Philippians 1:1-2: Gospel Mission, Gospel Community
Mission and community are part of the basic fabric of what it means to be people in general and God’s people in particular. We were made for mission—it’s part of our DNA as humans made in the image of God and designed to be God’s servants in bringing the whole earth under God’s rule and blessing (Gen. 1:26-28). But you don’t have to be a Christian to feel this; just look at all the different forms of activism today. People want to know they’re living for a purpose, trying to make a difference.
Similarly, we were made for community. Just as the eternal God has community within himself as Trinity—one God, three persons, who enjoy eternal communion with one another in knowledge, glory, and love—so those who bear his image were made for community. We want to know and be known, to love and be loved. We want to know that we’re not alone in this world, and not alone in our mission.
So what is it that ought to hold God’s people together and move us forward in mission and community? According to Paul’s vision for the church in Philippians, only one thing ought to stand at the center of our community and mission—only the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Last week we observed that the advance of the gospel is the central theme of the book of Philippians. Several factors motivated Paul to write this letter to the fledgling church he founded roughly ten years earlier (cf. Acts 16:11-40): he wants to say thank you for their generous support of his missionary work (1:3-7; 4:10-20), to update them about Epaphroditus’s well-being and Timothy’s future plans to visit them (2:19-30), to speak into some of the conflict that’s been reported to him (4:2-3) and warn them against some potential threats (3:2-3, 17-21). But the one thread that ties all these concerns together is the advance of the gospel in and through the Philippian church. Paul’s foremost concern is their partnership in and for the gospel—gospel community and gospel mission (cf. 1:27-2:18).
Unlike the firm divide in most evangelical churches today between what we often call “fellowship” and “outreach,” mission and community have a much tighter and more organic relationship in the New Testament. On the one hand, it is gospel mission that gives birth to community—through the gospel of Jesus we are both rescued from our sin (3:7-11) and refashioned into a humble, joyful, steadfast, unified people (e.g. 1:3-11; 1:27-2:11; 4:2-7). At the same time, community is a key medium by which we advance the gospel, partnering together in steadfast, joyful unity to hold forth the word of life (e.g. 1:3-8, 27-30; 2:14-16; 3:17-21; 4:10-20).
But both mission and community are fueled by and hang together on the gospel. Nothing else is qualified or able to form the center of our mission and community than the good news of what God has done to establish his kingdom and deal with our sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is the power (3:9-11; 4:13), the model (2:5-11), and the motivation (2:1-2; 3:12-14) for Paul’s vision of gospel mission and community, a glorious reality evident even in the opening lines of the book, 1:1-2. We’ll consider these verses on Sunday as we introduce the book of Philippians.
Join us at Westgate Church this Sunday, September 18, as we launch into our journey through the book of Philippians, seeking to anchor all that we long for in community and all that we aim for in mission in the transforming gospel of Jesus.