Gospel Partnerships (Part 2)
The Philippian Model for How a Local Church Joins in the Global Proclamation of Christ
This is part two of a three part series on how a local church partners in the global mission of God.
Sharing the Work
As partnerships develop out of Christ-centered relationships, Paul’s letter to the Philippians shows four ways that local churches can share the work of taking the gospel to the nations. A local church partners in proclaiming Christ cross-culturally when its members (1) pray, (2) live, (3) send and go, and (4) give.
One of the key ways that a local church partners with a missionary is through prayer. Paul has confidence in that he will minister faithfully because of the prayers of the Philippian church and the work of God. Although he is imprisoned, he assures them, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus this will turn out for my deliverance” (1:19). Paul’s desire is not for physical safety, but rather, he hopes “that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:20). Paul longs first and foremost for Jesus Christ to be proclaimed.
We know that prayer is good and effective, but it can often be hard to know what to pray for missionaries. They live on the other side of the world, and we may not be aware of their day to day needs. How then can we pray for them? I suggest that the prayers in this epistle provide an excellent starting point when interceding for those serving cross-culturally. For example, Philippians 1:9-11 is a tremendous prayer for a Christian in any situation:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
This is a prayer that is easy to personalize:
Lord, I pray that Sarah’s love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that she may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. I pray that she will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ and so bring glory and praise to you. Amen.
Not only explicit prayers, but so many other passages can be turned into prayers for others. The ethical demands Paul makes throughout the letter (e.g. 1:27, 2:2-5, 2:12-13, 2:14, 15, 3:14, 3:17, 4:8-9) can effortlessly become prayers. How rich is the prayer that one of your partners in the faith would live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27). It is good to pray for missionaries to stand firm in the faith (4:1), and that they would be alert to false teaching (3:2-3). We should pray for the advance of the gospel (1:12-14, 1:18). We should pray for harmony on their missionary team (4:2-3) and ask that God would supply all their needs (4:19-20). Although not an easy prayer, we can pray that they would suffer well for Christ (1:29) and even rejoice in their sufferings (2:17-18, 3:7-11). More broadly, we can pray for them to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances (3:1, 4:4). When we do not know how to pray for our missionaries, we can always echo the simple and profound prayer with which Paul begins so many of his letters, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Pray for God’s grace and peace to overflow in their lives. Paul expands on the prayer for peace in 4:6-7, and he reiterates this prayer for grace in 4:23.
A local church should partner with missionaries through prayer. Those who minister cross-culturally need prayer to sustain them physically and spiritually as they serve. They need prayer for their personal good but also prayer for their ministries.
In addition to their prayers, members of a local church partner with missionaries through their lives. Paul implores the Philippians to live in a manner worthy of their confession as followers of Christ. One passage in particular, 1:27, stands out for the way in which Paul connects the Philippians’ faithfulness in living with his own ministry.
Paul begins 1:27 with an exhortation to godly living: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He continues, explaining that he desires “that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit.” He wants to hear a good report concerning their faith. Then, as he calls on them to stand firm, he highlights their unity. He calls on them to stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Whether Paul is with them or absent, they are united in Spirit and mind, and Paul then furthers this image of their connectedness by saying that the Philippians are “striving side by side” with him. Even when separated by hundreds of miles, Paul can still speak of the church in Philipi strenuously laboring beside him.
This relationship between Paul and the church is one of reciprocity. Their walking in a manner worthy of the gospel encourages Paul, but they know how to live this way because of Paul’s example. He calls on them in 3:17 to follow his example: “Brothers and Sisters, join in imitating me.” They live in a manner worthy of the gospel, which encourages Paul, by following him as he follows Christ. Paul, however, is not their only example, for his instructions continue, “Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Not Paul alone but all who follow Christ’s example prove worthy of imitation.
Rarely do we consider how our own lives affect others, much less others on the other side of the world. However, if we can be encouraged by hearing the reports from missionaries of people coming to faith in Christ, certainly our brothers and sisters in the faith would be encouraged to hear a report from a supporting church that people are responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith. Likewise, it encourages those serving cross-culturally to hear that their sending church continues to remain a faithful witness to the truth of Scripture in their community. How discouraging it would be to see a church that supports and prays for you abandon a central tenet of the faith! On the flip side, it encourages believers to see churches remain faithful.
Many times, we expect the missionaries to be the ones encouraging us. We want to hear about faraway places where God is doing extraordinary things through extraordinary people. We want our own faith to be revitalized with accounts of people coming to faith in Christ. Missionaries do not differ that greatly from us. They, too, need to be encouraged. Their own faith needs to be revitalized. They need to hear that their partners are standing firm in their faith and living in a manner worthy of the gospel. Even in our daily lives, we partner with our brothers and sisters serving around the world when we are faithful to Christ, and thereby strive side by side with them.
3. Send and Go
A local church also partners in the gospel by sending members to join the missionary. Some members will do the sending and others will do the going, but the church will partner with missionaries by sending fellow laborers into the field.
The church at Philipi sent Epaphroditus to Paul as an encouragement, a support, and a bearer of a gift. He came to Paul in prison and was, as the Apostle says, “minister to my need” (2:25). Epaphroditus went to Paul in prison to care for Paul, and he did so at great personal danger. While visiting Paul, Epaphroditus became ill and was “near to death” (2:27). His own concerns reveal the kind of person he was, for even so close to death he was “distressed because you heard that he was ill” (2:26). In the midst of this raging sickness, he was worried that his church at home would be upset at the news of his bad health. Thankfully, he recovered, and Paul encourages the church at Philipi to receive Epaphroditus “with all joy, and honor such men” (2:29).
I would suggest that Epaphroditus provides one helpful model for how a church could do short-term mission trips. Paul extols Epaphroditus because “he nearly died for the work of Christ” (2:30). Paul does not go into detail concerning the exact nature of Epaphroditus’s ministry with him, but from 2:25, it seems that Epaphroditus’s main concern was ministering to and encouraging Paul. Yet, Paul calls what he did “the work of Christ.” One goal of a short-term trip could be to encourage, to care for, and to bring material goods to a missionary just as Epaphroditus did. How else he aided Paul is not clear, but he did these things, and so we can have confidence that such a short-term trip has the potential to be both biblical and beneficial.
Short-term mission teams are notoriously difficult for long-term missionaries. They can require months of planning to receive but achieve little in terms of “results” while there. At worst, they might even drive people away that the long-term missionaries are trying to reach. Certainly, churches should be wise and take the needs and desires of the missionaries into consideration as they plan. At this point, however, it might be good for those on the field to note that Epaphroditus seems to have been one of the worst short-term missionaries to have join you. He was so sick that he nearly died. How much time and effort did Paul have to spend with him instead of proclaiming the gospel? We would all do well to note that Paul does not complain about the inconvenience of Epaphroditus. Rather, he praises him for his sacrifice for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, Epaphroditus was even one who suffered well for Christ and rejoiced in his suffering as Paul calls on us all to do.
While Epaphroditus joined Paul for a limited time with a specific mission, surely we can see in this the value of a local church sending others to join a long-term missionary team in a cross-cultural setting.
As I am writing this, I can rejoice that the local church where I serve has many members who share Epaphroditus’s heart. Just this spring, a young couple left the security of home and extended families to join several of our missionary partners in a closed country on the other side of the world. They have gone and were sent by our church as long-term workers in this field. Currently, we have a short-term team of Epharoditus-like members who have gone to visit that couple and the rest of their team to encourage them, to care for them, and even to bring a few suitcases full of goodies from home.
A local church can and should send members to join the missionaries they support in the field. Both long-term and short-term efforts have their place in joining in the work of Christ around the world. We partner with our missionaries when we go and join them in their work.
Additionally, a local church partners in the cross-cultural proclamation of the gospel through their financial support. The Philippians partnered with Paul in the advance of the gospel through their financial support. Epaphroditus brought this gift with him, and in chapter four, Paul expresses his appreciation. He not only thanks the Philippians for their support, but in 4:10-20, he also details a theology of money that undergirds both receiving and giving financial support.
Paul begins in 4:10-13 by noting that contentment is the key to receiving well. By extension, contentment also proves to be the key to giving well. Paul tells us, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11). He explains that where he experiences hunger or abundance, he is content because he trusts in the Lord: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). His contentment is not a feeling he wells up within himself, but he only survives in plenty and in need through Christ.
As the Philippians gave financially, Paul commends them: “It was kind of you to share in my trouble” (4:14). Gospel partnership means that we not only share in the joys of ministry but also the hardships. Part of sharing in those troubles is relieving hardships with financial gifts. The Philippians shared in Paul’s trouble and partnered with him through their giving.
Certainly, Paul appreciate their gifts, but he also saw how the Philippians gain as they gave. Their gift brings “fruit that increases to [their] credit” (4:16), and their financial assistance is “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (4:18). As the Philippians gave to Paul they were offering gifts to God himself. Even as they gave away their finances, they received a joyous benefit.
Their ability to be generous grew out of their knowledge of who God is. As Paul reminds them, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19). He is the God who supplies all their needs. They can give generously because the Lord is far more generous than they will ever be.
The Philippians’ generosity reveals that they, like Paul, know that “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:7-8). Money is nothing compared to knowing Christ, and indeed it is worth giving generously that we might see others know him. If we would see the gospel go forward, our primary concern cannot be our comfort but the cause of Christ. We must believe that everything is loss compared to knowing Christ.
A local church joins in gospel partnership with missionaries through financial support. Such monetary gifts arise out of the generosity of God the Father who gave his own Son for us and for our salvation and even now provides.