Let us look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians, so we can see what a good mission partnership looks like.
And what it’s founded on.
The Partnership Threatened
There is all sorts of practical wisdom and advice we can glean from the letter, but here in chapter 1 Paul talks about the foundation of their partnership,
the thing that lay at its heart.
He takes them back to the foundation, because their gospel partnership with him had been shaken
– not by some strain in the relationship between him and the Philippians, but by what was happening to Paul – the danger his life was in.
He wrote this letter to them from prison
– and he’s in danger of losing his life
– he risks the possibility of execution.
Understandably, the Philippian Christians were deeply worried about him,
and they’re asking the question – “Why is this happening? Why has everything gone so desperately wrong? Has God failed?”
A number of years ago I had the joy of seeing a new CMS family leave to work in southern Germany to help set up a local bible training college. The area they went to is now thoroughly post-Christian – and there are few Bible believing Christians there. It was a crucial work to help regrow the gospel witness in that area. They had spent years preparing to go – and as with all CMS missionaries worked hard in their first term gaining proficiency in German and beginning to seed the new work. But all the way through one of the members of their family struggled with health issues.
After struggling on for a another year or two, they found that the cause of the health issue was a condition unique to southern Germany, But it became so debilitating that they had to make the decision to return to Australia permanently. It’s not hard to ask ‘Why?’ ‘They had given so much to be there and the ministry was just beginning to bear fruit? Why does the Lord allow that to happen?’
You can understand the Philippian Christians asking exactly that question when they heard about Paul – and feared for his life.
The Foundation of Partnership: Gospel Proclamation
So Paul wrote to reassure the Philippian Christians – and as he does, he takes them back to the foundation of their partnership. Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV):
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
What lay at the centre of their partnership? Not Paul’s or their wellbeing – but the gospel – and, despite Paul being in prison, that hadn’t failed! – in fact what has happened has really served to advance the gospel.
And he tells them two ways it has advanced: Firstly,
the people who were guarding him – the palace guard
– had come to hear the gospel – they were a captive audience
, so they never really stood a chance! And Secondly,
the local Christians
had been encouraged to speak the gospel more fearlessly as well. Paul goes on to say, some were doing it from wrong motives
– out of jealousy – even wanting to cause Paul even more trouble, But, says Paul:
18 … what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.’
Remember our couple in southern Germany? Before they left they befriended a refugee from the Middle East. In the time they were there he came to Christ – and he introduced them to a number of his friends who also turned to Christ, And a small active, outreaching group of Christians formed – reaching out to other refugees from the Middle East. Their ministry may have had to end – but the gospel hadn’t failed – indeed it began to advance in a whole new direction.
At the heart of all true Christian fellowship and partnership is this – the gospel of Jesus Christ, w
e share a partnership whose great purpose
is to see Jesus, the good news, made known to the world.
So – let me ask you a question
– a question I need to ask myself as well, ‘What brought you to church this morning?’ Was it, in any way, this – a longing to meet with fellow Christians, so we can work together to make Jesus known?
Or had it more to do with force of habit or the friendships we share?
Having been the minister of a church for 18 years – I know how easy it is to become comfortable
– to build and enjoy the friendships we have there. So that – instead of Jesus discomforting us
– and pushing us out
to be salt and light in our world, we use him as a means of making our life more comfortable
– and keeping the world at bay.
Is our great concern to see the gospel of our LORD Jesus – advance? That was Paul’s concern
– and he wrote to remind the Philippians – and us – that that should be our concern as well!
The Heart of Partnership: To Live is Christ
What gave Paul that focus? And how do we keep that sort of clarity about our partnerships – both here, and with those we support across the world? The only way we’ll do it, is if Jesus and his concerns, form the heart not only of our partnership – but of our lives as well.
So Paul goes on to say, Philippians 1:18-26:
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. d 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
As Paul looks at his position – imprisoned with a possible death sentence hanging over his head – he shares, not just his concern in mission, but his attitude to life and death itself. And he sums up that attitude by saying: 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. To live
– is to serve Christ – seeking – like the good soil in Jesus’ parable – to bear fruit in the lives of the people around him. And to die
– well that is to be forever with Christ – which is better by far.
Paul is smart enough to know he doesn’t do that perfectly
– read on into chapter 3 and you’ll see that – but this is what he strives for.
However, as Western Christians, I think all too often we get this mixed up:
So that for us: To live is gain and to die is Jesus.
We live for gain: Our whole society presses us to live to enjoy all the good things this life has to offer
we work hard
so we can get the right house
in the right location, with the right car in the driveway. we save up to go on holidays
to those special locations, and – this is a big one for me at the moment – we stash away the super
so that when we retire
, we really can rest
and enjoy the fruits of our labour.
– well – it’s good to know Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven where we can continue the good life we’ve worked for here. We do easily let ‘the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of wealth grow up and choke us and make us unfruitful”?
I find it happening in my life, again and again. Paul says to us: “NO – to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Why was Paul ready to accept prison and the possibility of execution?
Why were the Philippian Christians
ready to suffer as they did? Why have Keith and Marion
given up a good life and ministry here in Brisbane – to live in a city where thy must be constantly aware of their personal safety, And a ministry which is often so difficult and hard going?
Why do Christians give up their hard earned cash
to keep them there – and give their time to pray and care for them? What will give us the courage to live our Christian lives openly
before our friends and neighbours and workmates – and be ready to face their ridicule if need be? It can only be as we learn that “To live is Christ and to die is gain”
The Partnership at Work: Striving as One
And so, as Paul finishes he turns from himself to them
, and says Philippians 1:27-30 (NIV):
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Paul’s great desire, for these Christians, and for us – is that we conduct our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel – to strive as one for the gospel – making Jesus known
– even in the face of opposition and hatred. It’s something we need to do together -not just individually – the word Paul uses here, has within it the idea of a community working together for that
So often as Western Christians – we read the Bible ‘individually’
– to see what it says to me, personally – but often it speaks to us as a community
– Christ’s church here in Mitchelton, And we’re to work it out together! I need your help in that, and you need mine. Gospel partnership for Paul, didn’t just mean: ‘You pray and pay for me and my team, and we’ll do all the work!’
They certainly did pray – and they were sacrificial in sending money for his support. Paul says of these Christians in 2 Corinthians 8:
2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
Please do support Keith and Marion in their work – they need your prayer, CMS needs your financial support to keep on sending them!
But at its heart their partnership with Paul was much greater than that
– as ours must be with Keith and Marion! For it meant they were involved in the same work he was involved in
– telling the people around them the good news of Jesus. And that meant suffering for Christ
Paul wrote to the Philippians because he knew that the news of his suffering and imprisonment could severely damage that partnership. But because the news would make them fear
– and pull back into their shell – and stop contending for the faith of the gospel.
He was scared they would forget – that it had been granted to them, not only to believe on Jesus, but also to suffer for him.
Did we hear that when it was read? … it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.
Most of us will never have to fear the suffering Paul and these Christians faced,
but there are still many things that can make us fear
– not least the fear of upsetting friends, or workmates, or our family
, or our neighbours if we actively live out our faith and speak of Jesus. The fear of what will happen if we are sacrificial in giving our finances or our time
in the service of Jesus.
The only thing that will enable us to overcome those fears – is to know Jesus
– and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, to work together in partnership in the gospel
– both here in Mitchelton, and across the world with our missionary partners, And take for ourselves Paul’s motto: To live is Christ and to die is gain.