THE CHURCH IN PHILIPPI: A MISSION MINDED CHURCH
Bert de Ruiter
Key verse: “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….:” (Phil. 1:3,4)
The apostle Paul thanked God for the church in Philippi. At the time Paul wrote this letter, this church was about 10 years old. It was established through the work of Paul.
BACKGROUND ABOUT THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH
Philippi was the first city in Europe, where Paul preached the Gospel, on his second missionary journey. He had experienced God’s special guidance to get him there. He wanted to go to the province of Asia, but He was kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word there (at least at that time, later He preached there). Then he tried to go elsewhere to Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus would not allow him to go there. (Acts 16:6-10)
The Holy Spirit who sends people out, also leads the process of where and when and how to preach the Gospel. Ultimately, mission work is God’s work. He is in charge!
So Paul went to Troas. There God gave him a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us”
Paul saw this as Gods guidance to move to Macedonia and help people by preaching the Gospel to them. The first city in Macedonia where Paul worked was Philippi.
Paul and his team (Silas, Timothy and Luke) worked and preached in Philippi and when after a while he left there, some (perhaps as many as 100) had become Christians (Lydia and her household, perhaps as many as 60 people!; the jailer and his household; and some others).
On his third missionary journey (about 6 years later) Paul has visited Philippi twice (Acts 20:1-6). It is interesting to note that when Paul leaves Philippi, the book of Acts continues in the ‘we’ form, suggesting that Luke had stayed behind.
WHY DID PAUL THANK GOD FOR THIS CHURCH?
What was so special about this church? Was this the perfect church? By no means, in fact, she may have looked like your church:
- They lived in a non-christian environment:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, sot that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe..” (2:14,15)
- There were problems between two leading Christians within the church, and it seemed that this could spread further to others:
“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord…”(4:2)
- Although at the moment it seemed they were doing okay doctrinally, there was a danger of wrong teaching entering the church:
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” (3:2)
- They were being persecuted, which seemed like leading them to fear and paralisation: (Phil. 1:27-30)
- Financially they were not doing well:
In Cor. 8:1-3 Paul speaks about their ‘extreme poverty’.
So, this church seems like an ordinary church, with its ordinary problems and enough internal matters that needed to be addressed.
Therefore is so special to see why Paul thanked God for this church:
‘because of their partnership in the Gospel..” (1:5)
What does he mean by ‘partnership in the Gospel’?
Partnership could also mean ‘collaboration’. This church collaborated in the spreading of the Gospel. They were partners in the Great Commission, the were involved in the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
The Holy, Righteous God, Judge of heaven and earth, declares sinful people innocent and forgives their sins and makes them into new people, accepting them as His eternal children, with a glorious hope and future. Jesus, who committed no sins has been made the sacrifice of sins for all human beings. His cruxifiction was God’s punishment for sins we’ve committed, and through His cruxifiction we can have peace with God. There is forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, all out of grace, because of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Most of us know this already for a long time, but are we still excited about it? Do we still see it as a marvelous gift from God? Are will still enthousiastic about what God has done for us? The Gospel is ‘the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Rom. 1:16) God wants all people to be saved and become His disciples. God wants that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory, as the waters cover the sea. Therefore He has given us the commission to become partners in the sharing of the Gospel.
There are many people that are hungry and thirsty for the truth, as becomes clear from the many letters Christian organisations from listeners to radio programs or viewers to tv programs:
“I will not stop writing to you in response to your broadcasts, because I want to know everything about Jesus Christ. I want to have a happy and eternal life.”
“I want to know more about the Christian faith and about the life of Jesus and his disciples. I love Jesus and want to enter the Christian faith. How can I do this?”
“I want more information about the Bible and about Jesus Christ. I want to know the truth about God.”
The Bible makes clear that there is no salvation outside Jesus Christ. But how will they call upon Him if they don’t believe in Him and how will they believe in Him if they haven’t heard about Him and how will they hear about Him, if no one preaches about Him?
There are not enough people that participate, or partner in the Gospel. That’s why even today millions of people haven’t heard about the Name of Jesus Christ.
There are not enough churches like the church in Philippi.
WHEN DID THIS PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL START?
When did the Church in Philippi begin with its participation in the Great Commission. We’ve seen that after 10 years they had a number of internal matters to deal with. Of course they had to bring their house in order first, before they could take part in the work of world mission. And of course in the beginning, the church consisted only of young converts, who needed Bible studies to grow in their faith. Also organisationally things had to be put in order. In the beginning the church wasn’t able to be self-governing, because as we see in Acts, Luke stayed behind, after Paul and the rest left Philippi. Also, the church was financially in bad shape to really participate in mission work.
Yes, such thoughts are modern. First we have to put things right within the church before we can start thinking about those outside.
But that was not the thinking in the church in Philippi.
‘Your partnership in the Gospel from the first day..”
The building up of the church went hand in hand with mission work, because mission work is a fundamental part of the being of the Church. It is not an extra option, that a church can chose to add to their activities, but we can say that a church with participation in evangelism and mission is not a good functioning church.
So when do we start participating in preaching the Gospel? As soon as you become a Christian you get a sign up form. God’s grace, God’s salvation, that we enjoy so much, isn’t something to be kept for ourselves. In fact, you will experience that sharing it will make you enjoy it even more. It is what we read in Proverbs:
“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another witholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” (Prov. 11:24,25) (see also 2 Kings 7)
WHO WAS INVOLVED IN THIS PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL?
“I thank my God…in all my prayers for all of you… “ (1:3,4)
“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.” (1:7)
Evangelism and mission is not just for some elite, for the experts, for the spiritual mature. In the church in Philippi there was no mission commission or evangelisation board, but all were involved.
Yes, but we can’t all go out to be missionaries? We can’t all go and share the Gospel in the streets of our city?
That’s correct, and that’s not what the Bible teaches, but we all be partners in the Gospel. Let us see how.
HOW TO BE PARTNERS IN THE GOSPEL?
In what way were the Christians in Philippi partners in the Gospel?
A. Through prayer
“…for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (1:19)
It is important that we pray for the work of evangelism and mission. And let’s be specific and not just “Lord, bless the mission work and strenghten those who are missionaries.”
A good prayer but a bit vague. We can’t pray for the whole world, but perhaps we focus our prayers on a part of the world. Do we know people that are working as missionaries?
Do we receive prayer news from Christian mission agencies? What part of the world does the Lord particularly lay upon our hearts.
Such prayer is dangerous, because God can answer your prayers by asking you to go yourself.
B. By sending out workers
The Church in Philippi was small and had an number of internal matters to look after, but nevertheless they were involved in mission work. They send one of them, Epaphroditus to help Paul in his work (2:25) and Paul calls him ‘my brother, fellow-worker, fellow-soldier’. In other parts in this letter we see that the church also had other members that had been active in missionary work. (4:3).
C. By financial support
One of the reasons the church had sent Epaphroditus to Paul was to provide Paul with a financial gift. The church supported Paul regularly. They had started with this as soon as Paul had left Philippi and was preaching in the next city of Thessaloniki.
This financial contribution was despite their own economic situation, Paul writes about them in 2 Cor. 8:2,3):
“Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”
Here is an extreme poor church, who gave for mission beyond their ability. What an example for us. How about us? How much of our giving is beyond our ability?
Are we willing to follow David’s example, who said: “I don’t to be a sacrifice to the Lord, that doesn’t cost me anything.”
D. Through local evangelism
I’ve spoken about mission work far away. But people could say to me, there is enough to do nearby. Yes, of course. But it’s not either-or. Or mission work far away or evangelism nearby. The church in Philippi lived in an hostile environment. From the beginning they took part in mission work abroad, but at the same time they need to be like shining stars in their own environment. How much appeal does your Christian life or your Church life have to the people outside, to our non-believing friends. Do we shine like stars in our community? Can people see in your life that the Gospel is indeed the power of the Lord to salvation?
HOW LONG DID THE CHURCH KEEP UP THEIR PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL?
‘….because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now..”
We’ve seen that the church in Philippi and each individual member collaborated in the preaching of the Gospel, both far away and nearby. The way each took part, was different, based upon their gifting. We all have different gifts and talents, but no one is exempt from partnership in the Gospel. How long did the church in Philippi maintain their commitment? It is so easy to start enthusiastically, but to keep it up is something else. Mission work among Muslims requires a long term commitment. Not only from the workers, but also from their churches. The results are not always immediate.
Therefore it’s encouraging to read that the church in Philippi partnered in the Gospel ‘until now’, so at least for 6 years.
In order to keep this commitment going, it is good to remind ourselves of the following verse:
“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.” (1:6)
Partnership in the Gospel is an essential element of each Christian and each Church, but it is good to remember that it not something we have to do on our own. It is God’s work in and through us. It is important that we allow Him to work in our lives and it is reassuring to know that He will not give up on us.
Let us pray that He will guide each of you individually and as church collectively in what way He wants you to become partners in the Gospel.