Thursday, January 31, 2008

Partnership in the gospel and Joy

Topic: Fridays in Philippians

1. Their partnership in the gospel gives Paul great joy in them.

What joy there is in “contending together” for the gospel! I’ve only tasted of this joy, but I long to eat of it to the full. I know that to really live is to live for Christ, which means living for his gospel. Slowly but surely the Spirit of God is graciously shaping this cold heart of mine to see my computer as a gospel computer, my home as a gospel home, my marriage as a gospel marriage, my job as a gospel job, my Bible as a gospel Bible. In the hands of the Holy Spirit these things become nothing more (and nothing less) than gospel tools, and I a gospel human.

Partnership goes together with the gospel—with the gospel of Jesus Christ at least. In other words, the good news of Christ is inextricably bound up with the matter of relationships. The apostle Paul does not break a sweat in trying to force these two things—gospel and partnership—to get along in the same sentence together. While the gospel is a communication and a partnership is more a communion, it is with a natural ease that Paul is able to associate the two together. Indeed, for Paul the great difficulty would not be getting the gospel and the concept of relationships to hold hands, but to build fences.

Paul always tailors his introductions to themes he will bring up later in the letter. Thus we should not be surprised that we are able to trace a thread of partnership through Philippians. As per the title of this post, whenever we catch a glimpse of this partnership theme, we'll keep a sharp eye open for sightings of joy along with it.

Joy in partnering by sharing

This theme is most obviously picked up near the end of the letter.

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning <1> of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. (4:14-15, ESV)

The church in Philippi partnered with Paul in the gospel by supplying him a gift while he was in imprisonment. Together these Christians pooled their resources together to provide Paul with food and other necessities when he could not provide for himself. And what joy it brought to Paul to experience them sharing with him in this way!

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (4.10)

So Paul, the recipient of the gift, received joy. According to our Lord's logic that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20.35), we can therefore expect the givers of the gift to have received no less joy. Our expectations are confirmed in Paul's letter to the Corinthians:

8 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia [which would include the Philippians], 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging <2> us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

This is the joy of partnering in the gospel by sharing, be it sharing our money, our time, our gifts, our skills, or our strength. And this is why Paul can say in 1:4-5, "I make all my prayers for you with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel."

Joy in partnering by suffering

There is another dimension to being partners in the gospel by sharing; there is partnering by suffering. This is what Paul expresses in 3.10 where he expresses his highest goal: "that I may know him [Christ]" which involves "[partnering] in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." This is ultimate partnership in the gospel, for it is partnering with the very Author and Subject of the gospel in the very act by which this Author gave birth to the gospel in the first place—suffering.

No wonder Paul sees suffering for the gospel as a gift: "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29, KJV). Grace to Paul is not only that God has given him the privilege of believing in Christ, but also suffering for Christ. Why? Because for Paul "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1.21). Anything that brings him closer to Christ is something to see as grace.

But this verse (1.29) makes something else clear: Paul does not have the monopoly on this "grace": "For unto you it is given". God has given this gift of being able to suffer for Christ's sake to the Philippians too! They are "engaged in the same conflict that [they] saw [Paul] had and now hear that [he] still [has]" (1.30). So. Paul is intimately partnering with Christ in suffering, and the Philippians are intimately partnering with Christ by this intimate activity—suffering. Which means this: Paul and the Philippians are intimately partnering with each other! By suffering! And this gives all of them great joy:

17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (2.17-18)

This is the joy of partnering in the gospel by suffering. And going back to 1.3-8, our passage under consideration, we can see why their partnership in the gospel brings Paul so much joy:

7 It is right for me to feel this way [joyful] about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (1.7-8)


I think I'm now beginning to realize why what we in North America call Christian fellowship seems so distant at times from what the NT associates with fellowship. It's because it is. For the early church fellowship meant partnership. And that partnership was first and foremost between the individual Christian and God, both Father <3>, Son <4>, and Spirit <5>. Then, by necessity, this partnership extended itself to existing between individual Christian and individual Christian, and individual church and individual church. Theirs was a partnership in the thing that both they and God were most passionate about: the gospel, Christ's death and resurrection. By being most passionate about the gospel, they were freed from worshipping their possessions—what everyone else was passionate about. And thus they partnered in the gospel by sharing their possessions instead. Perhaps here lies the problem with our sometimes cold, cool and shallow fellowship: we have lost our passion for what matters most to God, and have regained the passion that matters most to the rest of the world. Maybe that's why no one asks us about our reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3.15). Maybe that's why we're always asking each other what fellowship is.

