath, then have another look. Carefully.

And then, as if my magic, a handhold would appear. And they’d keep going.

Paul and Phil were committed to each other. They were committed to Theo, and they were committed to the task. And so they kept climbing.

But our story today’s about ANOTHER Paul and Phil. And THEY were partners too. Paul and the Philippians were partners IN THE GOSPEL. And the two situations have a lot in common.

Just like our climbers, Paul and the Philippians were committed to EACH OTHER. And they were committed to their master, Christ. And they were committed to the task. The MESSAGE of Christ. And so they pressed on. Until they conquered the mountain.

1. Partners in the gospel are committed to each other

Firstly, partners in the gospel are committed to each other. It’s not hard to see what Paul thinks of the Philippians. He’s pretty transparent.

In v4, he remembers them with JOY.

In v7, he has them IN HIS HEART. This is more than just being committed to THE JOB. It’s the PEOPLE who excite Paul.

And in v8, he calls on God to back him up. “God KNOWS how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

And notice that it’s not just INDIVIDUALS, either – people he has things in common with, or finds attractive, or are easy to talk to.

V3 – he prays for ALL of THEM.

V7. It’s right for him to feel joyful about ALL OF THEM.

V8. He longs for ALL OF THEM.

This is a commitment that comes from Jesus. A commitment to the GOOD of OTHERS. If there were selfish motives in Paul, he’d find it hard to say that he longed for ALL of THEM.

And it’s not a bad test FOR US EITHER. What do you miss about church when you not here? Is it a few individuals? Or is it the whole family?. Those you’ve got lots in common with. AS WELL AS those who’re DIFFERENT from you.

Are you committed to ALL God’s people?

And the commitment went the other way too. The Philippians were committed to Paul. They shared themselves with him. That’s part of what Paul MEANS by partnership in the gospel.

Over in Ch 4, Paul thanks them for the financial gifts they’d sent. Money to help Paul with his missionary work.

Their commitment had “hands and feet”. It was concrete. Real. Not just good wishes. And the odd thought every now and then.

And they stuck by him. V7 says that they shared in God’s grace with Paul whether Paul was in chains, OR defending and confirming the gospel. Whether he was on the sidelines, or out in the middle. Their commitment was the same.

Sometimes professional footballers have injuries that mean they’re out of action for A YEAR OR MORE. But their club stands by them. They keep getting paid. It’s more because their contract says so, than any generosity on the part of the clubs! But nevertheless, whether on the field or on the sidelines, the club stands by the player.

And it’s the same with the Philippians and Paul. Through good times AND bad, they were committed to him.

2. Partners in the gospel are committed to Christ

Partners in the gospel are committed to each other.

And secondly, partners in the gospel are committed to their master.

a. servants of Christ

You can see it. Right there in v1. Partners in the gospel are committed to Christ. Look at what he calls himself and Timothy. SERVANTS.

What’s it mean to be a SERVANT of Christ Jesus? For Paul, it meant letting SOMEONE ELSE call the shots. My guess is he wouldn’t have CHOSEN to have the life he did. In 2 Corinthians, he gives this list, comparing himself to FALSE teachers.

(2 Cor 11:23-28 NIV)  Are they SERVANTS OF CHRIST? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to again and again. {24} Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. {25} Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, {26} I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. {27} I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and . {28} Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Jesus said it like this, (Mark 8:34 NIV)  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Following Jesus means DENYING SELF. Letting someone else call the shots. It’s not something most of us like to do. We like to be in control. To make the decisions. To set the course.

But from the moment Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his life was turned on its head. And any plans Paul might have had for his future/ suddenly seemed completely unimportant. Career, friends, wife, possessions, education, self-improvement. All seemed worthless.

And the only thing that mattered/ was serving his master. He’d been DAZZLED by Jesus. Awestruck. He’d given EVERYTHING for Paul. And Paul would give everything to him. He was Totally Committed. Unswervingly devoted. Submerged, enfolded, enthralled IN Jesus. SERVANT of Christ Jesus.

