Koinonia – Fellowship – part 4: Partnership
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Philippians 1:1-11 (NIV)
Our reading this morning is from Philippians chapter one. Philippians chapter 1 verses 1 to 11.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints 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.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
I will be reflecting upon that this morning but before I come see to those reflections we’re going to see a two and a half minute video clip of a brother helping another brother.
Video clip of one Brownlee brother helping the other to the finish at the end of a race. For example, Alistair Brownlee helping his brother Jonny over the finish line.
Gets me every time I watch it, I must say.
Do you remember being forced to write a thank you letter? It might have been something that you wanted, it might have been for something awful, perhaps an ugly gift that you neither asked for nor wanted. But your parents dutifully forced you to sit and write something. And so you wrote,
Dear Great Auntie Gertrude,
I write to thank you for those huge green socks that you sent me for my birthday. Although it might be quite some time until I can fit into them, your thoughtful gesture was most appreciated. I’m doing well at school and enjoying geography and English, but don’t like maths very much. I hope you are well. Thank you again for thinking of me.
With lots of love.
One of those letters that says you were compelled to write, with little feeling or emotion. Did you write anything like that? I know that I did.
I had a family member that I hardly knew who lived in a different part of the country. They would normally write a card and then inside it would say, “Prezzy to follow.” And then the gift might come a few weeks later. And because they didn’t really know me, it was often something that I probably wasn’t interested in. As a small child I didn’t have those those kind of filters to learn that any gift should be received with gratitude. And so my parents would dutifully force me to write to these little-known relatives, and how hard it was to tell them how grateful I was for their thoughtfulness. If I didn’t know them well how could I have anything in common with them that they might like me to share in my letter?
From the other side I never really considered what it must be like to be the recipient of such an ungrateful grateful letter. As an adult, you would know that the child writing here had been forced to sit down and acknowledge the thing that you had so carefully spent, choosing, making, wrapping, and sending.
Thankfully the book of Philippians, the letter to the Philippians, is not like that at all. It’s a warm, thoughtful, joyous letter written by Paul to thank the Philippian church for their contribution, for their gift that the group of Christian believers had sent. He acknowledges his grateful receipt of a gift at a later stage in the letter but it’s so much more. This letter is so much more than a quick note of thanks, because it’s a church that’s close to Paul’s heart. He may well have founded it. He knows each person by name and can therefore write with such personal warmth. He knows the set-up of the leadership team, so he writes to the saints, the overseers and the deacons, and then he goes on to warmly endear himself to them.
Throughout this book, this letter, of just four chapters, he uses the phrase brothers, or brothers and sisters, and dear friends, a number of times. Later he mentions people by name. Paul can’t do this unless he has an intimate special relationship with people in this fellowship. It’s not like he has a coffee with them once a week and says that he knows them.
Is not like a lady who I once knew who, when you started a conversation by saying, ‘How are you?’, she’d say, ‘Yes, thank you.’ Not a conversation starter, that’s a conversation stopper. There’s no developing the conversation. So it was really hard to get to know her, ‘How are we?’, ‘Yes, thank you.’ Very polite, very British.
By founding this congregation, this church, this fellowship, Paul knows each one by name. And so he can say with confidence that, “in all my prayers, I pray for all of you. I always pray with joy.” (verse 4). A number of times throughout the letter he repeats this phrase, all of you, all of you. Again, reminding the church that he knows each individual well and can pray for them specifically. Knowing and understanding their circumstances, being grateful of the contribution that each has made to his ministry and to the fellowship there.
And so Paul has deep relationships with the church at Philippi and he wants them to know how special they are to Him.
This is probably the most affectionate letter or book of the New Testament. I think Paul was sometimes known as a bit of a brash kind of individual, but here we see the other side to him. You might have the same kind of experience, warm experience, if you get a letter, an email, or a phone call, or FaceTime message from someone you care about but don’t get to spend much time with. Once you receive that letter, that email, that phone call, That FaceTime, that WhatsApp, that whatever it is stuff, you feel connected again in a deep way. When I met with my friend Dave on Friday evening, it was as if those five months since I last saw him had never happened.
Partnership in the gospel
Similarly, although they might not be geographically close, Paul may well be in prison in Ephesus, there is still this close bond which Paul calls ‘partnership in the Gospel’ in verse five and again in verse seven, where they sharing God’s grace with him.
So if Paul is in prison. How can he do gospel partnership stuff? Tom Wright gives us some clues here. This is what he says. “When people were imprisoned in Paul’s world they were not normally given food by their captors, they had to rely on friends helping them. Since Paul probably couldn’t carry on his tent making business in prison, he was completely dependent on support like this. The fact that people from a different country would raise money and send one of their number on the dangerous journey to carry it to an imprisoned friend speaks volumes for the esteem and love in which they held him.”
The Philippians, then, are partners in the Gospel, partners in grace. They’re in the Gospel business, the grace business, along with Paul, and their gift proved it. This partnership, this closeness, this sense of unity, of giving, of care, encouraging of faith and developing of community are all rolled up in this now familiar word: koinonia.
We’ve explored this word over the last few weeks and have discovered that it can have different, slightly different, meanings depending on its context. We know it can mean fellowship, a group of believers that has God and one another in common; that our relationships with one another and with God exist because of this vertical and horizontal relationship. We can know that it means community, a gathering. Last week we looked at it a little bit differently again and saw that Paul saw the act of what we call communion as a common and communion will act. It’s what Christian believers do to receive the life of Jesus into them.
And this week, koinonia in the context of Paul writing to the Philippians has a slightly different effect again where he uses it in terms of partnership. In fact, the whole letter is littered with links to this word, far too much for us to look at today.
Ian Coffey, in his book Discovering Philippians, for which I’m very grateful to whoever smuggled it onto my bookshelf upstairs, suggests that Philippians provides insight into a word Christians use but rarely define, that of fellowship. And he goes on to say the fellowship means partnership. Then goes on to say that the whole of Philippians is an example of how this partnership in the Gospel works, in prayer, in spiritual battle, in serving, in telling others about Jesus, in caring, in disagreements and in discipleship
So there’s, way, way too much for us to cover today and so we’re just going to spend this morning looking at some practical thoughts regarding what Paul calls partnership in the Gospel.
We will think about what it means for us as a community of believers gathered here. About how we might already share in this partnership, as well as whether we are being challenged to be partners in the gospel.
Frodsham Churches Together
Now, today is actually the ten-month anniversary of my being church leader here. You might say hooray, you might say, oh dear. I didn’t expect that. Whilst I’m still learning about how our church works on the inside, one of the things I’m delighted to be part of is that we as a church are so central to is Churches Together. It’s vitally important for us to be part of forging churches together because, particularly as an independent church, without such fellowship we become we run the risk of becoming a little group by ourselves. By being in proper relationship and connection with other churches, we’re telling those churches and others in our community that we’re not exclusive and that we are in good relationship with other Christians around here and around the world.
For example our own mission of the month informs us about work that goes beyond Frodsham. By our prayers, our finances, our links to those and other Christian churches and charities we align ourselves with them, being partners in the Gospel. Whether at home or overseas, it really doesn’t matter, because we become aware of not just our own community activity here with Frodsham churches but we are linking ourselves as Christians around the globe who need our financial support and our prayers. By being made aware of so many people and agencies we become more informed, and so like all writing to the Philippians get to know our Christian brothers and sisters more deeply
in doing so, our personal relationships and support of them develop and so we’re not guilty of just sending money to a Christian charity each month.
And so when we pray for Sam and Irene as KRDP’s main links in Uganda, or when we host Heddwyn and Lydia when they come to visit, or when we speak with Mark and Sarah from MAF, or we hear about the work of Tearfund, it’s not just so that we think that’s nice that all this work is happening and occurring and I can be grateful that somebody else is doing it. Far from it. Paul writing to the Philippine churches saying that, springing from these deep relationships, comes a desire to serve other Christians and this service comes in a myriad of ways: prayer, finances, writing to encourage, learning more about the work through mission of the Month slots, going to visit such work, or becoming practically involved in action when we’re stirred.
What a privilege, what a privilege it is, to be able to support different organizations and to learn what God is doing because of our financial commitment, because of our prayers, and because of the small or large actions that we take.
Partnership in the Gospel. Across local churches to provide social and spiritual activities in Frodsham. Showing our strength in unity and developing deep seated Christian relationships in our town. Developing them further through individual relationships and learning what needs we have, perhaps offering to babysit so that parents can have an evening off by. Playing games together so that those nearby don’t feel lonely.
This is partnership. It’s changing the spiritual climates of our community. It’s building God’s community here, building God’s kingdom
You will have heard it said by John Donne that no man, no person, no man is an island; we need one another. We need fellowship, supporting one another, supported by one another, just like Moses needed Hur and Aaron, so we need one another.
Partnership in the Gospel. The work that we have committed ourselves to through Missions of the Month means that, although we might not have personal involvement in activities taking place in Uganda or Ukraine or Eastern Europe or Kenya, South America, because of our interest or because of our interest we become partners in the Gospel. Without our prayers and support, particularly for individuals of those smaller groups, those smaller charities, they might not be able to function.
So when Paul writes to the Philippians he says he remembers to pray for them and is constantly praying for them, and this is, no doubt, a massive massive encouragement. He’s confident that the God that together he and they serve will continue such good work and that it will be completed. This is the reason he prays and the reason that we pray. That God has begun a good work in each of us. And we remember that what God starts he completes. And so as we partner with these locally, nationally, internationally, groups of people as our fellowship becomes stronger and knowledge of what these activists are doing becomes stronger, too, and our faith is encouraged.
What we give becomes a lot more personal because we have a vested interest in those Kingdom activities as we become more personally involved through prayer, through knowledge, through experience.
And I think this is why Paul prays as he does in verses nine, ten and eleven. It’s so that the Philippians’ insights into spiritual things is deepened into the way God’s world truly is. A knowledge that is open to everyone who is prepared to give themselves wholeheartedly in love to God, through Jesus. And that this love will result in action, in this case for the Philippians that they will grow in moral discernment and, finally, that they may be filled with the fruit of right living. All this is done through Jesus Christ and to the glory and praise of God.
Just as one Brownlee brother leapt into action and pushed the other to finish the race, so our love for others encourages us to spur one another on to good works and right action.
This personal involvement of a gift to Paul’s work to spread the Good News of Jesus by the Philippians is not forgotten by Paul. In fact it is the reason that he writes to them. He exhorts them through much encouragement to continue to helpful partnerships in the Gospel.
And so today, as Main Street Community Church, each one of us in a variety of different ways partners with others in the Gospel too. It doesn’t have to be the formal stuff, it’s the informal stuff as well. It’s the relationships. It’s the people that we support on that day to day basis. It’s the prayers that we offer.
Let’s see what else we can do, as Paul says in Hebrews, to spur one another on with love and good deeds; let’s not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing but let’s encourage one another and all the more as you see the day approaching.
Called as partners
As I was preparing this this message I came across a hymn. I don’t know it. It’s a Presbyterian hymn but it just kind of spoke to me and I thought I’d read it out. It’s Called as partners in Christ’s services
Called us partners in Christ’s service
called to ministries of grace
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.
The words for Called as Partners in Christ's Service are copyright © 1981 Jane Parker Huber and cannot be included here. Scripture references: John 15:12–17; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 2:15–22.