"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray for 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."
As a good Swedish Lutheran, I hold in exceptionally high regard anything written by Paul (justification by faith, anyone???), and I love the general tone of this letter - encouraging with substance. There is a lot of meat packed in these four chapters. I revisited these verses a few weeks ago, and have been stuck on them ever since. It's probably not my favorite chunk of Philippians, but it's been working on me lately. Now let me be clear, I am not the authoritative biblical scholar on Paul's writings. You are most assuredly going to get a better theological exegesis from Barclay or your local seminary graduate. But I have been chewing on these verses and wanted to put my thoughts down on paper. I think God might be (gulp) schooling me.
One of the things I like most about these verses is how affectionate Paul is towards the brothers in Philippi. Can you imagine what a blessing it was to read that Paul, while under arrest, always prayed with joy for you? It is humbling to know people are lifting you up in prayer, but to know that they are praying with joy despite their own difficult circumstances? That's an extraordinary love relationship to be a part of. How incredibly unusual in the world today. Powerfully noteworthy.
But the part that has jumped out at me and landed in my heart is why Paul prays for joy for these people - "because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now". Those thirteen words have caused a head and a heart tilt for me. Paul doesn't pray with joy because he likes these people best. He doesn't pray with joy because they are doing everything just the way he thinks they should. He doesn't pray with joy for them because the other guys are screwing it up. He prays with joy because of their partnership in the gospel.
The original Greek word for "partnership" translates as "fellowship, the close association between persons, emphasizing what is common between them; by extension: participation, sharing, contribution, gift, the outcome of such close relationships". (Zondervan Exhaustive Concordance - I know. I'm a little scary with this thing...) In this particular context, Paul is referring to a gift the believers in Philippi had sent Paul upon hearing of his detainment. The rich sentiment of believers "partnering in the gospel" is a word picture I have revisited over and over these last few days. All believers partnering in the gospel...
Sure. I know the passages about we are all one body, many parts. I get that analogy. But walking it out with affection and joy can quite honestly be a challenge for me some days. I love partnering with people who share my passion - the parts like me. I especially like the people who are doing things my way. But I confess that I (and I think this may be a bit of a "growth opportunity" across the church) am not nearly as committed to partnership when people are passionate about different aspects of the gospel or who are sharing it differently than I would.
Let me try and flesh this out a little better.
I am all kinds of passionate about children's ministry - I could partner all day long if you want to talk and pray about elementary kids being discipled and growing in wisdom and stature. I think I could make a pretty good argument for why children's ministry should be one of the most well funded, well resourced areas in any church. I could also tell you all of the reasons I know God has not (yet - oh, heaven help me!) called me to be an overseas missionary. (One big jungle snake sighting and you can bet it wouldn't be a testimony flying out of my mouth...) Not my passion - not my area - not the way I want to spread the good news. But as I have read this passage over and over I am struck by the fundamental, foundational, ain't no person or place excluded big picture partnership of THE GOSPEL. There is no time or space to be hung up on who or how - just partnering in THE GOSPEL. What is important is what is common between us.
I know we need to be wise and accountable for our ministry areas. Sure, I recognize there may be false teachers or impure motives. But verse six is like a balm for my fears of allowing all of us to partner together as one body, many parts:
"...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."
I think it may be time to stop taking stock of how everyone else is sharing God's love. Us parts can get a little too hung up on the details - we can whip out a verse from this book or that book citing why our way is the right way to share the good news or the right way to "do" the gospel. Sometimes I think believers can miss the forest for the trees in this regard. We've got to remember that God is using clay jars. We are all imperfect, we are all a work in progress until the day of Christ Jesus. Just remembering that frees us up to do more loving of each other and the world with more grace as one body.
These verses are a "big picture" wake up call for me. God has given me a heart for children, but I find myself pretty jazzed about the gospel partnering going on around the world right now, at this very moment, knowing God will carry His good work on to completion. I want to be wholly invested in the big picture - not to compete with the other parts, but to partner with them. I want to get back to being excited about what is common between us.
Powerfully noteworthy for me.