Paul has just reminded his readers in Philippi that whenever he prays for them he is filled with joy. It‘s the first thing he wants them to know. As he puts it, the reason for his joy is “the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel” (Phil 1:4-5). Together they have shared the privilege of telling others the good news that by faith in Christ their sins are forgiven and heaven awaits. It is a partnership, a koinoinia (“a close association involving mutual interests” – BDAG).
What interests me is that the continuing expansion of the Christian faith involves a partnership that stretches beyond the present time and goes back some two thousand years. Countless sermons have been preached, an untold number of books have been written, and an incalcuable number of individuals have shared their faith in one great faith-based partnership. We are one with Peter when he stood up in the outer court of the Temple and proclaimed the gospel to his fellow Israelites; one with the tireless John Wesley who preached over 40,000 sermons; and one with the country preacher in Louisiana who tells his little flock the story of Jesus. Not only does this partnership reach back over time, but it knows no geographical boundaries: we are one with those proclaiming the gospel in every part of the world. Jesus called Peter’s messianic confession the “rock” on which he would build a church that not even the “gates of hades” could crush (Matt. 16:18). One body, says Paul, but many members – the church universal (see 1 Corin. 12), a magnificent partnership spanning both time and space.
Another aspect of our partnership is that Jesus himself is one with us in the proclamation of the gospel. We work with him, not only for him. We are “in Christ,” as the oft-occurring expression in the epistles has it. As members of his body, the church, our relationship is intimate and real. He is not the commander, so far up the organizational hierarchy that we know who he is but we don’t know him on a personal basis. He works with us, right next to us. We talk to him all the time at work. Great friend. Can you possibly think anything more rewarding than working as a part of that vast group of believers that stretches from Easter morning all the way to the present day and that comes from every place on the face of the earth! No wonder we can join Paul in his prayer and in his joy because we are, in fact, part of that amazing partnership.