We are in fellowship with God, in his gospel, and thus we are in fellowship with every other believer who is in fellowship with God. And in this holy fellowship there is great joy. We let John and the Lord Jesus have the final word on the matter:

3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that [y]our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:3-4)

20 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

<1> It's interesting to note two connections between this verse and 1.5. First there's the partnership connection, and second there's the idea of "the beginning" (4.15) or "first day" (1.5).
<2> This deserves a post all of its own. They were begging to give!
<3> See 1 John 1.3-4 quoted below.
<4> See 1 John 1.3-4 quoted below, and Philippians 3.10 quoted above.
<5> Paul can appeal to the Philippians' experienced "participation (same Greek word) in the Spirit" (2.1).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Partners in the good news

This is a contribution to the Fridays in Philippians series. Sounds like there will be a few of us posting on this; check it out. I call special attention to Brandon Burley's blog; he's just joined, and his first post indicated that this will be a good thing.

Here’s the first paragraph in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s important, containing some features that are undoubtedly tailored to Paul’s special friends in Philippi. We may come back to them in a later post.

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:1-2, ESV)

Paul then proceeds to give them a thanksgiving report in 1.3-8, which naturally turns into prayer in 1.9-11. For today, we’re staying in the thanksgiving.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-8, ESV)

The thing that jumps out at us every time we read this paragraph is the phrase because of your partnership in the gospel. Indeed, that’s the thing that stands out about the whole letter: the gospel. But someone asks, “Whatever happened to the common consensus that Philippians is primarily about Christ?” But that is like saying that Bill Clinton supports Hillary Clinton, not his wife. Christ is the gospel, and the gospel is Christ.

And so Paul is all about the gospel, and the gospel is all about Christ. It’s no wonder, therefore, that Paul is so excited about their partnership in the promotion of this gospel. They are very much involved in the same thing that Paul is passionate about: Jesus Christ and the spreading of the good news about him. This is the stuff that close friendship is made of!

I can’t get over this phrase your partnership in the gospel. It keeps rolling my mind around and around (rather than the other way around!). So I’m going to spend my time on it. But in order to make six statements about their “partnership in the gospel” we need to take a not-so-quick peek at the paragraph as a whole. Hang in there with me. [For those who want to take the scenic route, keep reading. Less patient readers can skip down to "The Short of It".]


Paul begins his thanksgiving report in vv.3-4, drawing special emphasis to the joy which attends his constant thanksgivings and prayers for them. In verse 5 he states the reason for his joy: because of (for, KJV <1>) your partnership (fellowship, KJV) in the gospel from the first day until now. So you can see that I’m not making this up about the partnership in the gospel phrase being real important.

Then in verse 6 Paul goes deeper still. He takes us deep down into the crawlspace to show us why Christians partnering in the spread of the gospel gives him such joy: being persuaded of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. In other words, the Philippians’ partnership is not a solitary beam supporting Paul’s joy, but rather is further under girded by another stronger and deeper beam, and that beam has something to do with the day of Christ. We’ll try to come back to that in a future post.

Paul starts afresh in verse 7. He looks back to everything he has just said, his joy-soaked thanksgivings and prayers for them and his confidence about them regarding the day of Christ, and says of it all It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart. His joy and confidence is completely appropriate and justifiable because he holds them in his heart. Which wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to us if he didn’t quickly proceed to explain why he holds them in his heart: for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. These two things—his closeness to them, and their closeness to him—taken together, justify his feelings towards them just stated. And these two things, taken together, easily become one: their mutual partnership in the gospel! Whether in Paul’s imprisonment or in his defending and confirming the gospel, the Philippians are backing him up all the way, and doing the same things themselves; all of the Philippians are being co-partners <2> with him.


