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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).


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.

young pastor being ordained
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Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

The Prodigal Prophet: a review

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by [Timothy Keller]

Like the two brothers of the parable

Many are familiar with Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, published in 2008. In that book, Keller highlighted the grace of God portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son. Similarly, in a more recent book, The Prodigal Prophet, he shows how the story of Jonah gives us an Old Testament illustration of that parable. He writes in the Introduction,

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11-34), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25-32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners.1Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, 6.

In the Introduction, Keller outlines how the book of Jonah portrays the Prophet’s disobedience (chapters 1 & 2) and then his reluctant obedience (chapters 3 & 4) in a parallel fashion. Jonah’s main theological problem is understanding how God can be both merciful and just. Keller writes,

The question is not answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to see how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men. 2Keller, 5.

keep culture in perspective

Follow-up: Keep Culture in Perspective

Culture is high on the list of mission topics. For example, many colleges and seminaries have renamed their “Mission” departments as “Inter-cultural” departments or something similar. Certainly, cultural studies are essential for anyone proclaiming the gospel to people from other people groups. But we must keep culture in perspective. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides a perspective that both confronts and adapts to culture. Culture does not form the content of the gospel yet it is the context in which the gospel is proclaimed, understood, and lived.

Culture is not the source of saving knowledge of God

First of all, Paul announces that the wisdom of the world, which is part of culture, does not bring us a saving knowledge of God (1 Cor. 1:18-21). Knowing God depends on God’s revelation (1 Cor. 2:10-13), not on human wisdom. However, the wisdom of this world clearly impressed the Corinthian believers. So Paul makes it clear that the message of the cross eliminates any human boasting in God’s presence (1 Cor. 26-31). God’s wisdom, the message of the cross, has been revealed by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10). Ciampa and Rosner comment on the source of God’s wisdom:

In 2:8-12 Paul discusses the revelation of the wisdom that came to the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit. Negatively, it was not known (perceived or grasped) by the rulers of this age (2:8-9). Positively, it was revealed by God through the Spirit to the apostles and prophets who received the Spirit of God (2:10-12). 1Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 127.

In the New Testament, we have what the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles. Culture does not provide the content of the gospel. Scripture does.

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.

Do the Work of an Evangelist

In Paul’s final charge to Timothy, he instructs him to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). The word “evangelist” only occurs three times in the New Testament: Acts 21:8 as a description of Philip, Ephesians 4:11 as one of the gifts to the church, and here in 2 Timothy 4:5. There is not enough data to conclude that there was a distinct office of evangelist in the New Testament. What is clear, though, is that the evangelist proclaimed the gospel. “Evangel” represents the Greek word for gospel. Speaking and living out the gospel was essential to Timothy’s and to our ministry.

In a 1992 article in Evangelical Quarterly, Alastair Campbell explores the meaning of “doing the work of an evangelist.” He examines each of the passages above. He notes that in each case the evangelist explained the Scriptures. Philip explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The evangelist in Ephesians 4:11 is one of the gifts to the church for equipping, building up the body of Christ towards maturity. In 2 Timothy 4:5 the work of an evangelist is mentioned in the context of Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the word. Campbell concludes his study:

Suffering for the Gospel without Shame

Most people want to avoid suffering. Yet, in this fallen world it is a reality of life. Suffering is a significant theme in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Commentator, William Mounce, writes, “the theme of suffering ties almost all of the epistle together” (Pastoral Epistles, 474). Each chapter of the letter has something to say about suffering. The suffering Paul writes about is suffering for the gospel associated with persecution.

Shame is often associated with suffering, but Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed when suffering for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). How is it possible to suffer for the gospel without shame? It is by the power of God. Timothy’s sincere faith (2 Tim. 1:5) together with fanning into flame his spiritual gift (1:6) empowers him to not be ashamed. God has given us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:7). Timothy can suffer for the gospel without shame because God’s power is displayed in the gospel. Paul writes to Timothy:

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