Lesson # 2: Thanksgiving and Prayer: Part 2 of 3
by John Lowe
5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
The immediate cause of Paul’s joy is their “partnership (some have “fellowship”) in the gospel from the first day until now.” The basic meaning of “partnership” is sharing. What kind of sharing does Paul have in mind here? The idea of their united Christian action cannot be excluded, but he is probably thinking mostly of the very tangible expression of their Christian fellowship which had evoked this letter―their gift of money which they had given “from the first day until now,” even though no other church did so (4:15) and even though the church itself was not wealthy (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).
It is possible, even probable, that Philippians 1:5 is talking about their financial fellowship with Paul, a topic he picks up again in Philippians 4:14-19. The “good work” of Philippians 1:6 may refer to the sharing of their means; it was started by the Lord and Paul was sure the Lord would continue it and complete it.
But we will not go astray if we apply these verses to the work of salvation and Christian living. We are not saved by our good works: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is a good work God does in us when we trust His Son. In Philippians 2:12-13 we are told that God continues to work in us through His Spirit. In other words, salvation includes a threefold work:
• The work God does for us—salvation;
• The work God does in us—sanctification;
• The work God does through us—service.
This work will continue until we see Christ, and then the work will be fulfilled. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
I repeat, isn’t it remarkable that Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome, Paul’s mind goes back to the believers in Philippi, and every recollection he has brings him joy. You may discover from reading Acts 16 that something’s happened to Paul at Philippi, the memory of which could produce sorrow. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul, because it was through this suffering that the jailer found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed, and the other dear Christians at Philippi; and each recollection was a source of joy.
“From the first day” refers to the time when they became Christians, that is, about a.d. 50 (see Acts 16).
afellowship―Their fellowship was not only social and spiritual, but they were fellow labors through their prayers and gifts in all that Paul had done, as he states in Philippians 4:15-16.
6 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.
Paul is sure that “he (God) who began a good work in you”—their growth in grace—“will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Having saved them, God would complete His work of grace in their future deliverance and glorification. Just as their good works were the evidence of God’s good work in them, Paul assures them that God who began that gracious work will carry it on to completion, for He has the power “to bring everything under His control” (3:21).
The “good work” of salvation, then, includes God’s gift to believers both of the will and of the ability to do good works. The presence of these good works, in turn, provides evidence of real belief—evidence that God has begun and will complete the work of salvation in the person who displays them. Thus Paul says in 1:28 that the Philippians’ steadfastness in the midst of persecution serves as a sign of their future salvation.
“The day of Christ Jesus” is the day of God’s final victory in Christ, the day when, as the Creed says, “He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The point in time to which he refers is the time when our perfecting is complete (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24); the day of the believers translation or resurrection. There are certain Bible scholars who will tell you that “we are living in the day of Jesus Christ.” That day will be consummated when He comes to take his own out of this world. And the Holy Spirit has sealed you and me until the day of redemption.
Paul sees the life of every Christian as a sacrifice ready to be offered to Jesus Christ. It is the same picture he drew when he urged the Romans to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
On the day when Christ comes, it will be like the coming of a king. On such a day the king’s subjects are compelled to present him with gifts to mark their loyalty and to show their love. The only gift Jesus Christ desires from us is ourselves. So, then, a man’s supreme task is to make his life fit to be offered to Him. Only the grace of God can enable us to do that.
Being confident could be translated, “since I am confident of this very thing”—Paul knew what he was talking about.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
In this passage, the idea of Christian partnership is strongly stressed. There are certain things which Christians share.
I. Christians are partners in grace. They are people who owe a common debt to God. The “grace” he has in mind is either the grace of preaching or the grace of suffering for the Gospel.
II. Christians are partners in the work of the Gospel. Christians do not only share a gift; they also share a task; and that task is the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul is saying that he and the Philippians are all wrapped up together as partners in the Gospel.
III. Christians are partners in suffering for the Gospel. Whenever the Christian is called upon to suffer for the sake of the Gospel, he must find strength and comfort in the memory that he is one of a great fellowship in every age and every generation and every land that has suffered for Christ rather than deny their faith.
IV. Christians are partners with Christ. In verse 8 Paul has a very vivid saying. The literal translation is, “I yearn for you all with the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
It is altogether right that Paul should feel this way about the Philippians since he regards them as co-sharers with himself in grace, “whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel.” The Greek word here translated as “defending” often carried a judicial meaning, standing for a defense against a regular charge. If this is the meaning, we might paraphrase Paul’s words, “whether in prison or standing before my judges.” But the word may equally well describe Paul’s vigorous championing of the gospel against its enemies.
Paul says he can provide evidence of his love for them. For one thing, he is suffering on their behalf. His chains were proof of his love. He was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1). Because of Paul’s trial, Christianity was going to get a fair hearing before the officials of Rome. Since Philippi was a Roman colony, the decision would affect the believers there. Paul’s love was not something he merely talked about; it was something he practiced. He considered his difficult circumstances an opportunity for defending and confirming the Gospel and this would help his brethren everywhere.
"Bowels of Jesus Christ” means compassionate feelings; RSV, "tender mercies."
8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Here, the apostle expresses his tender affection for his converts: “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” So Paul is saying: “I long for you with the very compassion of Jesus Christ Himself. I love you as Jesus loves you; love is the evidence of salvation: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). The love which Paul feels towards his Christian friends is nothing other than the love of Christ Himself. When we are really one with Jesus, His love goes out through us to our fellow-men whom He loves and for who He died. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). When we permit God to perform His “good work” in us, then we grow in our love for one another. The Christian is a partner in the love of Christ. It is as if Christ Himself were living in the apostle. Every true pastor, Sunday school teacher, Church bus driver, etc., has felt something like this affection for his people.
How can we tell that we are truly bound in love to other Christians? For one thing, we are concerned about them. The believers at Philippi were concerned about Paul and sent Epaphroditus to minister to him. Paul was also greatly concerned about his friends at Philippi, especially when Epaphroditus became ill and could not return right away (Philippians 2:25-28). “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Another evidence of Christian love is a willingness to forgive one another. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).