A Divine Partnership

Philippians 1:3-8

What is anxiety? It is a whole-person response to stressful information and experiences, whether real or imagined. It manifests itself through fearful emotions, apprehensive thoughts, and sensations of pain and duress.

As we learned last week, Paul wrote this letter to the believers in the church at Philippi to help them overcome an increasing experience of anxiety in their lives, both individually and as a church. This church was located in a community that imprisoned believers for speaking out about Christ, causing anxiety within the church. Anxiety was rising within the church for other reasons, too, such as a growing concern about Paul’s health and safety, increasing financial difficulties for some, and some public tension between two influential ladies in the church.

To counter this rising anxiety, Paul wrote this letter to help them replace anxiety with joy. What is joy? It is a calm, confident, and contented enthusiasm that comes from a life that’s centered on Christ. The question is – how to we reduce anxiety and increase joy in our lives? There are two ways to answer this question from Phil 1:3-8:

  • One is to answer the question from Paul’s perspective. Remember, Paul was experiencing joy even though he was imprisoned and awaiting trial before Emperor Nero. In many ways, he was in a more difficult situation than the believers in Philippi, yet he was experiencing joy thanks to what we learn about his lifestyle and mindset here. In other words, if you think and do what Paul exemplifies here in this passage, then you will encourage greater joy in your life.
  • Another is to answer the question from the perspective of the believers in Philippi. Knowing that they were experiencing anxiety, Paul said things to them that would have the effect of reducing their anxiety and increasing their joy. In other words, if you speak to and treat other believers in the church as Paul does here, then you will encourage greater joy in their lives.

So, here is how we will interact with this passage. I will walk through the passage and explain key observations to be sure we understand it correctly. After each key observation, I will offer ways that you can personally respond to this passage in a way that will encourage greater joy, both for yourself and for others. Finally, since this is Mothers’ Day, I will highlight at the end of the sermon some ways that this passage connects well to the role and responsibilities of motherhood.

Paul praised God for the church at Philippi.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy

In these first two verses (Phil 1:3-4), Paul expresses personal appreciation for the believers in the church at Philippi. This is the central thought of this passage, supported by three reasons why Paul appreciated them. I will state this central thought this way:

Central Thought: I experience joy when I value the God-given role of other people in my life.

By expressing appreciation, Paul makes clear that this is not a fleeting, passing appreciation prompted by a one-time random event that sparked his memory or a once-a-year holiday that reminded him to be thankful.

He says, “upon every remembrance,” meaning that he thought about them frequently, and every time he thought about them, those thoughts were always and immediately accompanied by feelings of gratitude.

Why does hearing that we’re appreciated and valued make such a difference in our lives? One psychologist offers these five reasons:

  • We’re being valued.
  • We’re being seen.
  • We’re being liked.
  • It deepens a sense of meaning in our lives.
  • It connects us to others.

These are helpful and true observations. In addition, the Bible provides even greater value to expressing appreciation and being appreciated – in Christ.

“My God” reveals that Paul was not just thankful for the existence of the Philippian believers, but he believed that it was God – not chance or fate – who had given him a relationship with them, who had brought them into his life.

“In every prayer” reveals that Paul included them in his prayers, not only thanking God for them but requesting God’s blessing and favor in their lives. He didn’t just say “thanks” for them to God, but he asked God to intervene in their lives. As a godly mother prays regularly for the spiritual progress of her children, so we should pray regularly for the spiritual progress of those we care for spiritually.

“With joy” is the first time Paul mentions joy in this letter, a word he will mention many times throughout the letter. In Scripture, the word joy means “to be delighted, glad, happy.” God wants us to be glad and happy, even when our circumstances are difficult and potentially depressing.

By mentioning joy here, Paul reveals how he felt whenever he thought of and prayed for the believers in Philippi. He wasn’t just thankful for them, but he was joyful, too. What is the opposite of being joyful? Being exasperated, frustrated, or resentful. So, Paul did not view the believers in Philippi as an inconvenience or problem but as a blessing from God and a source of personal encouragement.

  • So, looking at these two verses from Paul’s perspective, we see that you can encourage greater joy and lower anxiety in your life by learning to appreciate people in your life as relationships given to you by God. When we view people as difficulties and frustrations, our anxiety increases. Who can you express appreciation to and do so more frequently than you do?
  • Then, looking at these two verses from the Philippian believers’ perspective, we see that people experience greater joy when they hear words of affirmation and appreciation from people who care for us and who share life with us within the church. The Philippian believers had reason to feel that Paul may have viewed them as an inconvenience or frustration because they required his pastoral attention and intervention. Feeling “in the way” or as though you are an inconvenience to someone or unwanted by them increases anxiety, but hearing words of affirmation and appreciation goes a long way towards reversing that feeling, right? When someone does express appreciation for you, esp. from a Christ-centered perspective, let me encourage you to take that appreciation to heart.

Just yesterday, I received the following text message from a member of this church:

“I spent some time this morning praying for you and Sarah and the family. Hope you have a great day. Love you brother.”

I received this message while I was doing final work on preparing this sermon! And it illustrated for me first-hand the impact of what Paul said to the Philippian believers here. It immediately diminished any sense of anxiety I may have been experiencing at the moment and increased my joy. May messages and prayers of this kind increase throughout our church!

Because of their devoted friendship to him.
For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now

The next four verses give us three reasons for why Paul thanked God for the believers at Philippi and why they brought him so much joy. The first reason is given here, “for their fellowship in the gospel.”

This “fellowship” means something more significant and specific than that they shared the same kind of faith in Jesus Christ. “Fellowship” describes a close, personal cooperation and partnership between two parties.

“In the gospel” describes the focus and scope of their fellowship. Labor unions, for instance, “fellowship” in their sector of work, whether that is electricity, railroad work, teaching, plumbing, or policing. Veterans fellowship around their shared experiences of military combat, athletes fellowship around their experiences as a team, and students fellowship around their shared experiences as a graduating class. All of this fellowship features spending time together, identifying closely with one another, eating together, sharing live events with each other, and supporting one another financially and in other ways to ensure one another’s mutual success.

Fellowship “in the gospel” is the same way. It features believers who spend time together, identify closely with one another, and support one another’s mutual success, esp. in the effort of helping people take their next steps in following Christ.

For Paul and the Philippian church, this partnership included a variety of things:

  • The church had provided Paul with an initial meeting place for worship and Bible study gatherings in the home of a businesswoman named Lydia.
  • They provided Paul with consistent and generous financial support.
  • They prayed for his missionary endeavors.
  • They sent one of their own, Epaphroditus, to care for his needs while he was imprisoned in Rome.

This kind of devoted friendship between Paul and the Philippian church was a significant reason for joy in Paul’s life and in theirs.

  • In what ways have other believers assisted you, encouraged you, invested in you, and supported you in your relationship with and service for Christ? And by this I am speaking of more than a token pat on the back and “I’ll pray for you” – I’m referring to genuine time spent, sacrifice made, interest shown, friendship forged, and even financial risk and investment. Such people in our lives is a source of tremendous joy, knowing that someone believes in and cares for us so deeply and seriously.
  • And in what ways have you been such a person to others – truly investing in the spiritual development and service of another follower of Christ, or a potential follower of Christ? We so easily fall into the anxious cycle, like a mouse chasing its own tail, that we fail to chase after and invest in the spiritual development of other people around us. When personal survival and life within our enclosed family and small pocket of close friends dominate our lives, we have little to no opportunity to experience the joy that comes from investing in one another for Christ. The Philippians could experience joy in part because they had invested so devotedly into the life and ministry of Paul.

Because of God’s faithful commitment to them.
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

This is the second reason Paul praised God for these people. Do you remember how I’ve described joy as “a calm, confident, and contented enthusiasm”? Here Paul refers to the confidence element of joy.

Joy is not only happiness and enthusiasm, but it is also confidence – a word which means to be “convinced or persuaded.” Of what was Paul persuaded? He was persuaded that God was going to finish what he had started “in” them. In other words, he was not so much confident in them as he was in God through them.

There are two possible ways to understand this statement. Many take it to refer to God’s work of salvation in their lives. This view suggests that “has begun a good work” refers to their new birth or moment of conversion when their salvation from sin began, then also suggests that “will complete it” refers to their future judgment and glorification when their salvation from sin would be finally complete. While this isn’t a crazy interpretation and it squares with what the Bible teaches elsewhere, it is probably not the most likely interpretation here. If this were the correct interpretation, you would expect it to be a theme or topic that Paul is discussing either before or after his statement here, but this is not the topic in view.

The second possible way to interpret this statement connects directly to what Paul says before and after it. This view understands “a good work” to refer not to God’s work of saving them from sin but to his work of partnering with Paul for the gospel. In the NT, the word “good work” frequently refers to making a difference in the world for God, doing things like provide hospitality, serving other people, and meeting the financial needs of others.

In this case, the “good work” which God had started would be the assistance or partnership that the Philippian church had engaged in from the earliest days of Paul’s ministry to them. From the meeting place that Lydia provided in her home at the start of his ministry there, to the financial support they provided along the way, to the present assistance that Epaphroditus was providing in the prison on their behalf – this was the “good work” that God had begun through them and would bring all the way to completion.