Backing away from the details for a minute reveals a simple point: the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel is both the basis for Paul’s joy over them (vv.3-6) and the basis for his intimate affection for them (vv.7-8). The because in v.7 is the same as the because in v.5. It’s all about partnership in the good news. And now we are in place to state some things about partnering in the gospel:

1. Their partnership in the gospel gives Paul great joy in them.
2. Their partnership in the gospel gives Paul great affection for them.
3. Their partnership in the gospel is through thick and thin.
4. Their partnership in the gospel is the evidence that God is working and will complete working in them.
5. Their partnership in the gospel is an inclusive partnership.
6. Their partnership in the gospel culminates in the day of Christ.

Lord-willing, I hope to touch on each one of these points in future posts. And these posts will be devotional, I promise!

<1> Though the KJV's "for" could be taken as what Paul is praying "for", there can be no doubt that both Paul and the KJV translators meant "because". Otherwise Paul is praying "for" something that has already happened. The Greek word is epi and can be literally translated here as "in view of".
<2> "Co-partners" (sugkoinonos) being an attractive translation option because it brings out in English the semblance to "partnership" (koinonia,v.5) that exists in Paul's Greek.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The occasion of the letter

Before studying a NT letter, those who are serious about finding joy in the Bible will do this: they will read through the letter several times and try to answer the following questions:
  1. Who is writing the letter?
  2. To whom is he writing it? Are they primarily Jews or Gentiles? Rich or poor? Mixture perhaps?
  3. What is the relationship between the author and the recipients as revealed in the letter? Are they getting along? How close are they?
  4. What can we learn about the author's situation and the recipients' situation by putting the clues together from the letter itself?
  5. What are the specific occasions behind the letter? Is it something that's happening on the author's side that moves him to write? Or is it something happening to the recipients themselves? Maybe both?
  6. What are the various sections to the letter?

Always answer these questions before starting to study one verse in the letter. You can cheat a bit and look at someone else's answers, but it's much more fun to do this on your own and then check your results at the end. Anyone can do this!

In my last post we tried to answer question six. If you look at Steve's posts (follow his links) you will find answers to many of the questions in one through five. But I want to devote a post entirely to the questions of #5.

Why don't you take 15 minutes, grab your Bible and piece of paper and pen, and read through Philippians and see what you can find. Then join me in the next paragraph for the results I found when I did this.

First thing we discover is that something "has happened" (1.12) to the author—Paul. He is in imprisonment: "my imprisonment is for Christ" (1.13). Read all of 1.12-18. Not only that, but it seems he is in imprisonment in Rome. What evidence do we have for this? In 1.13 he mentions "the whole imperial guard (praetorium)". And then in 4.22 he closes: "All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household." Plus there is the converging evidence of Acts 28.

So Paul is suffering for the gospel under Rome, which sets us up for a huge discovery: so are the Christians in Philippi! We quote Paul in full:

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1.29-30, ESV)

The Philippians as well are suffering for his sake in the same conflict that Paul is presently in. They are, as Paul could say, "all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel" (1.8). Philippi was, after all, a Roman colony (Acts 16.12), despite being situated in Macedonia. As they contend together (1.7, 1.27) for the gospel they are thus struggling against the very same "opponent" (1.28) as Paul is: Rome.

So the Philippians and Paul are suffering together externally from Rome. Hence one of the major themes of the letter is to "stand firm" (1.27, 4.1) and not be "frightened in anything by [their] opponents" (1.28), nor "be anxious about anything" (4.6) because "it has been granted to [them] that for the sake of Christ [they] should suffer for his sake" (1.29). It is in this context that Paul writes "Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all" (2.17).

