Saturday, January 26, 2008

Partners in the good news

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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.
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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".]

THE LONG 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.

THE SHORT OF IT

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!

Notes
<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.

4 comments:

Joe Blackmon said...

Brilliant. I mean, I am floored. This was very encouraging and well thought out. I fully intend to keep up with this as you blog through this book. Really good work.

Also, I have been blogging through the book of Matthew and found your blog very encouraging in that you are "preaching' on the internet sequentially through a book.

I am greatly encouraged. Thank you.

MJK said...

I'm glad you've found these posts encouraging, Joe, and I certainly hope future ones will have the same effect. I too am encouraged to see your commitment to blogging through the Word of God. I'll be checking out your posts on Philippians 3 especially! Thanks for stopping by.
~ Mike

Brandon said...

Hey, thanks for the shout-out! I enjoyed this.

As a heads up, your RSS Posts Feed seems not to work in either of my aggregators. Im not sure if this is a problem that extends beyond me or not.

MJK said...

Thanks for the heads up Brandon. I'll see what damage I can do...