Partnership in the Gospel (Philippians 1:3–6)

As is typical of Paul’s letters, he begins by expressing his thanks for the church in prayer.  Most letters in the Greco-Roman world began with some sort of thanksgiving section in order to set the tone for the letter. Here Paul recalls his time with the church, probably going all the way back to his first visit to the city in Acts 16. He likely had other contacts with the church over the years.

The reason for his thanksgiving is the church’s partnership in the Gospel. A “partnership” (κοινωνία) is a close association of individuals, a fellowship. While contemporary English uses the word with the sense of a business friendship, or sometimes as a verb for a ministry asking for money (they want you to “partner” with them by giving money), the use of this word in the first century was more complex.  It can be used, for example, to describe the marriage relationship (3 Macc 4:6) although this is not found in the New Testament.  It is often used for close participation Phil 3:10, we “participate” in the suffering of Jesus; 1 Cor 10:16 the believer “participates” in the blood of Jesus; in 2 Cor 8:4 the readers are asked to “participate” in sending famine relief. The Philippian church has participated in Paul’s ministry by sending him financial support via Epaphroditus, a servant from their church.

Paul is confident God will bring their work to completion “at the day of Jesus Christ.” When the gospel was preached in Philippi God began to do something good, and Paul is absolutely confident that God will finish the good work he began.  Having been persuaded, this is a perfect participle; Paul was persuaded that the members of the church. It is not the case that Paul was unconvinced until the church sent him some money!

The Szkieletor

The Szkieletor

Modern Christians might reading something like “good work” as a reference to ministry, maybe a mission goal, etc. But a “good work” in a Greco-Roman context would refer to doing some sort of civic project for the good of a community. Imagine someone donating a great deal of money and material to begin the building of a new public building for the good of the community, a museum or library. If the money ran out before the building was finished, this would be a shameful thing for the one who began the project.

There is a tower in Poland intended to be the new regional office of the Main Technical Organization in 1975. Work was stopped in 1981 due to civil unrest, but nothing has been done since to the 92 meter tall structure since. The building known as “Skelator” is too expensive to re-purpose or demolish. This unfinished project is an embarrassment to those who originally planned it.

In the case of the Philippian church, God began the project of building up the church and he will bring the project to a glorious completion on the Day of Jesus Christ. Paul is confident there will be no shame or embarrassment from a half-completed project in the case of this church since God himself is the builder and he cannot fail.

Paul therefore opens his letter with a look back at how the Philippian have already participated in his presentation of the Gospel but also forward to the completion of that partnership when those who are in Christ meet him in glory. Paul can feel this level of confidence because he knows the church also participates in God’s grace.

There are other examples of “participation” in Philippians. How can this way of thinking about ministry change the way we “do church”?


17 thoughts on “Partnership in the Gospel (Philippians 1:3–6)

  1. Understanding the word as a “close mutual relationship” impacts the way the gospel was to be acted out in the practical lives of the Philippians (Longenecker 202). As you described, the Philippians have supplied necessary financial support for Paul’s ministry and so have been part of this fellowship. For Paul I think he saw it as a group of people all working toward the common goal of spreading the gospel (Philippians 1:4-5). Regarding the church today, I think that this idea of partnership or close mutual relationship signifies that the gospel is an active gospel. So also the church must not sit idly by and let someone else do it. This idea calls for all those in the church to use their various gifts in order to best spread the gospel. Paul spoke of the church as a body (1 Corinthians 12). Paul also discouraged laziness (1 Thess 5:14). For Paul it was crucial that the church worked together and had this mutual relationship in order that the gospel could be spread. The partnership described by Paul is one of participation. This should call churches to partner in the gospel the way the Philippians did; doing whatever is necessary to advance the gospel.

    • I would even dare to take this idea a step further and imply that Paul often taught with the community as a whole in mind as opposed to the individual. In Thessalonians, Paul writes using the word “brethren” often. It seems clear as you read about his obsession with Jesus and the good news that Paul has a desire to set his own communities apart for the glory of God each using their own gifts and talents as one. As Longenecker says; “A diverse community of Christians is to be characterized, then, not by ranking its members according to their social importance and stature. Instead, its members are to be encouraged to play whatever role they have been called to play, with each being appreciated as integral to the whole and contributing to its well-being (12: 3 – 8).” (TTP 188)

  2. Paul uses the term Koinonia meaning a close mutual relationship (TTP, 202). If we apply this term to ministry it would show us caring for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. If someone that you are in a close relationship with is in need of something, would you stand aside and not help them? As Christians we are called to love as God loved us. According to Jesus, this is the greatest commandment. If we are loving each other then we are fulfilling a mutual relationship. To change the way that we are currently doing church today, many churches need to look less intrinsically, and start looking outward at what we can do for each other and for those that do not yet know the Lord as their personal savior.

  3. This post has helped me further see the importance of original context and audience. At first glance the word koinwnia takes on some connotations and nuances in English that are far different from that of the Philippian congregation. Not only do the Philippians (as well as we) ‘participate/take partnership in Paul’s ministry and the suffering of Jesus, but Paul places some eschatological nuance in the text. Because “Paul is confident God will bring their work to completion “at the day of Jesus Christ” (Long), we can take notice of Jesus’ teachings of the Kingdom of God, and participate in them now, and wait for it to be fully fulfilled. To bring it into a 21st century focus, to participate in Christ as Paul portrays it does not mean only to serve when it is convenient or comfortable, but we are to participate in the blood of Jesus (1 Cor. 10:16), the suffering of Jesus (Phil. 3:10) and in Paul’s ministry. We should do this for the building up of the community, which is the nuance given in the NT context. To continue to work, and live out your citizenship in heaven now, and to wait for Christ to bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). We should be encouraged to do the same by this Scripture, as “He (Paul) also encourages and instructs them (Philippian church members) regarding their shared (co-participation) life in the gospel” (Longenecker 208, internal parentheses text added).

  4. In the Church the idea of partnership could bring us into unity. The Gospel wouldn’t be bogged down by in house debates. The world would look at us and we would all be preaching Christ. The blog mentions that this is to do a civic duty. The church should be helping the community. Have homeless shelters, food kitchens, football fields behind the church, chaperoning dances, even help the widows and orphans in some way. The Church should be going and helping build and strengthen the communities each congregation is placed in. Serve like Christ would have. “The path to unity Paul prescribes is the way of Christ-like humility, obedience, and service” (TTP 205). The Church doesn’t just reach people on Sunday mornings, it reaches people in restaurant lines, in football stands, hospital rooms, and dinner tables. All of the greatest Jesus encounters are done because one person was humble and obedient and partnered with God to reach others. When you partner with God you never fail.

  5. In Philippians 1 Paul talks about the Philippian people participating in Christ. Paul was participating in the gospel, to the point that he was in chains. He was not going to give up for anything because it was worth the suffering. When Paul was in chains, the Philippians were participating in Christ through their prayers they said for him (Philippians 1:19). The people of Philippi had also sent Paul gifts which could be another way that they were participating in Christ. Epaphorditus was a participant in Christ by delivering messages or gifts to Paul from the Philippian people. In Philippians, Paul talks about how the gospel is being spread in many different ways. Paul thinks that his opponents are preaching Christ in his place of captivity, but they are doing so out of envy and rivalry, or for selfish reasons, but even so, these people are participating in Christ (TTP 199). If we think this way about ministry will change the way we do church because no matter what we do, we will still be participating in Christ. Whether we are the one suffering, directly, or the one helping those who are suffering, both are ways of participation and should be the way we ‘do church’. Even just by Jesus dying on the cross, we participate in his blood because he did that for us and now we can live. It shows that there are many ways to participate in Christ and in ministry, and we can all use our gifts in a different way.

  6. This way of thinking about the ministry can change the way we think about doing church because with all this being said and know, we should learn to stand by one another and encourage each other. We need to pray for the other believers around us.

  7. The way I “do church” right now (at least while I am in college) is that I go to church most Sundays. And that’s it. I don’t have a home church right now where I tithe and volunteer. And I guess I don’t know how many others can relate to that. If all Christians looked at church as a chance to partner up with the glorious gospel of Jesus, then there would be no cold feet, no lazy churchgoers, and no one like me, who just listens to some sermons sometimes and goes home virtually unchanged. Paul commends Philippians as being the first/only church to actually partner with him for the furthering of the Gospel. Now we have church memberships and certain criteria for having a ‘home church,’ largely, it seems, because the church wants to count on your tithes and budget accordingly. But taking a more active standpoint on this subject will cause more growth and spreading of the Gospel.

  8. In today’s world, the way most people “do church” is simply only by attending a service on the weekend. Depending on the church, there may be multiple services, not just on Sunday, but also on Friday &/or Saturday. There are many places where they can input more for the glory of God, but I want to focus on giving of money. There are many who don’t account into their budget a “giving to church” section. In the church, money can be a touchy subject. It’s a very personal thing, & realistically, we rely on it all of the time. Growing up I was taught that you should give 10% of your income to the church. I felt that if I gave less than that, God wouldn’t love me as much. Now my church is trying to avoid that. God doesn’t love you any more or less if you give 10% or not. He understands that we need it. He understands that you have student loans to pay & that you don’t have the greatest paying job. I’m not saying don’t give to the church so you can pay off your loans sooner. Look at your budget & try to find areas where you don’t need to spend so much money. God is pleased when we sacrifice for Him. Even when it’s just a little for something that’s little. For example, instead of going out to Olive Garden, Applebees, or Ucellos, cook your own meal & put what you didn’t spend in the giving plate. Or instead of spending $5 at Biggbe or Starbucks, give that $5 to your church. Doing things for Christ isn’t supposed to be easy all of the time. Sometimes we have to sacrifice, even the littlest things.

    • Rachel Smith

      “There are other examples of “participation” in Philippians. How can this way of thinking about ministry change the way we “do church”?” (P. Long, blog – Partnership in the Gospel (Philippians 1:3–6)). If we thought of ‘participation’ in the church as a close and personal participation as discussed here, the way we ‘do church’ could change drastically. Either, the church would participate less because they are afraid to commit at such a deep level; or the church would participate more because of their love for God and their desire to serve Him to the best of their ability. To expound on the second option, because it is the more God-pleasing option; people would/could see a greater need and have a greater desire to serve and minister to others. If we think of participation as being personal and close, we would give more value and thought to the choices we make in service. We would be more willing to go the extra mile for the hurting student or hurting family who is in need of love and grace. Hopefully, we would also be more willing to do our best for God, because we love Him and want to obey Him. Personally investing and participating in church ministry is a way in which we can honor and worship God!

  9. According to TTP, “Paul encouraged the Philippians both by example and by precept to be mindful of their spiritual future in the present by not living in the past” (TTP 203). By letting go of old ways and the past, it helps us to be effective in ministry and to be present in what God is doing now. Paul chose to let go of what was behind him and press on towards Christ. One should consider reflecting and evaluating what may be holding them back from being effective in ministry, as sometimes a person doesn’t even realize it.

  10. According to TTP, “In order for partnership to occur, the assembly would have to “strive together” and in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”(TTP). II think that when it comes to partnership. there is no definition as to how to this is to occur. Anyone can have a partnership with anyone else. As it pertains to the church, often we help who we want to help, not who necessarily needs it. What would church look like if we took the manner of the gospel and tried to “partner” with all people, any walk of life?

  11. I think that by viewing something unfinished as shameful can be dangerous because maybe finishing the project at that time is not what God has in mind for the church, yet. I believe that God’s timing is perfect and we do not have a say in what that looks like because we are supposed to give it up to God. I think we have too much reliance on the church money and offering sometimes and forget that God has His hand in everything we are doing. He has the ultimate decision for every action or step that we make if we are walking in His perfect path. “Paul desires for the Philippians to partner with one another as they had with him. Were such koinonia to occur, however, the assembly would have to live more fully ‘in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’ and would have to ‘strive together’ more ardently “as one for the faith of the gospel’ (1:27). This, in turn, would require the congregation to ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit'” (TTP, 203). We have to build these monuments and different buildings to build the kingdom of God and to strive together. We should be working together to reach others closer to Jesus instead of just doing it because we have the money.

  12. In the late AD 40s, Paul and his fellow missionaries arrived in Philippi (Longenecker, 196). At the time, there were approximately ten thousand to fifteen thousand citizens in the city; most of which were Roman military veterans (Longenecker, 196). There were other religions present in the city at the time, including the Roman imperial cult which “was centered upon the veneration of the Caesar” (Longenecker, 196). The gospel of Jesus that Paul and his associates proclaimed would have “stood out in stark contrast to the imperial ideology of the day, which was passionately promulgated throughout the vast Roman Empire”(Longnecker, 196). Under these circumstances and the influences of the greco-Roman culture of the time, the believers in the city of Philippi still believed. Epaphroditus, who was sent with a gift to Paul, came back from the prison Paul was held at and brought a letter from Paul with him. The beginning verses of Philippians is an opening prayer, a prayer of gratefulness, for the people’s faithfulness and gifts (1:3-6).

  13. I like how you have pinpointed Koinonia in this passage and the fact that Paul was already persuaded that the Philippians were faithful before Paul ever receiving money. What is interesting, however, is how you narrow in on a “good” work. It is insightful that God bought us at a high price and also He provides for His purposes fully! Not only material needs but the work he started within us, He is sufficient and intentional enough to finish that work! How embarrassing it would be to be a God project and only be half finished with nothing left to give! I think this mentality is not very prevalent in our modern church because we have not accepted grace as God’s divine empowerment for the believer. Many, in fact, think that salvation is the pinnacle of their relationship with God. To that I say, He may give a great introduction, but what an experience it is to be with Him! Longenecker points out, “The Apostle (Paul) was convinced that his ongoing presence would enable the assembly to grow in faith and to rejoice in the Lord” (TTP 204).

    Paul stirred up their faith, stirred up in such a way that the Philippians would not waver in their faith, but have the hope that God will certainly finish what He started in them. He knows the cost of our workmanship.

  14. These words become very interesting when you know the context behind them. If partnership is referring to more of participation in building up the church via finances and support, then it is our responsibility to build up churches in this way too. There are many ways that we can give to the church, not only our home churches that we go to, but to missionaries or other projects as well to support what people are doing in particular ways to build up the body of Christ. If we truly have an eternal perspective, then money should not be a worry or burden to us, but we should not hold onto it tightly, and instead use it as a tool for things that actually matter in the larger scheme of things. If “good works” is referring more to involvement in community projects, then I think we should do that as a body of believers. Individual churches and the entire body of Christ should always actively engage the community because that is how we reach people for the gospel! By doing those community projects, people respond and see how we as Christians care about the community and want to see it grow. By this, it opens up doors to share about Christ! As Christians, our goal is not to form a Christian bubble we never leave, but make a difference in the lives around us.

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