Partners in the Gospel
For many of us the inability to gather with church family during parts of the pandemic increased our appreciation for our pastors, elders, deacons, and fellow church members. It has not been unusual to hear people testify of how they will not take church gatherings, especially corporate worship, for granted again. Yet, if we’re honest, it won’t be long before we need to be reminded to give thanks for and appreciate our church family.
When we think about giving thanks and praying for fellow believers, we need to first remember that our union with Christ is the foundation for our communion with one another. This is clear in Paul’s letter to the Philippians in which he begins with the greeting, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus…Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:1-2). Paul wrote to the Philippians while he was in prison in Rome. In his letter he thanks God for them, prays for them, and expresses the affection he has for them. We too need to thank God for our church family and pray for them often.
Praise to God
It’s instructive that Paul began his thanksgiving with the people of God, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil. 1:3-4). It must have brought great joy to him to remember meeting Lydia for the first time and hearing her profession of faith and having the privilege of baptizing her alongside her family (Acts 16:11-15). He must have rejoiced when he remembered the jailer’s profession of faith and baptism (vv. 25-34), not to mention countless others who came to saving faith under his preaching ministry. But it was the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:4) that filled him with great joy. This is how it should be when you and I recognize our brothers and sisters are partners in the gospel.
Also instructive is that Paul was thankful for all of the Philippian believers. If it seems challenging to you to love and thank God for every believer in your congregation, notice in what Paul’s affection was rooted. Paul was “sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Since Paul recognized that the Philippians were “partakers with me of grace” (v. 7), he was able to be confident of their salvation and sanctification, and love them with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Can you honestly say that you “yearn” for every member of your church family “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v. 8)? Think of how different our churches would be if we spent the week thanking God for every member in our congregation, recognizing that they are partners with us in the gospel, and valuing them as such.
Prayer to God
Not only did Paul joyfully give thanks for the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel when he prayed for them, he also prayed that their “love may abound more and more” (Phil. 1:9). His petition reflects Christ’s command to “love one another; just as I have loved you” (John 13:34; see also Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5). Paul’s definition of love has substance. It is bound by the “knowledge” of God’s holy will and “discernment” that comes from above (Phil. 1:9; see also Col. 1:9; Jas. 3:17-18). Such love gives us the ability to “approve what is excellent,” so that we will “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” and filled “with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (vv. 10-11).
The imagery of the fruit of righteousness has its roots in the Old Testament (see Ps. 1:3; see also Pr. 11:30; Jer. 17:7-8). Jesus picks up on this imagery in John 15, teaching His disciples that only those who abide in Him will bear much fruit, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). The fruit of righteousness is possible only by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22-23) and is often brought about by God’s discipline that “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
Perhaps today you need to be reminded to give thanks for every member of your church family and to pray that their love will increasingly abound with knowledge and discernment, so that they may love excellence, be pure for Christ’s return, and be filled with good fruit that comes through Christ, to the glory and praise of God. In fact, why don’t you pause right now, and pray.
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.