Summary: Paul tells his firends at Philippi that they are partners with him in the Fellowship of the gospel as it is expressed in Thanksgiving, Prayer, Love and Service.
FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL
There’s a key phrase in the opening verses of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: in verse 5 of the Authorised Version he refers to "Fellowship in the Gospel". I wonder what comes to mind on hearing these words? Money isn’t the only thing that can be devalued. Words, too, lose their meaning with the passage of time. This has happened to the word "fellowship". The popular idea of fellowship is that conjured up by the thought of fellow Christians meeting together in a friendly atmosphere at a public meeting. The Biblical meaning of fellowship is far richer than that. When Paul spoke of the Philippian believers’ "fellowship in the Gospel" (1:5) he meant a "partnership where we are growing in grace in the kingdom of God". It refers to something that belongs to us all, something that we share together. It does depend on how we spend our time and what we are doing with our lives. Someone made the wry comment: "No one was ever heard to say on his or her deathbed, ’I wish I had spent more time in the office.’"
The Apostle Paul was going through a trying time in his Christian experience. He was writing his letter to the Philippian church from his prison cell, probably in Rome. He wasn’t there because he’d committed any crime but because the Jerusalem Jews had accused him of desecrating the temple and had demanded of the Roman authorities that he should be put to death. As a Roman citizen Paul had exercised his right to appeal to Caesar. Already he’d been a captive for several years. At the time of writing it’s likely that his case had been heard and he was waiting for the emperor’s verdict. Although physically he was a prisoner, confined to his cell, his mind and spirit were free and active. God was using the apostle’s enforced confinement to reveal to him, and through his writing to the church, precious truths concerning Christian fellowship in the Gospel.
Several times in the letter to the Philippian believers Paul stresses that he’s writing to them all. His message is for the young believers as well as for the old; those who are new to the faith and also the more experienced. It’s for the church members who had caused him some grief and for those who by their love and devotion caused him to rejoice - it’s for all. So no matter in what position we might find ourselves we’re all included in those to whom the word is addressed. Let’s think how we as Christians may express Christian fellowship. In the first place our fellowship or partnership in the Gospel is shown in:
Paul’s thanksgiving is inspired by memory. "I thank my God in all my remembrances" (3. He turns his mind back to recall treasured memories of his Christian friends in Philippi. There was Lydia, the businesswoman, who was his first convert we know of. Paul’s heart must have been greatly encouraged as she responded to the message of the Gospel. Her’s was a real conversion, not a mere decision. She was anxious to go on in the faith for she publicly demonstrated her discipleship by being baptised. She was most likely instrumental in her family’s conversion for they were baptised with her.
But Paul could be thankful for Lydia for several reasons. Not only was she a faithful Christian and church worker, she was a trusted friend. She was quick to realise that Paul and his co-evangelists needed hospitality in their work of spreading the Gospel. No doubt they were willing if need be to sacrifice home life in the cause of God’s Kingdom, but think how they would thank God as she opened her home to them. The historian Luke mentions how she "constrained them" - she simply wouldn’t accept "no" as an answer to her invitation.
There’s another incident recorded by Luke that serves to reinforce how reliable she was in Christian service. Paul and Silas were badly treated by the authorities in Philippi and illegally imprisoned. After they had been released and expelled from the city it was to Lydia’s home they went. She was willing to stand by them in their hour of need. She was a friend indeed! She was one of the blessings in Paul’s life together with other Christians in Philippi, for which Paul gave thanks to God.
Paul would have lost an important aspect of the fellowship of the Gospel if he hadn’t recognised these benefits as God’s gracious provision. We are serving the same God. I’m certain that we can all look back with joy to some "Lydia" in our lives. Someone who’s been a pillar of strength at a crucial time; a comfort to the distressed; a friend to the lonely, a guide to the puzzled and wavering. This thanksgiving is one side of the coin - the other, is for us, in our turn to be the provider of these blessings to others. There’s a two-way action involved. We are to be givers as well as receivers. This in turn will evoke a response from those who are helped in further thanksgiving and so another link in the chain of the fellowship of the Gospel will have been forged to the glory of God.