Summary: What does the word “fellowship” bring to your mind? Do you think of coffee or fried chicken or church socials? Paul had a wonderful fellowship with the Philippian church that didn’t have anything to do with any of those.
I love our times of fellowship, don’t you? We joke all the time about how much Baptists love to eat, but I think that one of the reasons we like to eat so much is because of the fellowship that goes along with it. Those times are wonderful and I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for them. But is that all that fellowship is? Is fellowship just limited to the times when we have picnics and dinners together? Is fellowship just limited to the times when we love on each other before and after our services together? No it’s not. Because those things are really just expressions of our true fellowship. True fellowship goes much deeper than handshakes and hugs. True fellowship is the kind of fellowship that Paul shared with the church at Philippi. The kind of fellowship that endured even when they were apart. The kind of fellowship that continually increased, despite prison and persecution. In many of Paul’s letters, he begins with a prayer of thanksgiving. He thanks God for the people he’s writing to. But in this letter to the church at Philippi, that thankfulness seems to overflow. Paul had a very special relationship with the church at Philippi. They weren’t a perfect church. There were some issues going on that he would address later on. There were two ladies who weren’t getting along with each other. Sometimes they were self-centered. At times, they grumbled and complained. They weren’t always unified. They had trouble discerning false teaching. They weren’t always focused on what they were supposed to be doing and weren’t all heading in the same direction. They weren’t a perfect church. But you know what they say about a perfect church. Actually, Spurgeon is credited with saying it first. Spurgeon was pastor of the huge Metropolitan Tabernacle in London and wonderful things were happening there. Thousands would come each Sunday to hear him preach. During the week, they would give out tickets to get in because there wasn’t enough room for everyone that wanted to, to come in. But all of these great things were happening and a lady came up to Spurgeon one Sunday morning after the service. She said, “Mr. Spurgeon, I don’t believe that I will be joining your church.” Spurgeon said, “Why is that?” She said, “Because some things are lacking. It is not quite a perfect church.” Spurgeon looked at her and said, “Ma’am, when you finally find the perfect church, please do not join it. Because if you join it, you will only ruin it.” That’s funny, but it’s true. There are no perfect churches. There never have been and there never will be. And the reason that there are no perfect churches is because churches are made up of imperfect people. And Philippi was the same way. But in spite of that, they were still very special to Paul. Maybe that’s because he knew that he wasn’t perfect either. Later on in this letter, he reminds them of that. In Philippians 3:8-9, he wrote, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Paul knew that any righteousness in him wasn’t his. He knew it was Christ’s. And he knew that the same Jesus that saved him was the same Jesus that saved the people in the church at Philippi. And because of that, he was able to see them, not for their imperfections… but he was able to see them for who they were in Christ. And because of who they were together in Christ, they were able to have true, real fellowship. In this passage, we see how that fellowship played itself out in two parts. Their fellowship was a gospel fellowship and it was a grace fellowship. First, it was a gospel fellowship. Look back at verse 5-6:
If we want to have true fellowship, we will have a Gospel fellowship. That kind of Gospel fellowship has an understanding of the past, and it has a glorious hope in the future. I have been part of many different kinds of groups in my life. Groups at school. Groups at work. Community groups. And yes, groups at different churches. And no matter what kind of group you’re part of, all groups have a past, present and future. Sometimes the past is glorious. Sometimes it’s forgettable. Sometimes the future looks promising. Sometimes it looks bleak. But there is no organization on the face of the earth that has what we have. There is no organization on the face of the earth that has the hope and the promise and the forgiveness of the Gospel. You see, it didn’t matter what had gone on in the Philippian church in the past. It didn’t matter what had gone on in that community in the past. It didn’t matter because they shared a fellowship with Paul in the Gospel from the first day until now. Their fellowship wasn’t based on their mood. It wasn’t based on their feelings. It wasn’t based on how many mistakes they had made or how they had blown it with each other in the past. No, their fellowship was in the Gospel. That meant that whoever they were in the past had been covered by the blood of Christ. That meant that all of their past sins were wiped away. It meant that all of their present sins had been wiped away. And it meant that their future sins had been wiped away. From the first day until now, they had ALL been paid for. And because of that, verse 6 says that they could be confident. Confident in what? Their ability to do the right thing all the time? Their ability to overcome problems? Their ability to bond together and be unified? Their ability to see changes coming and deal with them? How could they be confident in those things? The fact was that they didn’t really have the ability to do any of those things. But people in a Gospel fellowship don’t have confidence in the things that they can do. No—people in a Gospel fellowship have confidence in the things that Jesus is doing. People in a Gospel fellowship have confidence that Jesus will finish what He starts. Despite the fact that he was in prison, Paul and the Philippian Church knew that Jesus would finish what He started in him. Despite the fact that they weren’t a perfect church, they knew that Jesus would finish what He started in them. There might have been problems in their past. There might have been flaws in their present. But their future looked as bright as the sun. Not because of who they were. But because of who Jesus is. And that gave them a bond that was deeper than any fellowship you can imagine. We all know that Brushfork has not had a perfect past. And goodness knows that I have not had a perfect past. But a perfect past is not what will bond us together in a Gospel fellowship. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all know that Brushfork is not perfect right now. And it doesn’t take a whole lot of insight to know that I’m not perfect right now—far from it. But thank God that our perfection is not what we are to have confidence in. If all we were looking for was human fellowship, maybe that’s what it would take. But we’re not looking for human fellowship. We’re looking for Gospel fellowship. And Gospel fellowship comes from understanding that, despite the imperfections of our past, Christ has been working in us. And Gospel fellowship comes from understanding that, despite how imperfect we might be today, Christ is still working in us. And He will continue to work in us. Because He isn’t through with us yet. Jesus has started a Gospel work in us… and He won’t stop until He’s finished. That is a Gospel fellowship. It’s the realization that it wasn’t us that started this thing. And it isn’t going to be us that finishes it. But not only does true fellowship consist of Gospel fellowship, it also consists of grace fellowship. Look at verses 7-8: