5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Writing from his prison cell in Rome, Paul was thanking the Philippians for their fellowship/partnership with him in the gospel of Christ. This is the city where Paul was given a vision to come and preach the gospel. This is the leading city in the region of Macedonia. Lydia the purple goods trader was converted when Paul preached the gospel in this city. This is also the city where Paul and Silas were put in jail because the fortune teller’s spirit was casted out which caused the owner to lose his business. This is the very city where the jailer and his household believed in the Lord and were baptized by Paul. And the believers in Philippi all supported Paul ever since they encountered him and the gospel of Christ.
In verse 5 we find a very important word “fellowship” or “partnership” in which the Greek word “κοινωνίᾳ” is used. “κοινωνίᾳ” is considered to be one of the most important pillars of the church, besides “μαρτυρία” and “διακονία.” However, the meaning of “κοινωνίᾳ” is often lost in our modern understanding today. James Montgomery Boice explained it very well:
What does this mean? The word fellowship has been so watered down in contemporary speech that it conveys only a faint suggestion of what it meant in earlier times. When we speak of fellowship today, we generally mean no more than comradeship, the sharing of good times. But fellowship originally meant much more than a sharing of something, like the fellowship of bank robbers dividing their loot. It meant a sharing in something, participating in something greater than the people involved and more lasting than the activity of any given moment. When the Bible uses the word, it means being caught up into a communion created by God.
Kent Hughes, quoting Gordon Fee added:
the depth of the fellowship that Paul celebrated here exceeds that of any earthly fellowship. The great reason for this is that there was, as Gordon Fee says, a “three-way bond” between Paul, the Philippians, and Christ.
Hughes elaborated further of the meaning of “κοινωνίᾳ” as it is supposed to be understood here:
I recall several years ago a man in the church I was then pastoring musing after his return from a short-term missions project about the wonderful fellowship he had experienced on the trip and wishing that he could experience the same at home. Since then I have reflected that his ten days with a band of brothers and sisters serving in South America united in laboring for the gospel was a happy experience like that of the first-century fellowship of the gospel. Further, I think that when Christians go from church to church looking for good fellowship, they are looking for an illusion.
What do I mean? Fellowship over coffee after a church service is good, but it is not Christian fellowship. It is fellowship among Christians, but not the fellowship that Paul celebrated. Don’t misunderstand—having coffee and meals together is one of our great pleasures. I love a cup of coffee with friends. I will eat anything and all that is placed in front of me, relishing it all the more in the company of good friends and conversation!
But if you are looking for true fellowship, give yourself to the gospel at home and around the world. Serve together with others in women’s Bible studies, children’s ministries, youth ministries. Do short-term missions. Join mercy work to alleviate suffering in places like the vast area devastated by Katrina. Take the good news to the poor. Join a band of brothers and sisters to pray for the world. That is how you will experience genuine Christian fellowship.
Therefore, the understanding of fellowship or partnership here must not be restricted to merely the gift of money or anything material. Joseph Barber Lightfoot pointed out:
as the context shows, it denotes cooperation in the widest sense, their participation with the Apostle whether in sympathy or in suffering or in active labour or in any other way
These explanations by those prominent theologians give us guidance whenever we think about the meaning of fellowship. The implication for this understanding is massive. As our sermon theme for today dictates, as followers of Christ we are to take part in the gospel ministry, but we are not to join the partnership merely by doing the easiest ministry, which is giving money.
Our sinful nature often prevents us from joining the ministry as we are meant to be. In the wisdom of the world we tend to pick and choose the most convenient ministry that fits our lifestyle. We tend to avoid a ministry that is difficult. We would only take up the kind of ministry that, as much as possible, does not cost us a thing or that costs us very minimally. The 21st century spirit persuades us to only take ministry with instant results. Long-term ministry is very unpopular these days, simply because we do not see the result right away. Even when we understand that this is a partnership with God who is eternal, and in whom the ministry plan goes beyond our capacity to fathom, we still choose a ministry that provides us with instant fame, recognition, and even concentrating only on numbers, be it financial strength or membership or assets, just like the demand for profit in the business world.
Paul has a say on this malady. In verse six Paul addresses this matter with graceful assurance of God’s total involvement in His ministry: “6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He reminds the Philippians that the One who starts the ministry/the good work is God Himself. And God is not like humans who would quit when difficulties arise. He Himself will complete it, and ultimately when the day Jesus Christ comes the second time arrives. This assurance should bring us peace and joy. Because we won’t be left alone. This assurance should also bring us comfort knowing that God’s ministry does not depend on human strength, but on God’s. Many of us who have truly joined in ministry know precisely that our strength can’t sustain it.
However, the reality of partnering with God in ministry should be revealed clearly. Paul reinforces the meaning of partnership/fellowship by making a reference to something real that he himself experiences as he partners with God. In verse 7 Paul says:
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
The reality of suffering cannot be negated in the true ministry of the gospel of Christ. It is there and will always be there. Jesus Christ Himself confirms it in John 15:18-21 saying:
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.
In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul affirms this truth as he writes his letter to Timothy: “12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” But yet when we are in the prospect of joining the gospel ministry, we despise suffering for Christ to the point of avoiding partnering with God altogether.
Paul reminds the Philippians that they ought to keep the partnership. They were fellowshipping with Paul even when Paul was in prison back then when the church was just started. And then when Paul was on a missionary journey to Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, before returning to Antioch (Acts 17 & 18), meeting many difficulties and persecutions along the way, the Philippians continued to support him. Paul reveals this in Philippians 4:14-16:
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.
And Paul calls Philippians as “partakers with me of grace.” Hughes comments on the meaning of grace here:
This is a revelatory moment in Paul’s writings because “grace” here is not just saving grace. Rather Paul considers suffering and sacrifice and struggling for the gospel all to be grace. Proof of this can be seen in 1:29 where the verbal form of charis (“grace”) is used: “For it has been granted [graced] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Suffering because of the gospel is a grace in Paul’s thinking and theology.
Lightfoot asserts a very powerful comment regarding this grace:
If it is a privilege to preach Christ, it is not less a privilege to suffer for Him
The partnership or the fellowship (the “κοινωνίᾳ”), therefore, includes suffering – the suffering that emerges from taking part in the gospel ministry. This is the natural suffering every followers of Christ will experience.
As our attention is undivided toward this partnering with God in the gospel ministry which may very well result in our suffering, I would like to point us to the truth that the 21st century gospel ministry has been contaminated with the world’s values. The value of comfort is number one in the list of contaminants. Christians in the first century entered into fellowship with God knowing full well that they would be persecuted, because it was the reality at that time. Yet many of them still attempted to seek their own comfort by compromising with the world, as one of Paul’s coworkers Demas did:
10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:10).
The 21st century is plagued with comfort and convenience. The advancement of technology has bombarded our minds and hearts. Every day we see advertisements that spell comfort. This plague has infiltrated the church as well. Comfort is the main value in today’s world. If we adopt this value, we automatically will reject discomfort, for such value is in line with our sinful nature. Ministry too is now being designed to provide comfort. Even theology is now crafted to maximize comfort. Prosperity theology for example, belief in Christ will bring wealth or health or happiness as the world defines it, which is more comfort and conveniences. Besieged with such value, lifestyle, practical experience of comfort, many Christians have strayed from the path.
But that is not what Paul has in mind. For sure that is not what Jesus has in mind. Partnering with God in His gospel ministry will automatically include suffering. The suffering that is included in it is indeed God’s grace as mentioned in Philippians 1:29: “29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” The word “granted” there is using the word “χάρις” which means “grace.” And so the verse is better to be spoken: “For it has been graced to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” So, avoiding the natural suffering for joining His ministry and then devising a ministry that is suffering-proof is just contrary to the nature of God’s ministry.
Next, as we have overcome this hurdle, one more thing needs to be handled, that is becoming a follower of Christ means unavoidably partnering with Him in His ministry. This is a one package deal. We can’t just believe in Christ without fellowshipping with Him in the gospel ministry. We can’t just be spectators sitting on the bleachers watching all other Christians working in His ministry. God’s church is not an entertainment center where we buy the ticket (give the offering) and watch the entertainment (the worship service and the sermon being delivered). And, being in fellowship with Him and other Christians does not mean just having fun time together over meal and coffee, as Boice and Hughes had pointed out earlier. It means partnering in the service of His kingdom. I need to remind all of us again to be careful of the 21st century model of Christianity that has been contaminated by comfort. This model just desires to join in the fun without the essence. And in turn those people would replace the core teaching and faith of Christianity with the worldly value.
Let me tell you about Brandon. Brandon is English. He has never gone to Indonesia before. One day Brandon comes to Surabaya to visit his friend Adam. This is the first time Brandon visits Surabaya. So Adam picks Brandon up at the airport. As they talk in the car on the way to the hotel, Brandon says that he is hungry. All the travel and the long flight has caused him to crave food. Adam asks Brandon what he wants to eat. Brandon says he wants soup. He tells Adam that he has heard about a famous chicken soup in Surabaya. So he requests Adam to go there. Adam takes Brandon to Soto Ayam (chicken soup) Pak Sadi. Shortly they arrive at Soto Ayam Pak Sadi. As they are settling down in the restaurant, the waiter comes and asks them what they want to order. Adam asks Brandon what chicken meat he would want. To Adam’s surprise, Brandon says that he does not eat chicken. Adam says: “Come again.” Brandon says: “I do not eat chicken. I am allergic to it.” “But you wanted to eat chicken soup you said,” Adam replies. “Yeah,” Brandon answers, “I want the chicken soup without chicken whatsoever.” And Adam’s jaw drops to the floor.
Brothers and sisters, if we desire to be a Christian without wanting to partner with Him in His ministry, and if we only want to join the kind of ministry that is fun and without the risk of the natural suffering that comes with it, then we are like Brandon who wishes to eat chicken soup without any trace of chicken at all. Don’t you know that even the broth is infused with chicken? You can’t have chicken soup without chicken. In the same way you can’t have Christianity without taking part in the gospel ministry. And you can’t take part in the gospel ministry without being ready to suffer for it. How much more, such kind of suffering is God’s grace for us as we partner with Him in His good work of the Kingdom. May the Lord bless you all.
 Read Acts 16.
 Ibid., 27.