“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.” Philippians 1:1-6
I consider exploring Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, as a daunting task. Only because my the Dean of my seminary is a Pauline scholar and will be teaching the book next week to a group of Methodist laity and clergy in Costa Rica. I am no scholar but a pastor and fellow pilgrim seeking to live with the text and seek to hear an additional word from God.
The verses in 1.4-7 have significance for me. I memorized them several years ago and have since applied them often to my ministry and life situation. The phrase ”partnership in the gospel” has really stood out. The thankfulness and graciousness of Paul towards those to whom he is serving does not go unnoticed. When I think of partners in ministry, I first think of my wife, then my family, then brothers in the faith, and then those who are committed to making disciples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This goes without saying there are those people who I do not consider partners in ministry but for whom the gospel still needs to be shared.
Paul states in these verses that he’s not only “thanking” God upon each remebrance of them but in his prayers, prays with joy because of this partnership. His joyful attitude toward having those with whom he can minister is contagious. It makes we ask whether I approach my own ministry with joy? Do I pray with joy for those with whom I am serving and advancing God’s kingdom? Or do I see it as a burden, struggle or difficulty?
The purpose of Paul’s prayers seems to be because of this partnership. And then he gives a timeline — from the first day until now. Is this the first day of their conversion? When they received the gospel of Jesus? When they met? Or when the gospel was given? And then he says, ’until now,” his present day and time. From this entire span, Paul is thankful with joy from the entire conception of his relationship with those who are brothers and sisters with him in advancement of the gospel.
And lastly, Paul expresses his confidence in v.6, to God who ”began a good work,” will finish this work ”until the day of Christ Jesus.” The upbeat beginning of this letter is unmistakable. The good work is the work of the gospel — the justification and sanctification of the saints. The hearing, receiving, accepting, sharing and living in relationship with the Jesus who saves.
Today I’m headed to a mens retreat with just a handful of ”partners” in ministry. All of us are saved by God’s grace, all of us are seeking holiness, but none of us have reached entire sanctification — the place where sin no longer exists in our lives. And so, we gather to share, to eat, to pray, to love, to confess and to laugh. We are fulfilling that which began over two thousand years ago when Jesus through Paul emphasized partners in ministry, the fellowship of believers.
Who are your partners in this great work of life and ministry? Do you have as Dr. Kevin Watson who reiterates the strategies of the Rev. John Wesley small groups which can help you walk with Christ? Christianity can’t be lived in a vacuum. Pray that God might bring you partners today who might walk with you as you walk with God.
“O Lord God, you are good. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for suffering, dying and rising again so we might have life. Come now, Holy Spirit, fill us with your power and love. Help us be all that you have called and created us to be. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen