True Christian Fellowship
Text: Philippians 1:3-8
Learning to pray is one of the most important skills for the Christian. You say, well sure can’t any Christian pray? Yes, of course. While prayer doesn’t save us, without prayer we cannot be saved. But even thought all Christians may pray, we still need to learn to pray. Was this not what was recognised by the disciple who approached the Lord and asked, “teach us to pray”? We need to learn to pray.
Prayer is an exercise that taxes the entire being of man. It exercises our intellect and emotions, both of which are brought into various degrees of use by strength of our spirituality.
And one of the ways we are helped in this exercise is by studying the prayers of the Bible. And that’s what we have in 1:3-11. The Spirit of God has been pleased to pull back the curtain on the prayer life of the apostle Paul, a man who had an extraordinary intellectual and emotional capacity combined with unparalleled spiritual power.
His prayers are both instructive by reason of their example, and inspired by reason of their content. So he is a perfect role model for us as students of prayer. And beloved, ever have the attitude that you are a student of prayer. Make prayer a study. Ever seek to be better in prayer. Can one be better in prayer? Yes, which is why the Spirit of God has given us examples right through the scriptures.
He is going to tell them how to pray in 4:6. But here he will show them how to pray, and if you study the content of what he tells them to pray, you’ll see that his own prayer follows his instruction.
I. HIS GRATITUDE FOR THEIR FELLOWSHIP v3-4
1. The Focus of His Gratitude – God
He was careful to address God alone. His gratitude is first to God. Whatever he can be thankful for in them, it must be primarily ascribed to God. All they were was by the working of God’s grace. It was not because he visited them, but God visited them. It was not because he suffered to establish the church, but because Christ suffered to establish the church. It is not because of the bishops and deacons that watched over the work there, but because the Chief Shepherd watched over them. And Paul is able to acknowledge God, and acknowledge Him intimately, ‘my God’. And beloved when we come to God we ought to know Him as ‘my God’.
2. The Frequency of His Gratitude – ‘every remembrance of you’
On each occasion that Paul remembered the church at Philippi, he thanked God. As he would account the story to others, he would thank God. As he would receive money from them, he would thank God. As he would see the scars left from his beating in Philippi, he would thank God. Every time they were brought to his mind he thanked God. What a relationship between preacher and people. I once heard a preacher say, “I’d have a great church if it wasn’t for the people”, but that was not how Paul felt, and I trust it will never be how I feel, nor how you feel. We don’t want to merely tolerate one another, we want to bless God for every remembrance of each other.
3. The Frame of His Gratitude- v4
And here we see that his prayers were not full of lamentation. They were full of joy. This is the general spirit of his prayers for them. He cannot think of them nor pray for them without his heart bursting with genuine gladness. And here you see what I mean when I say that Paul had an extraordinary emotional capacity, but it stemmed from his intense spiritual maturity and power. Paul could feel things intensely because he believed things intensely, and his whole being literally moved with joy when he thought of the people of God at Philippi. And it wasn’t like he couldn’t see room for improvement in their lives. He could, and he’s could to express that in his prayers for them, but nonetheless they made him feel nothing but joy. What a triumph of grace they were.
4. The Foundation of His Gratitude – v5
‘fellowship’ – idea of commonality, close relationship, sharing. And it’s in regard to the gospel, i.e. the message of God’s saving grace in Christ.
What brought Paul and the people together? The gospel. Again, Acts 16 gives the history of this church. Paul is prevented from going east, and he sees a vision of a man in Macedonia saying, ‘come over and help us’ and he therefore makes his way into Macedonia and to Philippi, whereupon he becomes the instrument in the conversion of a Worshipping Woman, a Wicked Woman, and a Worldly Man who, along with their families and subjects form the church at Philippi. And it was the gospel that built this connection. 4:15 – same idea of fellowship which led to practical support, and it’s all on the basis of and for the sake of the gospel. And now they had sent Epaphroditus to him, again for the sake of the gospel.
And so while it had been some years since they had seen each other, there was no waning in their fellowship, because it was build upon the gospel, “for the first day until now”. The constancy of gospel truth had led to constancy in gospel fellowship.
There are a lot of notions about fellowship. It is not a bunch of people sitting around talking about the weather. Nor is it some sort of group therapy. It is the unity between those who have felt the power of gospel and now feel the burden of the gospel. It is a sense of oneness among those that pray together, preach together, give together, mission together, and so on. The Philippians had a united commitment to the gospel.
