Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ I Thank God for You: Phil. 1.3-5 (Part III)

Over the past week, we have been looking at three things in the beginning of the main body of the letter. We looked at the first thing, Paul’s thankful heart, he has a heart that is filled with joy despite his circumstances. Last week, we looked at second, Paul’s joyful prayer.

We introduced the third thing on Tuesday, Paul’s gospel-focus. We said that despite having such a different background from the Philippians, Paul had a joyful fellowship with them because of their shared experience of God’s grace. From the standpoint of natural affinity, Paul had nothing in common with the Philippians. They couldn’t have even eaten at the same table with one another! They were Gentiles; he was a Jew. They were worshiping a polytheistic pantheon of Roman and Greek gods, and he was worshiping the God of Israel in a synagogue! They had, naturally, nothing in common, but they had this: the gospel. They had this: grace. They had this: the Lord Jesus Christ. And Paul is saying, ‘It gives me joy to think of the fellowship in the gospel that we share together.’

It’s a fellowship of faith. They believed on the same Lord Jesus Christ, same Bible, the same gospel message, and it knit them together over against the world around them. He was a Jewish believer; they were Gentile believers, but they believed in the same common Lord, the same gospel, the same Book, over and against their non-believing Jewish and their non-believing Gentile contemporaries. Whatever affinities they may have had with them, they were close to one another because of that common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

They had in common a love for one another. Paul will say to the Corinthians that these Macedonian believers were poorer than the Corinthians, but do you know who Paul uses as an example for Christian giving? The Macedonians. He says, ‘Out of their own need, out of their own lack, out of their own poverty, they generously gave to me for the work of the gospel.’ So that Paul will point to the Corinthians, who have more, and say, ‘You need to give like those Philippians who have less.’ And over and over throughout Paul’s ministry, he’s receiving support – tangible support and encouragement – from the Philippian Christians.

And he senses a fellowship, they are giving even in their lack because they’re so committed to the same thing that Paul is committed to: the glory of Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel.They have a fellowship and mutual participation in the gospel. They both want the same thing. Paul wants to see every knee bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and these Philippians want to see the earth as full of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as the waters cover the sea, and so they are ready to give even when they don’t have it to give, so that Paul can share the gospel. And so when Paul thinks about them, he thinks about that fellowship that they have in the gospel, and in the spread of the gospel.

Well, here’s what I want to say: It ought to be one of the aims of all Christians to cultivate that kind of a deliberately gospel fellowship. If our fellowship is primarily based on the fact of common affinities—we grew up in the same state or in the same town, we went to the same schools, we have a common set of friends, we’re in a particular line of work—if those things are the fundamental things that unite us, then the edges of a congregation will be walls, and anybody that cannot join in those natural affinities will not be a part of that body. But if our union, if our communion, if our fellowship, is in those things which are related to the gospel, then the edges of our fellowship will be porous, and even people who are not like us—they’re not from our socio-economic class, they’re not from our racial background, they’re not from our hometown, they’re not a part of the same set of friends and business colleagues that we normally work with, but they do trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, they will very easily become a part of the gospel fellowship because the thing that fundamentally unites us is not those natural affinities, but the gospel affinities.

Should we not be aiming as Christians to cultivate a fellowship that is deliberately centered on Christ, on grace, and on the gospel? And if we do so, will that not lead us to more and more looking like the amazing diversity that is the body of Christ?

And here the Apostle Paul shows us a thankful heart, and a joyful prayer, and a gospel focus. And in so doing, he calls us to a life attitude and a heart for thankful prayer. He calls us to joy and rejoicing in one another, and being the kind of people that make it easy for our brothers and sisters to rejoice in us. And he calls us to cultivate a deliberately gospel-oriented fellowship.

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