But that's not all. Going back to Paul's situation, we not only discover that he is suffering from people on the outside (of the Christian family) but he is also suffering from people on the inside (of the Christian family), from his own brothers and sisters:

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. (Philippians 1:15-17)

And then we discover that as with Paul, so are the Philippians. Two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, are obviously at odds in a prominent and potentially harmful way (4.2-3). Hence the major theme on unity in this letter. The are to stand firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel" (1.27). They are to be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (2.2):

3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Hear also 2.14-15:

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

So the central occasions to this letter, the happenings that drove the Apostle Paul in the Spirit to write this letter to the Philippians, were things going on in their lives in both places. Both parties were suffering externally under Rome, and both were facing disunity on the inside. So Paul writes a letter that exhorts them to stand firm for the gospel together. And the centrepiece and heart of his argument is not an argument, but a story. The story of the one who suffered externally from those who should have been on the inside. The story of the Christ who put others interests first, and eschewed all pride, humbling himself, and becoming obedient unto death:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11).


Other things:

  1. Paul's imprisonment led the Philippians to give him a gift (1.7, 4.15). So Paul also writes to thank them for this (4.10-19), and to re-commend the bearer of the gift (4.18) and the bearer of this letter back to them (2.25-30). In the sense the letter functions as a letter of acknowledgement and a letter of "re-commendation".
  2. Paul all too familiar with the Judaizers too, and writes to warn his friends of them (3.1-3), even though these false teachers are likely not in Phillipi (yet).
  3. Fee detects a waning in the hearts of the Philippians in their expectation of the coming of the Lord and the future he will usher in. Thus the eschatological theme in this letter (1.6, 1.9-11, 2.16, 3.11-21, and possibly 4.5).


Additional notes:

  • for those wanting more help on studying letters in the NT, or any other genre in the Bible, see the books by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, and How to Read the Bible Book By Book.
  • again, I am indebted to Fee's commentary for connecting some of the letter's clues for me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Outline of Philippians

In the spirit of the letter itself, Steve over at Morning Meditations has invited me to blog through Philippians with him on Fridays. This being the first day of posting on this magnificent letter, we start with some introductory comments on the letter as a whole, before moving through its parts in later weeks. I want to pitch in by giving an outline of the letter in this post, and pointing out the occasion(s) of the letter in the next one.

CAVEAT LECTOR ("let the reader beware"): if you don't believe the words "section" or "exegetical" should be used in discussion of the Bible you will find the following vexingly dry! Maybe skip down to the part that says" Wiersbe's Outline".

Exegetical Outline
Introduction (1.1-11)
Greeting (1.1-2)
Thanksgiving (1.3-8)
Prayer (1.9-11)

Report on how Paul is doing (1.12-26)
With regards to the past and present (1.13-18a)
With regards to the future (1.18b-26)

Exhortation to steadfastness and unity in light of Rome (1.27-2.18)
Contend for the gospel against the outside in unity (1.27-30)
Live out the gospel on the inside in humility (2.1-4)
The most exalted example of humility (2.5-11)
Christ’s stooping (2.5-8)
Christ’s soaring (2.9-11)
Summary injunction: Work out the gospel (1.12-18)

What next: two exemplar examples are on the way (2.19-30)
Timothy coming soon (2.19-24)
Epaphroditus coming now (2.25-30)

Exhortation to steadfastness and unity in light of Judaism (3.1-4.3)
Beware of dogs (3.1-3)
Paul as an example (3.4-21)
Paul tells his story (3.4-13)
His past (3.4-6)
His present (3.7-11)
His future (3.12-13)
Paul applies his story (3.14-4.3)
Think like me (3.15-16)
Imitate me (3.17-20)
Final appeal: stand, agree, rejoice (4.1-3)

Wrapping up (4:4-23)
Closing exhortations (4.4-9)
Exhortation to Christian piety (4.4-7)
Exhortation to wisdom (4.8-9)
Acknowledgement of their gift (4.10-19)
Their gift – Paul’s “need” (4.10-13)
Their gift as partnership in the gospel (4.14-17)
Their gift as an offering (4.18-20)
Closing Greetings (4.21-23)

As you'll notice, the outline is not very catchy, heart-warming, or alliterated. My apologies! What I'm giving is a more or less exegetical outline that started to evolve into a preaching outline but was quickly cut short. And I'm glad it was cut short, for it is more helpful the way it is now. It is best that we all come up with our own preaching outlines. I cannot imagine how horrid it would be to have to preach through someone else's!

