“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership [Grk: koinónia: participation; communion; fellowship] in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:3-11)
Reading the opening verses of Philippians, one quickly notices Paul’s deep affection for this church. He thanks God whenever he remembers them; prays for them with joy; holds them in his heart; and yearns for them. He feels this way even while writing from prison.
However, it would have been inconceivable only a few decades earlier (before his conversion) for Paul to have written such a letter. The differences in religions, cultures and worldviews between the zealous, Pharisaic Jew and the pagan Roman citizens of the leading city in Macedonia (named after the father of Alexander the Great) were so immense that Paul elsewhere described these differences as a “dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:15). The requirements of circumcision, food and other purity regulations, Monotheism and national aspiration would have rendered unthinkable the type of deeply personal fellowship that Paul and his Philippian partners later came to enjoy.
Meanwhile, Paul was also an enemy of the very God he claimed to serve as an early persecutor of Christ and His Church, as he confessed: “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Phil 3:6). What happened to radically change everything for Paul and his Philippians partners?
“for you are all partakers with me of grace”
Simply put, Christ and His Gospel happened to them. Christ sent Ananias to proclaim the Gospel to Paul (Acts 9:17-18; 22:13-16). Some years following Paul’s conversion, Christ sent Paul to proclaim the Gospel to the Philippians (Acts 16). The grace of God through the Gospel of Christ profoundly and eternally changed their lives and their worldviews.
What happened was the implementation of God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:10) This plan God implemented through the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). The Gospel reconciles God and man, as well as human relationships. It “unites all things in [Christ]….”
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)
The Gospel totally eclipsed Paul’s former life and worldview. The zeal for his former way of life passed away once he was grasped by the love of God in Christ. All the symbols of his former religious and national zeal became loss in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
Paul’s gratitude for grace extended to his partners in the Gospel: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil 1:3-4). The communion (or fellowship) of believers in Christ, not only reconciles God and mankind, but creates peace and mutual affection between old enemies. Writing to the Galatians, Paul said: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28)
The Body of Christ does not obliterate genders or individual personalities, each with his or her own unique gifts and talents. But this communion does unite us to the Image of God, which is Christ Jesus, and bestows in us a participation in the same Spirit. Therefore, Paul urges all Christians: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:4-5). What we share in Christ is eternal and takes precedence over any temporal association.
“For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:8)
In his letter, Paul did not yearn only for the nice folks or the ones he knew personally; he yearned for “all” the Philippian Christians with the “affection of Christ Jesus.” Jesus gives us His affection to share with others. Christ’s affection includes forgiveness. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35), Jesus warns his disciples against withholding forgiveness of our neighbor from the heart. Thus we read of Paul entreating Euodia and Syntyche to reconcile their differences (Phil 4:2-3).
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:9-11)
The “fruit of righteousness,” which Paul desires for the Philippians, through his intercessory prayer, comes through Jesus Christ. He is our righteousness by faith through whom we are made pure and blameless in the sight of God through His precious blood which He shed for us. In Christ, God gives us a new address: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
Let us abide in His Word and never grow weary of receiving grace upon grace, which is ours in the Gospel. And may the fruit of righteousness fill us and manifest itself in faith towards God and in fervent love towards one another, “to the glory and praise of God.” Amen.
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:6-8) Amen.