You can tell a lot about the state of your relationship with a person based on your immediate, visceral reaction to the thought of them. Think for a moment about a coworker, fellow church member, or relative with whom you may not see eye-to-eye. What is your reflexive response when you see that person’s face appear on your phone with an incoming call? Anxiety? Dread?
We all know what it’s like to have negative reactions to certain people we know. But we also know what it’s like to experience positive reactions at the mere thought of others in our lives—a long-lost friend reaching out, a romantic interest taking a step in your direction, or a grown child rekindling contact.
Paul’s instinctive response each time he thought of the believers in Philippi was one of joy (a word used 16 times in the epistle). But not only that: he also thanked God for them—every time. This gives us a glimpse of the depth of relationship Paul envisioned when he used the word fellowship (rendered “partnership” by the ESV in verse 5).
The word “fellowship” (Greek koinonia) is used often and casually among evangelicals. We attend fellowship potlucks, join fellowship groups—even sip fellowship lattes in the lobbies of our churches. Why is the word so weighty for Paul, yet so mundane for us?
To answer this question, we must consider the reason for Paul’s rejoicing in prayer. He is not simply excited that the Philippians are fellow recipients of salvation, although they are certainly that. They are also partners, coworkers, or fellows in a fellowship.
Appropriately, as I write this, my son is in the next room enjoying one of his Christmas gifts: a video game based on The Lord of the Rings. The sense of the word “fellowship” conveyed by the Fellowship of the Ring, the first novel’s titular alliance formed to protect Frodo on his quest to destroy the One Ring, echoes Paul’s sense. In the story, this ragtag band of men, hobbits, a woodland elf, and a dwarf unite, despite their differences, to defend all that is good, true, and beautiful for the survival of all the races of Middle Earth.
Likewise, for Paul, to be in biblical fellowship is to be brothers in arms, committed to advancing the cause of the gospel. Despite the staggering differences among the Philippian church (its founding congregants included a wealthy businesswoman, a former demoniac, and a jailer), they were in the trenches together with Paul contending for the faith.
Recall the founding of the Philippian church in Acts 16. Immediately after her conversion, Lydia, the first convert in Europe, opened her home to Paul and his missionary team as a base of operations. After they were jailed and freed, she again showed them hospitality. Hence, Paul says, the Philippian believers were partners in the gospel “from the first day until now.”
Consider the “partnership in the gospel” you may have witnessed in your church or in other ministries. How have you seen fellow believers invest their time, talents, and resources in the spread of the gospel? Perhaps it was through direct evangelism. But maybe you’ve also seen saints giving sacrificially, praying fervently, and showing hospitality in costly ways to support others in frontline ministry roles. Each time we witness the acts of gospel partnership, we should prayerfully rejoice and, in turn, invest ourselves in God’s mission.
I thank you for the sacrificial, servant-hearted believers that I see at work around me. I thank you for the missionaries I know who are partnering with them. I rejoice that you have filled the body of Christ with faithful laborers carrying on your mission. Help me to enjoy true fellowship with the saints—not just friendly relationships, but deep bonds of trust forged through time shared in gospel-advancing ministry. Help me, like the Philippian church, to gladly partner with those who are risking all for your name’s sake.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
- Pray for a deeper sense of joy in the presence of other Christians based on all that you have in common as followers of Christ.
- Pray for your church to be bound together in deep, rich fellowship, so that the gospel can be spread more effectively in your community.
- Pray for opportunities to partner in ministry with missionaries involved in evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.
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