What is a “partnership in the gospel?”

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. (Philippians 1:3–5 ESV)

Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is, among other things, a letter that celebrates partnership. Here are some introductory observations about this theme based on Philippians 1:3–5.

  • Paul remembers the believers in Philippi. It seems he thinks of these Philippian believers often, evidenced by the phrase, “always in every prayer of mine for you all.” We learn from Paul that a healthy partnership is a heart-to-heart connection which deeply affects what we think about. Partnership is not just a passing experience, devoid of long-lasting impact on our lives. A healthy partnership has “relational staying power.” This encourages us to define partnership not only by what is accomplished (although that is important), but more significantly by relationship—the people we come to know and love and work with toward a common vision.
  • Paul prays for the believers in Philippi—a lot! In any cross-cultural ministry partnership, one evidence of health is the quality and quantity of prayer. Paul indicates that he prays for the Philippian church all the time; he is thinking about them and cannot help himself. It seems he prays for them night and day. This adds a cosmic dimension to the relational depth between him and the Philippian believers. This is way beyond just human friendship. This is a human relationship, a community, a fellowship which has its origin and life in the divine. Paul prays for them, and, according to verse 19 of chapter 1, they also pray for Paul: “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” Prayer keeps the relationship alive, active, full of the energy of the Holy Spirit, even though they are geographically distant.
  • Paul’s affection is joy. Paul describes his prayer for them as “my prayer with joy.” It is no surprise that he remembers them: there likely is great joy in his memories. Paul writes from prison in Rome, so the sweet memories of the saints in Philippi is a source of encouragement to him. A healthy partnership has positive feelings: joy, affection, hope. An unhealthy partnership has feelings of neutrality (neither hot nor cold), disappointment, distrust.
  • Paul’s partnership has divine purpose—“the gospel.This is a “partnership in the gospel.” The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel carries with it the divine expectation of God, namely, that the blessing of salvation in Jesus Christ will be extended by his church to all nations, all peoples, everywhere. The gospel is not just a set of beliefs or doctrines, it is so much more than that. The gospel is a dynamic, global, divine mission and blessing—rooted in the Person of Jesus Christ—and extended through his body, the church—to all peoples. Paul identifies himself in Romans 1:1 as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” The gospel of God is thoroughly infused with mission; Paul is sent on mission as an apostle; Paul’s life gives testimony to the fact that the gospel requires enormous sacrifice, adventurous journeys, and suffering.

The fact that Paul’s life has so divine a purpose because of the gospel, is an aspect itself of the glorious goodness of the gospel. Yes, Paul must sacrifice. Yes, there is pain. Yes, there are times of despair. But knowing Jesus Christ in His purpose and mission far exceeds all the negatives. This gospel, this Savior, is so strong, so beautiful, so glorious, so worth dying for. In Philippians 3:8, Paul writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” With the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ at the center of it all, it is a mission of blessing; it is also the blessing of being on mission.

I can now ask myself: To what extent am I remembering the brothers and sisters in Christ for whom I am advocating, and with whom I am partnering? Do I pray for them like Paul did—“in every prayer of mine for you all”? Can I add to or deepen my prayers for the saints with whom I am partnering? Is there joy in my memory of the ones in distant lands for whom I serve as an advocate; can that joy be enhanced or rekindled through my prayer for them? Do I fully embrace Christ’s divine expectation? Am I wholly committed to this mission of blessing and this blessing of mission—through cross-cultural partnership?

I am under conviction. What a challenge, and what a joy. What trembling and delight we can have being engaged in “a partnership in the gospel.”

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