In other words, Paul assured them that their investment and partnership in his life and ministry would pay genuine, spiritual dividends for generations to come and into eternity. Can you see how this perspective increases joy and diminishes anxiety?

  • First, it is tremendously encouraging to acknowledge (or to be reminded) that the good that I do for others is not just me doing a good deed, but it is, in fact, God accomplishing good in the world through me.
  • It is also tremendously encouraging to remind others of how God is at work through them in your life. Rather than just thanking them for being a blessing, say thanks in such a way that acknowledges your belief that God is at work in and through their life.
  • Finally, it is even more encouraging to acknowledge that the good God does through you and through others will have long-lasting, everlasting purpose and value. One of the greatest causes for anxiety is the belief that what you are doing has not long-term significance. Acknowledging the long-lasting, multigenerational work in your and another person’s efforts and life is a source of tremendous joy.

Because of Paul’s strong affection for them.
Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

This is Paul’s third reason for appreciating this church – he “had them in his heart,” which is an expression that indicates an especially close connection and relationship. This is a relationship so close that when one does something, it is as though the other person is doing it, too. It is a partnership so close that when one achieves something important, the other person shares in that achievement equally.

Here’s how Paul described this closeness. His connection with the Philippian church was so close that as he was in prison for the gospel, it was as though they were in prison, too. It was so close that when he would stand trial before Nero and defend the gospel to him, it was as though they were standing on trial with Paul doing the same courageous deed.

This sort of closeness shares the challenges and accomplishments of serving Christ together equally. This mindset envisions the future judgment seat of Christ this way: whatever blessing, honor, and reward Paul will receive for the things the Philippians partnered with him to do, Paul assures them that they will receive the same blessing, honor, and reward has him. This is true partnership indeed.

Since we’re at the end of an academic year with many commencements and graduations taking place, we can envision what Paul envisions this way. We’re accustomed to a student stepping to the podium to receive his or her degree and accompanying awards. But for every successful student, there is a group of people who partnered with him or her to achieve that success.

A more realistic “commencement” would bring all the parents, professors, advisors, and financial supporters to the podium with that student and provide them all with equal adulation. That’s what Paul envisions here. Paul wants them to know that whatever he suffers, they suffer, and whatever he accomplishes for Christ, they also accomplish.

Finally, to wrap up his thoughts here, Paul affirms that he is speaking to them about more than a financial or strategic partnership or relationship – he is speaking about a partnership that is rooted in genuine, true love, in the very desires and compassion of Christ himself. So, God’s grace was at work through the Philippian believers towards Paul, and Christ’s love was at work through Paul for them. Paul was thankful for them because he loved them as Christ loved them, not just because they supported him financially.

  • Like Paul, are you eager and quick to share your accomplishments with the other people who helped make your success possible? When we share our accomplishments with others, not only do we adopt a more realistic, honest view of our success (that it wasn’t accomplished alone), we also multiply joy in our life and in others.
  • Also like Paul, are you faithful to express your love and appreciation to others because you genuinely care about them and not just as a “means to an end?” When people feel genuinely loved by you and not “used,” they have a greater tendency to experience greater joy and less anxiety. Learn to say, “I love you” and “I’m thankful for you” frequently and genuinely. Such words increase you joy and the joy of others.

Having said all this, it’s easy to see how what Paul is saying here connects to being a mother. To be a mother requires you to serve your children sacrificially as Paul served the people of God.

Though being a mother may not require you to suffer in a Roman prison cell or to defend your faith before Nero, the experience brings with it many serious challenges of its own – challenges that can increase anxiety levels and diminish joy.

  • To do well as a mother, you need to recognize that God is personally and directly involved in what you are doing. He is at work through you, and he is also at work through your children, even through their challenges. Though the Philippian church added new spiritual challenges and pressures to Paul’s life, as children do for a mother, they also added new reasons and opportunities to be thankful and joyful towards God.
  • Knowing this, mothers can and should pray for their children regularly – with joy – and should speak regular words of appreciation, affirmation, and affection to their children. It’s tough being a kid, too! A good mother will seek to reduce a child’s anxiety by speaking such regular words to their children, at any stage of life.
  • From the standpoint of being a mother’s child, we should also recognize the anxiety that can accompany being a mother. It’s not easy being a mother! Knowing this, children should do what they can to encourage, support, and eventually care for their mothers, seeking to make their role as easy as possible, becoming partners with them in life.

And finally, all of us – even those who are not mothers – should realize that God desires for all of us to give birth to and care for spiritual children of our own by leading people to Christ, then caring for their spiritual needs and helping them to take their next steps in following Christ. This experience is a source of great joy and gives you the opportunity to experience the joy that Paul describes in this passage even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Caring for spiritual children provides great joy no matter how difficult your life circumstances may be.

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