“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;”
– Philippians 1:3-6
What does fellowship (or partnership, as some translations have it) in the Gospel look like? What’s the difference between a friendship and a partnership? Is it like a Limited Liability Partnership (you’re regretting that I went to school for business) where each person is liable over their own misconduct and responsibilities? “You do your own thing, I’ll do mine?”
If that’s a partnership, then what is fellowship? If I hang out with the unsaved, it’s friendship. If I spend time with other Christians, then it’s fellowship? Bring over some cake and it’s fellowship. Forget the cake and it’s only hanging out?
In D. A. Carson’s Basics For Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, he shows that in the first century, the word “partnership” had a business connotation to it:
“If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26). The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision” (Kindle Locations 104-108).
What is of most importance? The central vision we have to Christ which calls forth and demands our commitment.
“So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ ‘partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God” (Kindle Locations 110-115).
And this leads into what Paul says in v6, “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul could see the difference in their lives. He saw real fruit from their faith. He saw an actual, genuine faith that didn’t sit back with fire insurance in-hand, but got up and did something. Because God is preserving them, they will persevere.
Paul isn’t sitting back, basking in the nostalgia of the television programs they attached together, the sports games they played, or the barbecue’s their families shared together (though those are all fine things in and of themselves). His focus was on how God was moving in their lives, changing them to be more more like His Son: servants.
So what do our conversations look like? How do we speak to one another? In what manner do we speak about others when they aren’t around us? Are we really living out what we say we believe? Do we care about each other’s growth in our relationship with Christ? Does every conversation have to be about church? No, but we should want to advance the gospel, not just to the unsaved, but in our own lives and in the lives of others as well.
Do we merely hang out because we get along? “I’ll put up with you for an hour just to make Jesus happy.” Are we really partnered together in the Gospel, or is our church just another social gathering?