This is not to say I won't tweak it at all and re-post it; I'm not entirely happy with it as is. For instance, I don't think the juxtaposition of "Rome" and "Judaism" will bear all the weight it's holding now.

You might ask why some of the sections ignore chapter divisions. Well, while I am sometimes tempted to treat all of chapter three as its own section (as opposed to seeing it go on to 4:3), I am totally convinced that 1.27 to 2.18 is a unit in its own right.

I didn't always think that mind you. When I first outlined this letter on my own several years ago I had Paul starting a new section at 2.1. But then I checked my work against the commentaries (a very wise thing to do—for me at least!) and it didn't take Gordon Fee long to convince me otherwise. Turns out I was in good company, though, as most Bible versions tend to start the major section at chapter 2 (the TNIV and the ISV being happy exceptions).

Fee has influenced much of the rest of the outline as well. The breakdown of the Philippians' gift in 4.10-19 is taken almost verbatim.

For those who do want a preaching outline, Wiersbe has one of the best. Apart from its rigidly adhering to chapter-by-chapter divisions, his outline manages to stay remarkably faithful to the text despite being smartly alliterated and catchy to boot.

Wiersbe's Outline
Joy in spite of circumstances
Key Verse—1.21
1. The fellowship of the Gospel—1.1-11
2. The furtherance of the Gospel—1.12-26
3. The faith of the gospel—1.27-30

Joy in spite of people
Key Verse—2.3
1. The example of Christ—2.1-11
2. The example of Paul—2.12-18
3. The example of Timothy—2.19-24
4. The example of Epaphroditus—2.25-30

Joy in spite of things
Key Verses—3.19-20
1. Paul’s past—3.1-11 (the accountant—“I count”)
2. Paul’s present—3.12-16 (the athlete—“I press”)
3. Paul’s future—3.17-21 (the alien—“I look”)

Joy that defeats worry
Key Verses—4.6-7
1. God’s peace—4.1-9
2. God’s power—4.10-13
3. God’s provision—4.14-23

Well, now that Wiersbe and I have both had a crack at outlining this letter, now it's your turn. Do you have any suggestions for improvements? If so I'd sure like to hear from you in the comments below.
See Steve's first post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Under the essential reading heading

Alan Knox has written a superb post entitled "Won't Get Fooled Again". A couple excerpts:

Once upon a time, God gathered people in fields, and on a mountain, and in a valley, and in homes, and in a school. How foolish! Not today. If people want to meet with God today, they can come to his house - a church building. Wouldn't it be foolish for people to think that God would come to them when he has beautiful buildings now?

Once upon a time, God used pagan prophets and philosophers. How foolish! Not today. Nothing good can come from culture. Today, God wants his people to read Christian books, watch Christian movies, and listen to Christian music. If God has something to say, he would never be so foolish as to speak through a pagan.

Alan's post is part of a synchroblog on the topic "God's Call to the Fools". I'm looking forward to being part of a synchroblog very soon. Stay tuned...

Monday, January 14, 2008

100 Cupboards

I just read it...twice. Before wrapping it up and giving it to my younger brother for his birthday! See N.D. Wilson's website.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Turns out it's biblical

Have an aversion to Mondays? It turns out it's biblical. Here's old testament scholar Bruce Waltke on the absence of the "And God saw that it was good" formula on Day 2 of the creation account:
On the second day, when God creates the firmament, he does not offer an evaluation. Footnote: Even God did not say that Mondays are good! (p62).

Literature cited: Genesis: A Commentary.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them

Just came across this article: Does the Bible permit birth control? I was reminded of the time when, much to the ongoing amusement of certain friends of mine, I volunteered a response to this question at Taylorside Youth Conference! I link to the above article in a sense of self-vindication. Read it and know that yours truly truly stood up for the truth. Youth conference: the place where convictions are born.