Partnership in the Gospel

by Matthew Pitts

The church at Philippi was, in many ways, outstanding. Birthed amid miracles, angry mobs and a jailbreaking earthquake, the church was forced to stand firm in its Christian convictions from the beginning. Furthermore, Paul’s letter to them is arguably his most lavish in terms of praise. Far from the warnings and rebukes of his letters to Corinth and Galatia, the great missionary commends the Philippians time and again, even declaring that he is certain that they are the ‘real deal’ – genuine masterpieces of grace that God will finish. This is a staggering statement to make. Yet Paul seems confident to encourage them that they are walking the talk, in gospel terms. How can he be so sure?

Prominence of Partnership

The reason for Paul’s fond thankfulness and his confident assurance is that the Philippians have shown the fruit of their faith through their partnership with him in the gospel. ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Phil. 1:3-6). The believers there were consistent partners in Paul’s missionary efforts since the point of their conversion. In this, they demonstrated their convictions concerning the gospel of Christ and the selfless generosity that flows from a life transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The Greek term ‘koinōnia’, which is translated partnership or fellowship in our Bibles, implies participation. Paul’s missionary activity is an enterprise in which the Philippians are actively engaged, despite being separated by hundreds of miles. It is as though they are business partners in the same enterprise. A similar term is used to describe how James and John were fishing partners with Simon Peter.

Paul’s successes are the Philippians’ to celebrate; his pains are borne by them also. They invest by praying for him, sending Epaphroditus to encourage him and also by giving financially – at a level higher than anyone expected!

Call to Collaborate

The epistles also teach that cooperation for the sake of the furtherance of the gospel is a crucial component of our character. There are to be no ‘lone rangers’ in the Lord’s army! Fellowship is fundamental. Wherever achievable, God’s people are to seek out and support one another for the sake of making Christ known to the nations.

The most prominent missionary partnership is that of mission partners and the fellowship that has commended and sent them. This is the primary relationship which we at Echoes International seek to strengthen by our support. But there is clearly space for others to come alongside as well – after all, it was, in fact, the church in Antioch that commended Paul to ministry, alongside Barnabas, not Philippi.

Likewise, the letter to Colossae demonstrates that Paul looks for prayerful partners, even from churches that he has never visited. I believe that it is the clear teaching of Scripture that we are to openly seek opportunities to engage in gospel enterprise with others.

Organisations, such as mission service groups, Bible translation organisations and agencies that work in closed countries, were formed by the conviction that the Lord has equipped His people with varied skills and knowledge that are crucial to reaching the world with the gospel. Christian collaboration is part of how the Lord gets the job done.

Multi-ethnic Mission Partners

It is also noticeable that Paul’s partnership is cross cultural. The Philippians were ethnically, geographically and linguistically distinct from Paul. He was a Jew, albeit of the diaspora; they were Macedonians – culturally Greek. On a human level, no one would have expected their partnership in any endeavour – and yet they were committed supporters of his ministry.

The believers there were consistent partners in Paul’s missionary efforts since the point of their conversion.

Although it is normal to find multiple ethnicities, languages, cultures and ages in a local church, we often forget how different this is from voluntary groups in the unbelieving world. Why is this important? It is evidence that God is at work. Who else could bring such unity other than the Holy Spirit? Naturally, humans are bigger fans of categories than communities – and yet the church has no walls or borders. Take a moment to drink in the image of this that the Lord gave to John, ‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”’ (Rev. 7:9).

Even in the current age and amid imperfect believers and imperfect fellowships, the unity that the church of God experiences across all manner of diversity is strikingly otherworldly. The fact that many believers pray daily for individuals who have grown up on the other side of the world, write them encouraging letters and share with them from the resources that God has given, makes a monumental statement about the transforming power of the gospel.

Selflessness of Christian Partnership

Our connectedness to other believers is a theme that comes out strongly in chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. We are told, ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Phil. 2:3-4).

And that is perhaps the key dividing line between the Christian view of partnership and that of the unbelieving world. When two businesses enter into a partnership, mutual improvement is often a stated goal but the primary motivation for a company is the value that will be added to their portfolio. Yet we, as God’s people, are told to approach partnership in a manner that mimics Christ, not the corporate world. Christ laid aside His position alongside the Father in order to pay for our sin and to save for Himself a people who would be His cherished bride for all eternity. Likewise, we are to support the needs of our brothers and sisters in a manner that leads us to lay down our lives in various ways. In the context of cross-cultural mission, this might be in giving up time to pray, giving up a holiday to visit a mission partner or giving from resources that we could use for ourselves.

The Danger of Disunity

Of course, it is a sad fact that Christian fellowship sometimes breaks down. Even at Philippi, Paul was burdened to head off a troubling issue that was brewing. The bond of friendship between Euodia and Syntyche, two clearly mission-minded women, had floundered for some reason unknown to us.

One of the responsibilities that we have is to maintain partnerships and to attempt to restore broken relationships. Paul says this to an unknown member of the Philippian church, ‘I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life’ (Phil. 4:3).

As members of the body, fellows in gospel partnership, we are to be alert to the threat posed by what the world would call ‘a falling out’ and to offer wise help in an appropriate manner in order to ‘eager…maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph. 4:3).

Privilege of Christian Partnership

Later in the New Testament, John picks up on the partnership theme in his first letter, reminding his readers that they are not simply in fellowship with other believers but with the triune God. ‘…that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ’ (1 Jn 1:3). They, as new creations in Christ, are now participants in the enterprise of salvation undertaken by the living, triune God and have the privileged and humbling position of fellows (partners) in His activities. This, of course, applies just as much to us in the 21st century as to the 1st century believers.

The application here is simply to marvel at the privileged position that God’s saving grace has bestowed upon us – to find fellowship with Him, not just as workers in His enterprise but as beloved children in His family! The bottom line of New Testament teaching is that there are to be no passive Christians, only partners in the mission of God! May we seriously, selflessly and joyfully partner in the gospel.

News & Stories

Find out how God is moving across the globe.