Gospel Friendship | Philippians 1:3-8
Brian Hedges | April 26, 2020
Welcome once again to our online service at Redeemer Church! I’m glad that you’ve tuned in this morning, and I hope that you’ll turn in your Bibles with me to Philippians 1. We have just recently started a new series in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s a wonderful letter. It’s a letter that shows us a lot of Paul’s heart, his heart for these dear friends that he was separated from.
I think it’s especially pertinent during the season in which we’re currently living. We’ve now endured a number of weeks of social distancing, and it’s still not clear how long this will last for us. You don’t have to look hard online for articles about the impact of this isolation on people’s lives and even on mental health.
One article, for example, has this headline: “Social Distancing Comes with Psychological Fallout: Experts Warn Prolonged Isolation During the Pandemic May Worsen or Trigger Mental Health Problems.” Well, that’s not all that surprising. Social distancing is obviously affecting all of us, and it affects different people in different ways, but almost everyone would at least agree that this period of being separated from one another has increased our appreciation for friendship. It’s increased our appreciation for relationships, for community, and for the local church.
So this letter to the Philippians, which is a letter about friendship, is a pertinent letter for us, because it shows us some of the most important aspects of biblical-oriented friendship. In fact, I want to just call this message tonight “Gospel Friendship.” That’s really the topic that we’re looking at as we dig into this first paragraph in Philippians 1.
There’s a New Testament scholar named Walter Hansen who’s written a wonderful commentary on Philippians, and Hansen points out that Paul’s letter has ten parallels with letters in the ancient world that were letters about friendship or even essays on friendship. Now, I’m not going to go through those ten parallels, but Hansen concludes that this is a letter of friendship.
He says it’s not merely a friendly letter that fits this pattern, but that "Paul transforms the meaning and experience of friendship by redefining each of the essential ideals of friendship," given by these Hellenistic essays on friendship, "in terms of communion with Christ and empowerment by Christ." In other words, what Paul gives us is a letter about Christian friendship, a letter about gospel friendship.
So this morning I want us to consider that, and consider the implications of that for our own relationships with one another in the body of Christ. I want to begin by just reading the first main paragraph, or at least a portion of the first main paragraph, in chapter 1. Last week we looked at the greeting in verses 1-2, so this morning we’ll pick up in Philippians 1:3, reading verses 3-8. Hear the word of the Lord.
“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. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
This is the word of the Lord.
This morning, as we consider gospel friendship, I want us to look at three things: the nature of gospel friendship; the building blocks of gospel friendship (we’ll spend most of the time there as we look at six different building blocks of gospel friendship from this letter); and then, finally, the power of gospel friendship (we’ll see the difference that it makes in our lives personally as well as in the church and for the mission of the church).
I. The Nature of Gospel Friendship
First of all, let’s just start with some definitions, the nature of gospel friendship. What are we talking about here when we talk about gospel friendship?
I’ve been struck in preparing this message with the inadequacy of words for describing what Paul talks about in this letter. There are a number of different words that we use; none of them quite get at the idea of the word that Paul uses in this letter. The key word is seen in both verse 5 and in verse 7. In verse 5 it’s the word “partnership,” and in verse 7 a cognate of that same word, “partakers,” or “partakers with me,” translating a Greek word.
The Greek word that we have in mind here is the word koinōnia (κοινονια). I don’t think it’s always helpful to bring up Greek words in the sermon, but in this case I think it is, because we need to understand this word, koinōnia. This is the word that often translates as “fellowship,” but when we think about fellowship we generally think about a meal that believers will have together. That’s not at all what Paul has in mind when he uses the word koinōnia.
Sometimes the word is translated “communion,” but when we use the word “communion” we’re thinking about a communion meal. That’s, of course, a part of this koinōnia, and Paul uses the word in that context in 1 Corinthians 10, but he means something more than just that.
The word “partnership” is actually pretty good, but the word “partnership,” for most of us, probably, carries the idea of a business partnership. In the ancient world, the word koinōnia had that implication as well.
This word really means “a close association that involves mutual interest and sharing.” That’s an exact definition from the main Greek-English lexicon.
Here’s what Walter Hansen says in his commentary. I think this is helpful. He says, “Standing behind the English word ‘partnership,’ the Greek word koinōnia connotes a variety of close relationships involving mutual interest and sharing,” and then he lists these off. It includes things such as "marriage and family relationships, friendships, business partnerships, common ownership of property, citizenship, religious organizations." All of these are examples of koinōnia in Paul’s day.
Hansen says, “Paul’s six references to koinōnia in this letter draw from these various nuances of koinōnia and contribute to the development of a theology of koinōnia. A major purpose of this letter is to transform the experience of koinōnia in light of the life of Christ.” Again, what we’re seeing here is the transformation of friendship, partnership, in Christian terms, the transformation of these concepts into Christian concepts.
There are notable uses of this word in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 2:42 the new church, the infant church of Jerusalem, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the koinōnia, the fellowship.”
Or in 1 Corinthians 1:9 Paul says that “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the koinōnia of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” You were called into the fellowship of his Son.
In 2 Corinthians 13:14 (our church will know this; this is our benediction virtually every week), “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the koinōnia, the fellowship, of the Holy Spirit be with you.”
Or here’s just another example, 1 John 1:3. John proclaims what he has seen and heard so that his readers may also have fellowship or koinōnia “with us, and indeed,” he says, “our koinōnia, our fellowship, is with the Father and with his Son.”
These writers seem to envision a kind of relationship that is all-encompassing, a relationship in which Christians are bound together to one another, but they are also bound to God the Father and to his Son, Jesus Christ. It’s a union and a communion of the saints with the Father and the Son, through the Spirit.
Sometimes this word koinōnia carries the idea of financial partnership, and that’s also one of the connotations in the letter to the Philippians. In fact, Paul uses the verbal form of this word in Philippians 4 to talk about the Philippians’ gifts to him, their financial gifts to him. Paul uses this word in other places to talk about the contributions that were made to, say, the poor in Jerusalem in Romans 15, or to the saints in 2 Corinthians 9.
When you put all of this together, what it means is that koinōnia, or what I’m calling gospel friendship—fellowship, communion, partnership; choose your word—what it involves is a "self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision." That’s the definition that D.A. Carson gives in his little book on Philippians.
Let me just give you an illustration to try to get out of the Greek for a moment, out of the exegesis, and give a concept to help bring this home. Perhaps one of the best illustrations comes from one of my favorite books, favorite movies, The Fellowship of the Ring. Just take the word “fellowship.”
When you think of "the fellowship of the ring," if you’ve read the book or you’ve seen the movie, it’s this company of nine people who come from different races, different backgrounds, right? You have the hobbits and you have men and an elf and a dwarf and a wizard; these nine people, and they are bound together, aren’t they? They’re bound together, even though they’re from very different backgrounds, but they are bound together by a mission, by a shared commitment to a common purpose. In that story, it’s the purpose to destroy the Ring of Power. So they’re on this journey together, bound together by this common cause.
That’s exactly the idea of fellowship that you get in the New Testament. Fellowship or koinōnia, this gospel friendship, is a shared commitment to a common mission. It is sacrificial conformity to a shared vision. That’s what we’re after. We might call this "The Fellowship of the Gospel,” or maybe even better, “The Fellowship of the King,” that is, of King Jesus. It is the fellowship of Jesus Christ. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about Gospel friendship.
That means, of course, that it involves our friendships with other believers, but it’s not merely friendship that’s based on common affinity—you like the same sport or you like the same TV shows or you like the same books or the same movies or the same music or whatever. Those kinds of friendships are great, they’re wonderful, they’re fine; but that’s not what we have in mind by gospel friendships. Instead, we have to look at the building blocks for a distinctly gospel friendship.
II. The Building Blocks of Gospel Friendship
That’s the second part of this message, and really the main part, because I want to take you through six building blocks that we get in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and these are six things that I think are absolutely essential for our relationships with one another in the church.
(1) Here’s number one: shared experience. Look at verse 3. “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 koinōnia, partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Okay, that’s the first occurrence of the word in this letter. What does Paul have in mind there, “your partnership in the gospel”? Now, he almost definitely has in mind their contribution to his ministry. He references that in chapter 4. He has in mind the shared partnership.
But it’s not just that; it’s shared partnership in the gospel from the very first day. He is, I think, thinking back to the founding of the church, he’s thinking of the relationship they now have because they have come to faith in Christ. Listen to what he says in verse 6. He says, “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.” That’s not merely their commitment to the mission; that’s God’s work of grace in their hearts and lives. He’s appealing to that, he’s looking back to that.
Then, in verse 7, he says, ‘It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers [there’s our word again] with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” This of course is connected to their partnership with Paul in his ministry, but the foundation of it is their shared experience of grace, their shared experience of salvation.
Haven’t you ever noticed, if you’re a believer in Christ, haven’t you ever noticed that anytime you hear someone share the story of how they came to saving faith in Christ, there’s something when you hear that story that resonates with your heart? When you hear their experience—and listen, we all have essentially the same story. We may come along different paths, we have different backgrounds, we’re saved from different sins; but the story of every Christian is the story of ruin and redemption and regeneration.
Ruined by sin—we look back to that time in our lives when we were in darkness rather than light, we were bound by our sin. It may be the sins of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, religiosity if we were raised in the church but before we knew Christ, and we were looking to ourselves and trusting ourselves. It may be sins of immorality, it may be addictions; it may be all kinds of brokenness in our lives, but we all are saved from our sins, we’re saved from ruin.
How are we saved? We’re saved through the cross of Christ, redemption. We’re redeemed by his blood, and then the work of the Holy Spirit, regeneration, that time when the blinders fell off, when we were able to see, when we came out of darkness into the light. Suddenly our hearts were alive, we’re alive to God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the Christian’s story. That’s what happens in every conversion: ruin, redemption, and regeneration. That shared experience, that partnership, that fellow partaking of grace, that sharing together in salvation, is the very foundation, it’s the first building block, in gospel friendship. That’s first.
(2) Here’s the second building block: gospel [shared] commitment. Again, you see it in verse 5, the partnership in the gospel, and in verse 7, this partaking together of grace. But notice how Paul describes that in verse 7. He says, “...you are partakers together with me of grace, in both my imprisonment—” literally, “in my chains”; the word he uses there carries the idea of chains or of bonds. Paul’s thinking now of himself—this is his first reference in the letter to the Philippians that he is actually a prisoner right now. He’s a prisoner. He’s in chains. He’s saying to the Philippians, “You are partakers with me of grace, both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
The idea here is simply this: not only do they share in this common salvation, but once a person has been saved, they are enlisted in the army, and they’re now fellow soldiers, marching under the banner of the gospel, serving King Jesus. They are committed to the propagation of the gospel, to the proclamation of the gospel, to the spread of the gospel. They’re committed to the mission. They have a common commitment.
Notice, for the Philippians, Paul says, “You are sharers with me,” or, “You’re partakers with me in both the defense and the confirmation of the gospel.” Well, we defend the gospel when we defend the truth of the gospel from attack, but we confirm the gospel when we are building each other up in the faith.
With Paul and the Philippians, that happened in several different ways. It happened through their mutual prayers for one another. Paul obviously in this passage is praying for the Philippians, he’s thanking God for them, and he’ll go on in verses 9-11 to pray for them, for their abounding love and their growth and spiritual discernment. He will pray for their holiness, for their blamelessness, for fruit in their lives. But he also appreciates their prayers for him. In chapter 1:19 he says, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out of my deliverance.” He’s thinking about his suffering, he’s thinking about his imprisonment, and he’s saying, “Your prayers are helping me.”
There was a shared mission in their commitment to the gospel, and then there was also the financial contributions that the Philippians were making, as I’ve already mentioned from chapter 4. All of that’s part of this shared commitment to the gospel. That’s the second building block in gospel friendship.
Pause for a moment for application, and just ask yourself, are your relationships with other believers marked in this way? A shared commitment to spread the gospel? Is what your relationships are about? Do you find common ground, do you find this affinity with other believers, not only because you have the same story, you’ve been rescued from sin and death through the cross of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit; but also you have the same commitment, you have the same ambition, the ambition to make Christ known and to share the gospel with others. That’s the second building block in gospel friendship.
(3) Here’s the third. There’s also a shared destiny. You see this in verse 6. I’ve already read it, but let me read it again. “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.”
We’re going to come back and talk more about that verse next week, because there’s a lot there, but I want to just highlight that phrase at the end of the verse, “the day of Jesus Christ.” That’s an important phrase in this letter and in Paul’s writings. He’s often looking forward to the day of Jesus Christ. What’s he thinking of? He’s thinking of the day when Jesus Christ will return. He’s thinking of the second coming of Christ, he’s thinking of Christian eschatology, the doctrine of last things.
This is a thread that runs through the letter. In fact, Alec Motyer, in his commentary exposition of Philippians, says this is one of the three main themes of the letter. It’s a thread that just holds this whole letter together.
You’ll see it again in Paul’s prayer in chapter 1:9-11, as he’s praying for fruits of righteousness and for their holiness. He’s praying for that, that they will be blameless on the day of Christ. He’s looking forward to that future day.
You see, then, his exhortation to the church in chapter 2:14-16, as he is exhorting them to hold forth the word of life. He wants them to be lights in the world as they’re looking towards that coming day.
You see it in Paul’s ambition and his example in chapter 3 as he pictures himself as a runner who is straining forward with every nerve of his body to reach that prize, the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. He’s straining forward. He’s forgetting the things that are behind and he’s reaching forward for the finish line. What’s the finish line? It’s resurrection from the dead. He wants to attain the resurrection. He’s looking forward and he’s telling the Philippians to do the same.
Then he reminds them, doesn’t he, that their citizenship is in heaven and that they are waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ, who when he comes is going to transform our lowly bodies and make them like his glorious body. Again, he’s looking for the second coming.
You have it in chapter 1, you have it in chapter 2, you have it in chapter 3; then in chapter 4 there’s just this brief phrase, a brief reminder, chapter 4:5, “The Lord is near.” He’s reminding them of the imminent return of Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is coming soon. That’s our destiny. In other words, gospel friendship is formed when we remember that we’re all headed to the same place, we’re headed for the same goal, we have the same destiny, that we are living not for this world, we’re living for the world to come.
Do you remember that little saying, such a wonderful little poem,
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ will last”?
Listen, brothers and sisters; when we have that as our mentality, when we remember that, when we remember that we are not to settle down and be at home in this world, but we are citizens of another kingdom, we are citizens of the world to come, the future age; when we remember that, we remember what we’re waiting for, what we’re looking for, that we share this destiny with all believers, it loosens our roots here and it helps us to band together in this common cause, the mission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(4) So they had a shared experienced (they were all saved by God’s saving grace); they had shared commitments to the gospel, the defense and the confirmation of the gospel; they had a shared destiny, a shared goal, as they’re looking forward, they’re looking towards the day of Jesus Christ; and then fourthly, they also had shared suffering.
Again, you see it implied in verse 7. He says, “...you are partakers with me of grace, both in my chains [there’s the suffering] and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel,” but he goes on to tell them, later in chapter 1, that “it’s been granted to you, you Philippians, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him.”
Remember what he says in chapter 3:10? These are famous words. We know these words, but I wonder if we’ve thought of what Paul means when he says that his ambition is “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.” There’s the word again, the koinōnia of his sufferings, “...becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Have you ever noticed this in your own life, in your own friendships, that when you suffer something together with other friends it binds you closer to them? If you go through a hardship together, it binds you to them. You love them more for what you have endured together. It pulls you together. In the church, in the Christian life, our friendships are enriched as we suffer for Christ together.
Now, for Paul and the Philippians, they are actually suffering persecution. For most of us in the Western world, that’s not usually the case, but even as we suffer by just enduring the trials of life together it enriches our relationships. When we make sacrifices for the gospel, as we should be, that enriches our relationships. It binds us closer together when we share in suffering together. It’s one of the building blocks of gospel friendship.
(5) Here’s number five: a shared mindset, or a shared mentality. Again, you have this in verse 7, and once again I just have to call attention to a key word. This doesn’t come through in English, but I think it’s very important. Paul says, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart.”
The word “feel” is a word that points to more than just emotion in this letter. It’s the Greek for phroneō (φρονεω), and it’s a word that carries a lot of freight. Paul uses this word (or various forms of this word) ten times in this letter. Over and again he is appealing to a certain mindset, a certain mentality. He’s saying, “I have this mindset, I have this mentality,” and he wants them to have it as well.
Hansen says it refers to the interior thoughts, attitudes, and feelings that motivate exterior directions and actions. It’s an internal frame of mind that leads to outward expression.
Let me trace it through the letter and help you see this and see how important this is in Paul’s thinking. As you probably know, one of the themes in the letter to the Philippians is unity; he wants this church to be unified, and in particular there seems to be a schism between two women, Euodia and Syntyche. He’s exhorting them to unity, he’s exhorting the whole church to unity. Listen to how he does it, and you’ll see how this language comes out.
In chapter 2:2 he says, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind.” Okay, there’s that word. He wants them to have the same mindset.
Or chapter 2:5, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” and he goes on to describe how Christ was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, right, but made himself of no reputation, took the form of a servant, death on the cross… You know the Christian hymn that’s right there. All of that Paul gives us in order to illustrate the mindset that they are to have. He’s saying, “Have this mind, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” the mind of Christ.