II. THE GUARANTEE OF THEIR FELLOWSHIP – v6-7
1. The Divine Reason for this Guarantee
He was convinced of two things, i) that God had begun a work in them, ii) when God begins a work He finishes it. And here is the hope of every evangelist trying to win souls, of every parent trying to win their children, of every preacher trying to establish churches, it is this, God must be working before, during, and after we do our work. If God hadn’t been working in Lydia beforehand, she wouldn’t have even attended the meeting by the river, and if God wasn’t working while Paul preached, her heart would have remained locked up without Christ, and if God didn’t continue to work after Paul was gone, she would have fallen away. How dependant we are on God!
2. The Human Reason for this Guarantee v7
It’s not naivety, but in Paul’s mind it was right for him to think confidently about them because of his knowledge of them in the past and the present. It’s not just built upon his awareness that the likes of Lydia made a decision, or because others prayed a prayer. No, he has witnessed their continued enthusiasm for the gospel. When others forgot about Paul, they didn’t, showing the grace of God in their hearts. They were more devoted to Christ and His cause than ever, and in the midst of that hostile 1st century environment, that just wouldn’t be the case unless they knew the Lord.
III. THE GREATNESS OF THEIR FELLOWSHIP – v8
He calls on God as his witness to make sure he is not guilty of exaggeration or flattery. He means precisely everything he says, and having brought a solemnity to what he’s saying by calling God as his witness, he proceeds to show the depth of his affection, “how greatly I long after you all” long = yearn
And how does he express this yearning? Where does it come from? Does it originate in Paul? No. “in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” His yearning for them stems from the deepest recesses of human feeling, but not his own human feeling…the feeling of the Son of God i.e. he is expressing that his love for them is as deep as the love of Christ for them! What a statement! And now you can see why he calls God as his witness? Who would believe it otherwise.
When I read this, I must say I feel like a spiritual pigmy. My wretched heart seems incapable of feeling like this. Would to God I had grace sufficient to love you as Christ loves you, for how can I expect you to take the truth on board if there’s doubt about my sincerely toward you?
When someone loves you as intensely as this you cannot ignore them, and more importantly, you cannot ignore their message. And that is ever my fear, that you would somehow ignore the message. God help me to love you in the bowels of Jesus Christ. What a difference this makes when disputes and quarrels arise. Oh may God help us all to love one another in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
Close – You and I haven’t the same history together that Paul had with those at Philippi, but I can still take v6 and apply it as readily as he did. There’s little in this life we can have confidence in beloved. If you haven’t learned that yet, you will soon enough. People fail us. Governments fail us. The economy fails us. Health fails us. Even pastors fail us. But each child of God can be confident in one thing today, and that is, He which has begun the work in us, will not quit.
Oh how often have we quit on God. Perhaps this morning you’re a spiritual quitter. You’re not sold out to God as you once were. You’re not enjoying Him as you have in the past. Your interest in spiritual things is dim. With all of your backsliding, He has not quit on you. He has kept you, even though it seems your spiritual life is hanging by a thread, be assured He has kept you. And although the future is uncertain in many ways, it is certain that God will keep on keeping you. As Jn 13:1 puts it, “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”
But it’s not just about sitting around knowing God will take care of us. Notice the similarity and contrast between v5 and v6. v6 shows the guaranteed unfailing work of God in our lives from the moment of our conversion until the final consummation of all things, which ought to be compared with the fellowship of the gospel which had been experienced from the moment of their conversion until the present day, and Paul’s teaching is plain. As God strives in us, we are expected to strive on in the fellowship of the gospel.
And that’s what the church is in a large part… the fellowship of the gospel. Labouring and praying together for the extension of Christ’s kingdom.
As time goes on, ministries in this house may open up. Opportunities to serve in various capacities may rise. I sense in some of you a desire to labour for God. This is part of what is meant by the fellowship of the gospel, and in time I know those opportunities will arise.
In the mean time, our fellowship in the gospel is striving in prayer for the growth and development of this witness. Praying together for our loved ones. Helping those in need when we can. And sharing Christ in our daily lives as the Lord gives us opportunity. May God grant us true Christian Fellowship in this house.