And Paul can make this claim while he’s chained to two Roman soldiers. Caesar demanded the complete loyalty of his citizens. Their adoration – even worship at the threat of . Yet, for Paul, Caesar is not Boss – it’s only Jesus.

It’s not your Prime Minister who ultimately calls the shots, or your employer, or your bank manager, or even your wife or husband! Only Jesus.

That’s what it means to be a servant of Christ Jesus. *

c. growing in fruit of righteousness through Christ

And Paul knows what that LIFE OF SERVICE will look like. Look at what he PRAYS for the Philippians. The sorts of things that are Jesus’ priorities. Down in v9.

(Phil 1:9-10 NIV)  And this is my prayer: that your LOVE may abound MORE AND MORE/ in KNOWLEDGE and depth of INSIGHT, {10} so that you may be able to DISCERN WHAT IS BEST.

First, he prays that their LOVE FOR EACH OTHER might grow. It’s really what sets Christians apart from other groups of people. The miracle of how people who are so different/ can express love towards each other.

But it’s not easy. And it doesn’t come ly. Which is why Paul prays for it.

Sometimes the BETTER you know someone, the HARDER it is to love them. Those annoying habits you used to overlook, now drive you crazy.

What Paul prays for/ is that the BETTER THEY KNOW EACH OTHER, the MORE they’ll LOVE.

But it’s not just emotions either. BLIND LOVE. Soppy feelings. It’s DIRECTED love. Always with a goal in mind. Look at the second part of the verse.

(Phil 1:9-10 NIV)  …that your love may abound more and more IN KNOWLEDGE AND DEPTH OF INSIGHT, {10} so that you may be able to DISCERN WHAT IS BEST

It’s love COMBINED with KNOWLEDGE AND INSIGHT that Paul’s interested in. Sometimes there’s no question that you LOVE someone. Just that you’re not sure HOW to help them.

How can you best show love to a addict? Or someone struggling with depression? Or someone who’s making bad relationship decisions?

That’s where we need KNOWLEDGE and INSIGHT. Knowledge of God’s purposes. Knowledge of what’s best for that person. So we can SHOW love in the best way possible.

Love that sees that person become who God wants them to be. Someone who reflects the character of Jesus. Someone filled with the fruit of righteousness. That’s what God wants. And that’s what Paul prays down in v11.

One of my friends used to say he had the spiritual gift of provocation. He knew just how to rub people up the wrong way. He’d probably say that it was his job to develop the fruit of PATIENCE in people around him.

But seriously, that’s the job we have in LOVING those around us. To develop the fruit of righteousness in them.

c. secure until the return of Christ

And look at what THE ULTIMATE GOAL of that love is. It’s that we would all be held secure until the return of Christ. V10.

(Phil 1:10-11 NIV)  so that you may be able to discern what is best and MAY BE PURE AND BLAMELESS UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST,

That’s the target. To be found pure and blameless when Jesus comes back. That’s the mountain top we’re all climbing for. To keep following Jesus until he comes back. Not to slip. Not to fall away, or stumble. But to make it to the end.

And Paul’s not crossing his fingers when he prays this. Unsure about whether the Philippians will make it or not. He’s CONFIDENT. Look back to v6.

(Phil 1:6 NIV)  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Paul’s seen the EVIDENCE already. He’s seen what God’s ALREADY DONE. He’s BEGUN the work. He’s forgiven them. And made them new people. And saved them. And they’re being filled with the fruit of righteousness. And so he’s confident that God will FINISH THE JOB.

Where’s Paul’s confidence? Is it in the Philippians? No. Which is just as well. Most of us aren’t good at SEEING THINGS THROUGH. Whether it’s saving for that house deposit, or losing those kilos. Or quitting smoking. Or finishing that handyman project – like painting the house, or building that letterbox.