In chapter 3:15 he exhorts the church, “Let those of us who are mature think this way…” Again, it’s the word phroneō. He wants them to have a certain mindset. Then he contrasts it with the opposite mindset in 3:19. He’s describing the enemies of the cross of Christ, and he says, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” It’s the opposite of what he wants the Philippians to have. There’s a mindset that he’s after.
Then listen to chapter 4:2. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” The word “agree” is “be of the same mind.” Again, it’s phroneō.
So, the idea here is that there is a mindset, there is a Christian mindset, the mind of Christ, there is a Christian mentality, there is an outlook that we are to adopt, that when we adopt it, when we have this and we think about one another with this mindset, it builds the church; and when we don’t have it, it divides the church. Paul wants the church to be united, he wants them to be together, he wants them to be of the same mind, and he has this mind towards them. It’s the mind of Christ.
It’s the same idea that Paul gives us in Romans 8:5-6, when he says that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Listen to this. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
It’s a spiritual mindset; that is, a mindset that is governed by the Spirit of Christ. It means being spiritually minded. It means having the mind of Christ, it means having the mentality of Christ. You know the words to that old hymn,
“May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By his love and power controlling
All I do and say.”
That’s an essential building block to genuine spiritual community, to gospel friendship.
(6) Then number six (here’s the last building block) is shared affection or love. Again, you see it in verses 7-8. “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart,” Paul says, “for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He’s expressing his longing for the church.
What does he long for? One of the things he longs for is to be with them again. I think all of us are probably feeling something of that, aren’t we? We long to be together again. He longs for them with the affection that is in Christ Jesus.
You see the same kind of longing in chapter 4:1. Just listen to the affectionate language; he piles words on here to try to convey to them how precious they are to him. He says, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” I don’t know that he could say it any more strongly! He longs for them, he yearns for them, he loves them. He deeply cares for them. And get this: he says, “I yearn for you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Do you know what he’s saying? He’s saying, “I love you with the love of Jesus flowing through me.” It’s the affection of Christ Jesus. Because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us, because Paul has the mind of Christ, he loves them with the love of Christ. It’s the love of Christ himself operating through him in their lives.
Notice this also in verse 8: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” This is so important. You should do this: go through the letter to the Philippians and circle every time it says “all.” It’s not a throwaway word. Paul over and over and over again, as he writes to the church, he includes everybody. In fact, even in those opening verses he says, “...to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” Then in verse 3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.”
Why does he stress that? Because he does not want this fault line in the church to become any more prominent. He doesn’t want there to be a division, he doesn’t want them to divide into parties or factions or groups; he wants them to be united. So he says, “I’m praying for you all, and I’m yearning for you all, and I love you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
That affection, that love, that growth of affection and yearning and love between believers, that also is one of the building blocks of gospel friendship.
I’ll just tell you on a personal level how I have experienced this, at least to some degree. A few years ago (not many people probably know this) someone contacted me from out-of-state who was inquiring whether I’d be interested in coming down to pastor the church of which this person was a member. This guy was kind of working with the leadership of the church, a potential search committee, and had come across me somehow, and was asking if I was interested.
Well, as soon as that happened, my initial response was something like, “Probably not; we can have a conversation if you want, but probably not.” But it led to several weeks of correspondence and talking, and we talked on the phone, and so on. So I was going through something that only Holly and I really knew about at the time, where we were considering this, but we were also considering our relationships here and our lives here.
I remember several Sundays where we came to church here and the very thought of leaving this church was so painful, it was so sad, it became a huge factor, because we just found it so difficult to think of leaving the friendships, leaving the fellowship, the relationships that we’ve built here over the years. There was a deep affection there.
It’s one of the great benefits that comes from staying in a church—not just for pastors, but for anyone—staying in a church for a long time, being a part of one body of believers for years, even for decades. There’s a great benefit to that, because you build a quality, a caliber of friendship with this kind of affection, this kind of mutual commitment, this kind of shared experiences together, that is rich and that is deep.
That’s not to say there are never reasons for people to leave a church. Sometimes there are. The best reasons are when people leave for mission, when they leave in order to take the gospel to a new place, they leave in order to advance the gospel, in order to see the kingdom of God continue to expand in the world. That’s the best reason. The worst reason to leave a church is because your feathers get ruffled or because you don’t like some particular aspect of the church. So I encourage you to think about long-term commitment to your local church. There’s great power in this.
