We have all heard them, perhaps used them ourselves. Those oft-repeated slogans that rally people together for a common cause. “We can do it.” “There’s strength in numbers.” “United we stand.” “We’re all in this together.” Wise leaders know the value of using such words of inspiration to promote a spirit of passion and teamwork, uniting people together with each other as well as with their leader. With this in mind the apostle Paul began his epistle to the church of Philippi by emphasizing their mutual “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). It is a good reminder of how we too should view our service for the Lord.
Jesus gave all of his followers one single mission. We are to go into all parts of the world and present to every person the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ. That is our Great Commission, a responsibility for the lost that we share in common. If we are true to our calling, each one of us should have a vision for the world and a heart for all who are outside of Christ. But there is no practical way any one of us could speak to every person. That is why we need to think in terms of a broader gospel partnership. We acknowledge and embrace the evangelistic work of other Christians in areas we cannot reach, while we in turn speak to those they cannot reach in our community. Paul could not personally join his readers in evangelizing the city of Philippi because he was in prison. And yet despite his chains and his absence from them, he continued to share with them in the grace of God and the mission to reach the lost (Philippians 1:7). In the meantime, Paul was making an impact with the gospel in prison (vv. 12-14). His friends in Philippi shared in his labors by praying for Paul (v. 19) and sending financial support (4:14-18). Gospel partnerships with Christians in other areas are a wonderful way to build passion and comradery in our mutual mission to win the world for Christ.
Are you familiar with the “one another” passages in Paul’s epistles? We are to love one another, encourage one another, rebuke one another, and so on. Paul’s vision for the church is that of believers united as one body, practicing mutual edification, so that together we can achieve God’s purpose for our lives. The Christian life is most productive when we are a strong and healthy community of faith, concerned not only about ourselves, but also the spiritual well-beings of others in our fellowship. Paul illustrated this concern in his relationship with the church of Philippi. He prayed for his readers that they might grow in love, knowledge, wisdom, and righteousness (1:9-11). He guided them with his written words of instruction and rebuke. And he set before them a purpose they shared in Christ: “to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward” (3:14). Paul was confident that if they worked together as partners in the gospel, the good work that had begun within each one of them would be brought to completion on the day Christ returns (1:6).
Perhaps a healthy church should come with a warning label: If you get involved with us, you’re going to love us. So many of us can testify to that truth. A good church fellowship becomes a spiritual family. The common faith that initially brings us together eventually becomes a bond of love that holds us together. It is a bond that is not easily diminished even as we go our separate ways of life, for our hearts retain fond memories and a loving concern for those whose presence we once enjoyed. Paul spoke that way from prison as he reflected upon his former ministry in Philippi. He fondly remembered the people and prayed for them (1:3). He carried them in his heart and longed to see them again (vv. 7, 8). He called them his joy and crown (4:1). That is the nature of our partnership in the gospel. Not only do we share a mission to evangelize the world and the task of helping each other grow in Christ, but we share a love that binds us together as one great family of God.
For over three decades Johnny Pressley taught theology and New Testament at Mid-Atlantic Christian University and Cincinnati Christian University. He now serves First Church of Christ, Washington, North Carolina, as senior minister.