And if we can’t stick at THOSE things, what chance would we have at sticking at following Jesus. That’s MUCH harder.

It’s just as well God IS good at seeing things through. That’s who he is. That’s what he does. He doesn’t change. He’s faithful to his promises. And when he starts a job, he’ll FINISH it.

Paul’s confidence that Christians will see it through to the end comes from GOD and not from US.

From beginning to end, partners in the gospel are those who are COMMITTED TO Each other. And committed to CHRIST. They SERVE him, and serve each other. They’re growing in the fruit of righteousness through Him. And they’re held secure until he comes back.

3. Partners in the gospel are committed to the task

And the third thing about partners in the gospel/ is that they’re committed to the MESSAGE of Christ. The TASK of telling others about him.

When you’re committed to the MASTER, it’s ONLY you’ll be committed to the MESSAGE of the master.

a. from the first day until now

And the Philippians showed it/ over the LONG HAUL. They were in the marathon. Not the sprint. Look again at v5.

(Phil 1:5 NIV)  (I always pray with joy) {5} because of your PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL/ from the FIRST DAY UNTIL NOW.

Since the day they first accepted Paul’s message, and became Christians. Until the day Paul writes. They’ve been working WITH Paul in the cause of the gospel. To it. And grow it. And strengthen it.

When they FIRST became Christians, they were partners in the gospel. It excited them. Energised them. Gave them hope and purpose and direction. No wonder they became partners straight away.

They didn’t let inexperience, or immaturity, or a lack of knowledge stand in the way. They had GREAT NEWS to tell people. They HAD TO tell them.

Are you as EXCITED about the gospel/ as you were when you first became a Christian?

And that excitement and partnership continued until the day Paul writes. Paul might be in prison, and they might be free to roam the town. But they’re partners.

Paul might be in Rome, and they might be in Philippi. But they’re partners.

He’s shining his light where HE is. And they’re doing their part where THEY are. And that makes them partners.

Partners in the gospel are committed to each other. They’re committed to their Master. And they’re committed to the task.

Which of those three are YOU having trouble with? Which one are you slipping away from?

1. Perhaps it’s being committed to OTHER CHRISTIANS. Partners in the gospel? You’ve become too preoccupied with your own affairs. You’ve become cynical to the needs, and the ministries, of others.

How well do YOU support those doing gospel work?/ Do you ASK them how it’s going?/ Do you pray for them?/ Do you experience their VICTORIES?/ Do you cry at their failures and struggles?

If this is a struggle for you, then my prayer for you is Paul’s prayer – that your love might abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Pray that God will GIVE you the love and concern for these people.

2. Or perhaps it’s being committed TO JESUS that’s the problem. You don’t really think of yourself as a SERVANT. Like most people, you’re busy making your own decisions about life. And Jesus has little say at all. In fact, from the outside, most people would struggle to see ANY difference between you and your non-Christian neighbours.

Then Paul’s prayer is ALSO for you. It’s a prayer that’s fixed on Jesus’ return. He wants his partners in the gospel to be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. Is that what YOU long for? Do you LONG to hear Jesus’ words “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

If you do, then start LIVING for him NOW. Be EXCITED by Jesus. And keep your eyes on that day.

3.  Or perhaps it’s being committed to the TASK that’s the problem. The gospel USED TO excite you, but it’s just seems too hard these days. People think Christians are intolerant. And arrogant. And it’s much easier just to hang out with Christians all the time. That way you don’t have to feel guilty or uncomfortable.

Then look to the Philippians. They were partners with Paul from the first day, until NOW. They didn’t drop off.

Christ had still beaten and sin. THAT hadn’t changed. Their friends and neighbours were STILL living without hope. THAT hadn’t changed. They were still heading for judgment. That hadn’t changed. And so they kept up their commitment to the talk.

What about YOU? How do YOU measure up/ as a partner in the gospel?

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