III. The Power of Gospel Friendship
That leads us to the last point (I’m almost done here), the power of gospel friendship. We’ve seen the nature of it, we’ve seen these six building blocks. Why is it so important? Why is it so powerful? I want to give you three brief reasons.
(1) First of all, individually, kind of on the personal level, these kinds of friendships are one of the greatest sources of joy in our Christian lives. I’ve already said something about that, but you’ll note it as you read through Philippians, that Paul emphasizes the joy, the mutual joy in his relationship with the Philippians.
You see it in verse 4, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel…” You see it in chapter 1:25, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.” You see it again in chapter 4:1 (I’ve already read it), “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
There is great joy that comes from these kinds of relationships. The Lord has designed it that way. To be a part of this fellowship of the gospel is to experience some of the deepest joy you ever will in your Christian life.
(2) This is also powerful on the corporate level for the local church, because this kind of relationship, these gospel friendships, built with these building blocks, are the key (or at least a main key) to unity and harmony in the church.
D.A. Carson, in his book Basics for Believers, says, “Put the fellowship of the gospel at the center of your relationships with believers. Nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches; men and women, young and old, blue-collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities.” The only thing that holds them together is the gospel; it’s this oneness of mind, it’s building relationships on the foundation of the gospel with these building blocks we’ve talked about this morning.
(3) Here’s the third reason: gospel friendships are powerful for the mission of the church. They are strategic. They are essential to the advance of the gospel. This letter is about the advance of the gospel. Paul’s deeply concerned about that. He wants the Philippians to stand together for the gospel, and they do that as they unite in this mutual fellowship, this participation.
I love what my friend Del Fehsenfeld has often said, that "the kingdom of God advances through spiritual friendship." Certainly when you look in church history you see that some of the greatest moments in church history have been when a band of believers worked together for the advance of the gospel.
Just one example would be the "St. Andrews Seven," who in the 1820s—you had Thomas Chalmers, who was a Scottish professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and he had six students. Discipling these students and the friendships of these students, they became so single-minded in their devotion to Christ, they said only one thing seemed to matter: to discover God’s will and do it. They were sold out, and it led them to amazing missionary ambitions and endeavors and labor and remarkable fruit in India because of that friendship.
That’s how the kingdom of God often expands. You see it in the New Testament with Paul and his apostolic band. Where would Paul be without Barnabas, and then without Silas and Timothy and Luke, as they’re on these missionary journeys? Where would Paul be without the friendship of the Philippians, who were helping him in his missionary work?
We need to think in that same kind of what that it’s strategic for us to build these kinds of deep, rich relationships and partnerships for the spread of the gospel.
As we draw to a close, let’s never forget that the greatest Friend of all, the greatest friendship of all, and the foundation of all of our friendships with one another, is, of course, Jesus. Jesus is called in Scripture the friend of sinners, and remember what he said to his disciples? He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Where do we get the power to embody this kind of self-sacrificial conformity to a shared vision, a vision of the gospel, of gospel friendship? Where do we get it? We get it by looking to Christ, who has already laid down his life for us. We trust in him as the greatest friend of all, and as we do that it empowers us to live lives of friendship together.
John Newton said it well:
“One there is above all others
Well deserves the name of Friend.
His is love beyond a brother’s,
Costly, free, and knows no end.”
Our gracious God, we thank you for Christ, who is the friend of sinners, and we thank you for bringing us—in fact, calling us—into the fellowship of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ; into the fellowship of the Spirit; into the fellowship of the gospel. Our prayer is that as we think about these things we’ve considered from your word this morning that we would put them into practice in our own lives, that we would build our relationships with one another using these building blocks, our shared experiences of your grace and your mercy, our shared commitments to the gospel, our shared destiny as we think about where we’re headed, our shared suffering as we make sacrifices for the sake of Jesus, our shared affection for one another. Lord, in all of these things may we build relationships that are God-glorifying, that are enriching to our own lives, and that are strategic for the advance of the gospel in the world.
Lord, I pray that you would work in the lives of people in our church, beyond our church as well, and I pray especially for Redeemer Church, that even while we’re not gathered, temporarily, that we would feel what Paul felt, this yearning, this longing to be back together, and that when we are finally back in this building that we would come back with a greater focus than we’ve ever had before: a focus on the mission, focus on glorifying Christ, focus on discovering your will and then doing it; that we would make sacrifices to that end, that we would give ourselves to these kinds of relationships and give ourselves to the spread of the gospel. Empower us to do that, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.