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Partnership in the Gospel
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Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in the gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

Partnership in the Gospel

In Paul’s opening thanksgiving for the Philippians (the saints and leaders, Phil. 1:1) he acknowledges the partnership in the gospel (Phil. 1:5). The word translated “partnership” in Phil. 1:5 is the Greek word koinonia which is often translated “fellowship.” It is deeper and more intense than coffee and donuts on Sunday morning. For example, included in this partnership is being “partakers” of grace with Paul. Furthermore, this partnership was evident “both in my (Paul’s) imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil. 1;7). So, partnership in the gospel meant that the Philippians were active in sharing the gospel with others from the beginning of their Christian life. Likewise, partnership in the gospel seems to be central to Paul’s follow-up with the church at Philippi.

Later in chapter 1, Paul continues this partnership in the gospel. First, he informs the Philippians how his present circumstances have “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12-26). Second, he expresses his desire to hear that they are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27-30). In this way Paul’s letter is an example of partnership in the gospel. We see then that advancement of the gospel is a shared responsibility of the church planter and the planted church.

Do we cultivate partnership in the gospel with the churches we plant? Remember Paul’s partnership with the Philippians was “from the first day” (Phil. 1:5). So, it’s never too early to begin. The following components of partnership in the gospel observed in the letter will provide some guidelines for practicing partnership in the gospel.

Christian Growth is part of Partnership in the Gospel

After acknowledging their partnership in the gospel, Paul expresses his confidence that God will complete his work in their lives (Phil. 1:6). He prays that their love will grow “with knowledge and discernment . . . [to] approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-11). In addition, he urges them to grow because God is at work within them (Phil. 2:12,13)). This growth includes their lifestyle (Phil. 1:27). Paul, likewise, continues to grow (Phil. 3:12-16) providing an example for the Philippians to follow. So, as we seek to nurture partnership in the gospel, we need to practice and encourage growing in our walk with Christ as Paul did. For example, the Learning Communities section on the SEND U wiki would be a good format for this.

Suffering is part of Partnership in the Gospel

Paul is writing from prison so suffering is inherently part of the partnership in the gospel (Phil. 1:7). In fact, life or death may result from his imprisonment (Phil. 1:20). In the midst of this suffering, Paul’s confidence is firmly in Christ (Phil. 1:21). The Philippians are also experiencing suffering (Phil. 1:29). So, Paul encourages them not to be frightened by their opponents (Phil. 1:28). Instead he points them to the resurrection (Phil. 3:11, 20-21) and prayer (Phil. 4:6-7) as a source of comfort and peace in the midst of suffering.

Unity is part of Partnership in the Gospel

Paul’s desire was to hear that the Philippian’s participation in the gospel was characterized by unity (Phil 1:27). In fact, their unity would complete his joy (Phil. 2:2). This is so because unity is grounded in “encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy” (Phil. 2:1). Further, Philippians 2:5-11 gives an extensive explanation that unity in the church follows Christ’s humble example. Because Christ is central to the gospel, his example provides a powerful motivation for the church. In his appeal for unity Paul mentions individuals who need to “agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2,3).

Joy is a part of Partnership in the Gospel

Paul frequently expresses his joy in the partnership in the gospel with the Philippians (Phil. 1:4, 18, 25). The “affection of Christ” fuels this joy (Phil. 1:8). This is because Christ is central to partnership in the gospel and creates the bond between believers. They rejoice when Christ is proclaimed and even suffering does not diminish that joy (Phil. 2:17,18). Also, joy accompanies their prayers (Phil. 1:4; 4:4-6). When our partnership centers on the gospel of Christ, our relationships will be joyful.

Giving and Receiving is part of Participation in the Gospel

Part of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter is to thank the Philippians for their recent gift (Phil. 4:10-20). Yet he makes it clear that he is most interested in “the fruit that increases to your (the Philippians) credit” (Phil. 4:17). Yet, we should not be embarrassed that financial sharing is part of partnership in the gospel.

Standing firm is part of Partnership in the Gospel

True partnership in the gospel stays committed to the Lord. Twice Paul writes about standing firm (Phil. 1:27; 4:1). He also commands them to “hold fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). So, there is no partnership in the gospel when people depart from the message (Phil. 3:18-20).

Conclusion

In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is a fellowship of the ring that brings together hobbits, elves, dwarfs, and men. Interestingly, the fellowship breaks down the barriers between these groups and unites their purpose and energy on destroying the ring and restoring peace to middle earth. The fellowship (partnership) in the gospel, in a more powerful way, brings people together from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). While the fellowship of the ring in the Lord of the Rings is fantasy, the fellowship in the gospel expresses God’s purpose in restoring mankind and creation. Hence, the advancement of the gospel is the purpose of the fellowship in the gospel. In his summary of his introduction to Philippians, Gordon Fee writes:

In sum: Our letter invites us into the advance of the gospel, the good news about Christ and the Spirit. It points us to Christ, both now and forever. Christ is the gospel; Christ is Savior and Lord; thus Christ is our life; Christ is our way of life; Christ is our future; Christ is our joy; “to live is Christ; to die is gain”; and all to the glory of our God and Father, Amen.3Fee, p 52.

