Philippians 1:3-8: The Beauty of Gospel Partnership
It’s a proven fact that staring at a plant won’t make it grow any faster. We confirmed this ourselves a couple Easters ago when we gave our children some seeds to plant in order to illustrate John 12:24. Days . . . weeks went by. We checked the seeds often, and had a few false alarms by way of weeds popping up. Soon we began to conclude that our illustration was a failure, for the seeds were simply not growing. But then to our surprise one day, a sprout finally broke through the surface.
I wish I could say that within weeks the little pots on the window sill of our third story apartment in downtown Wheaton were filled with beautiful, blooming flowers. But alas our family has the black thumb of death when it comes to house plants. But this story does illustrate the subtle tension underneath the opening part of Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church in 1:3-8: the temptation to think that we’re wasting our time in ministry by waiting on the gospel to bear fruit.
Paul’s prayer for the Philippians illustrates the beauty of partnership in the gospel. He’s simply oozing with affection and gratitude for this congregation, which has been so faithful to come along side him in his ministry and to work together in their own ministry as a community on mission for the gospel. But his affection and joy for the church is not rooted ultimately in their faithfulness to God, but in God’s faithfulness to finish what he’s started in and through the Philippians by way of the gospel. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6).
We all want to see fruit in ministry. We want to see changed lives, transformed relationships, men and women reconciled to God. And we want to enjoy the fruit of this transformation as we partner together as a community on mission for the gospel—the beauty of affection and gratitude that Paul displays in his prayer. But when that fruit tarries and results seem far off (or downright hopeless), it’s easy to begin thinking that there must be something wrong with the process. Perhaps the grace of God through Christ (cf. 3:2-11; 4:10-13) isn’t capable of providing the repentance and transformation we’re looking for. Perhaps working together to proclaim the gospel and to pray and live according to the gospel (cf. 1:12-26; 1:27-2:18; 3:17-4:1; 4:2-9, 10-20) is simply not enough to accomplish all that God expects of us in gospel mission.
Happily there is no shortage of alternatives and shortcuts available today: newer, faster, better ways of accomplishing God’s plan for your life and your church. But the problem is that when we put our
confidence in people and programs that are, in and of themselves, incapable of producing lasting fruit, we make way for the ugliness of our hearts to overshadow the beauty of our partnership. Patience grows thin; expectations go unmet; competition and suspicion brew; fear gives way to anger and manipulation. The beauty of affection and gratitude that Paul demonstrated is replaced by an ugly pride that betrays the very gospel message we’re partnering to proclaim.
But gospel partnership truly is beautiful if we will look to God himself to provide the results. In many ways, we won’t experience the full beauty of all the gospel of Jesus is producing in and through our lives until the Lord returns (Phil. 3:20-21; cf. Col. 3:1-4; 1 Jn. 3:2). And yet if we are convinced that he is faithful, we’re able to appreciate and experience the beauty we can see today—the mutual affection that triumphs over our disenchantment, pride, and rivalry; the consistent gratitude that overflows into joyful prayer for one another; the quiet patience that knows God is at work, even if behind the scenes (or under the soil), to accomplish his purposes, such that our hope in the gospel is not in vain. For our partnership in the gospel to be seasoned with mutual affection and gratitude we must be completely convinced of the sufficiency of the gospel to accomplish God’s purposes in and through us.
So if you’re in or near Boston’s MetroWest, join us this Sunday (9/25) at Westgate Church to wrestle with the beauty of gospel partnership.