So in our follow-up with churches let us cultivate a partnership in the gospel remembering that it needs to start “from the first day” (Phil. 1:5). Let our relationship with churches we plant be characterized by mutual growth, shared suffering, unity, joy, giving and receiving, and standing firm.

suffering
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Follow-up: Understanding Suffering

Paul’s follow-up with the church in Corinth is the most extensive in the New Testament. It includes four letters (1 & 2 Corinthians and two we don’t have – a “previous letter” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 and a “severe letter” 2 Corinthians 2:3,4), a visit by Timothy, two visits by Titus, and two visits by Paul over a five year period. 1Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NIGTC, 2005, 101-105. In previous posts on 1 Corinthians, I have noted the need to keep the cross central and the need to keep culture in perspective. Moving on to 2 Corinthians, we see Paul defending his apostolic ministry. His suffering and lack of polish in speaking had caused his opponents to look down on him. Therefore as Paul defends himself, he provides us with an understanding of Christian suffering and gives a model of authentic gospel ministry. This post focuses on the understanding of suffering. Then a future post will address his model of authentic gospel ministry.

Very relevant to vocational ministers

Paul Barnett comments on the relevance of 2 Corinthians for us,

Thus the greater part of his teaching about ministry stand as a model and an inspiration to subsequent generations of missionaries and pastors. His comments about ministry – that at its heart lie endurance and patience, sacrifice and service, love of the churches, fidelity to the gospel, sincerity before God, and, above all, a rejection of triumphalism with its accompanying pride – remain throughout the aeon to shape and direct the lives of the Lord’s servants. Paul’s ministry as sufferer and servant is precisely modeled on that of Jesus, and finds its legitimacy in the face of detraction and opposition for just that reason, as also must ours, if that is our calling. Thus 2 Corinthians may be bracketed with the Pastoral Letters in its applicability to the work of those whose vocation it is to serve God as his ministers. 2Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT, 1997,50.

Keep the Cross Central

Follow-up: Keep the Cross Central

In surveying Paul’s letters to churches he planted, I have been pointing out lessons we can learn about following up with churches we have planted. In studying 1 Corinthians, we see two primary concerns that Paul sought to clarify and correct. The first is the need to keep the cross central and is the focus of this post. The second is the place of culture in Christian proclamation and life and will be the subject of the next post.

The cross was central to his message

Paul summarized his message as “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). As he said just a few verses earlier (1 Cor. 1:17), it is the power of the cross that is central to the Christian message. The word of the cross is the power of God that saves us (1 Cor. 1:18). This message that Jesus Christ was crucified distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and all other religions. In writing about the uniqueness of the gospel message, Leon Morris notes,

It was the place of Jesus that made the difference. To see him as Messiah was to put everything in a new perspective. Not only did the Christians see him as Messiah, but as the crucified Messiah. For them the central thing was the cross, so that Paul could sum up the message he proclaimed in the words, ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Whatever subordinate and incidental issues were involved, the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity was the cross (for that matter it is the cross that is the difference between every other religion and Christianity). 1Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its meaning and Significance, p. 11.

Faith Hope Love

Follow-up: Urge them to grow in Faith, Love, and Hope

This is the third post in my series on what we can learn about church planting follow-up from Paul’s letters. In a previous post on Paul’s follow-up with churches he planted, we looked at the letter to Galatians. There the key issue was making sure they got the gospel right. Turning to Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, the key issue is making sure they continue to grow in faith, love, and hope. Getting the gospel right is essential but making sure these new believers fully understand the gospel is a dynamic process. The biblical gospel produces in believers continuing growth in faith, love, and hope.

Thankful for their faith, love, and hope

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy were in Thessalonica less than a month (Acts 17:2) before they were run out of town. But nevertheless, some Jews and “a great many devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4) accepted the gospel. In that short time, Paul and his companions developed a close bond with these new converts (1 Thess 2:7-11) and he had observed a remarkable transformation in their lives. He noted that this young church was characterized by faith, love, and hope, and he comments on these in the opening thanksgiving of each letter (in the second letter he does not use the word hope but the concept is implied by the word steadfastness).

Follow-up of church plants

Follow-up: Making sure they get the Gospel right

As I said in a previous blog post, follow-up is an important aspect of the missionary task — not just follow-up with individual new believers, but follow-up with churches that have been planted. I want to look at several of Paul’s epistles to see how Paul did this follow-up for churches he planted.

Galatians provides us with an example of the need for church-planting follow-up, as well as a model of how to do it. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia was probably written about a year after he and Barnabas planted those churches on their first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14.  Elders had already been appointed (Acts 14:21-23). The disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Yet, a year later the purity of the gospel was under attack.

Church Planting Follow-up

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion on models of follow-up with churches once the church planter moves on. Church planters with denominational missions usually connect their new churches to some kind of organizational structure (a national version of the denomination to which they belong). But non-denominational missions may not form any type of structure to allow their church plants to relate to the founding organization or other churches. I have observed churches that have been planted by one mission organization seeking help from another church planting organization because there was no structure established by the original organization. Some form of church-to-church relationship ought to be in place so churches do not feel abandoned when the missionary moves on.

The Church is God’s Household

In this series of posts on the letters to Timothy and Titus, I have emphasized that Timothy and Titus were co-workers with Paul in planting churches in Ephesus (Timothy) and Crete (Titus). These letters are Paul’s instructions to his co-workers for dealing with various issues such as teaching sound doctrine and warnings against false teaching. About halfway through 1 Timothy Paul expresses another purpose in writing:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14,15 (ESV)

Behavior is very important in the letters to Timothy and Titus and in a future post, I will explore “good works” as a component of church planting.

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