INTRODUCTION: How many Christians can you name with whom you feel you have a “deep relationship”? If you can name them on one hand, you’re probably about normal. If your list is too long, you may not know what deep relationships are. In Philippians 1:1-11, the apostle Paul demonstrates true Christian fellowship.
I. THE GREETING (vs. 1-2)
Notice that Paul begins his letter by saying: “Paul and Timothy”. Is Timothy in prison at Rome along with Paul? No, but Timothy was with Paul when Paul first came to Philippi, and he helped Paul start the church there. Timothy may have also been Paul’s “stenographer”, listening to Paul as he dictated his letter, and writing down every word.
We also know from Acts 19 and 20 that Timothy visited the church in Philippi at least twice before Paul wrote this letter. Paul refers to himself and Timothy as “bondservants of Jesus Christ”. Exodus 21:5,6 beautifully illustrates this relationship of a servant’s total and loving submission to his master. This is what it says: “But if the slave plainly says, “I love my master, my wife and children; I will not go out as a free man”, then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”
Then Paul gives his usual greeting in verse 2. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Sometimes we tend to forget the greatness of God’s grace and the reasons for His grace. ILLUSTRATION: After the communists took control of mainland China by force in 1949, tens of thousands of refugees flooded into Hong Kong, bringing with them poverty, misery, and despair. A Christian man who worked there recalls feeling great pity for the little children in rags that he saw playing in the streets. He came to know and love a few of them very dearly, however, and what a difference that made! One child he had known for several years showed him her shoes. Both of them had holes in their soles, exposing her bare feet. Without hesitation the man bought her a new pair of shoes and pretty new dress. “When I gave them to her”, he recalls, “she climbed on my knee and buried her head into my shoulder. Her heart was too full for words.” That man’s deed was grace in action. And it was grace motivated by love.
So too, it was God’s great love for you and I that moved Him to meet our deepest need by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. Now we have peace with God, and true joy, if the risen Christ lives in us.
II. TRUE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP DEMONSTRATED (verses 3-11)
In verses 3-6, Paul is saying to them, “I have you on my mind.” In verse 3 he says, “I thank God in all my remembrance of you.” Paul reminds himself of their “participation in the gospel” in verse 5. Not only have they been sharing their faith in Jesus Christ, and the church has been growing, but they were also giving financially to Paul’s support. Paul was confident that they would excel in the good works they were doing by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
ILLUSTRATION: A preacher asked an elderly man how long he had been a Christian. “Fifty years”, he replied. “Well”, said the minister, “after keeping the faith for so long, you must be pretty confident of holding out to the end.” “Brother”, the man said, “it’s not a question of my ‘holding out’; it’s whether the Lord is ‘holding on’ to me. And the Bible assures me that I can trust Him for that!”
In verses 7 and 8, Paul tells them that his concern for them is even deeper when he says, “I have you in my heart”. They have been ministering to Paul, and his love was overflowing because it was Christ’s love flowing through him. Paul’s words in verse 8 depict the closeness of his relationship with the Philippian church. He is saying, “I long to be with you again”, “I have an affection for you”. Are we channels of God’s love, allowing Jesus Christ to fill us with his love for others, and to use us to minister to others?
Thirdly, in verses 9 to 11, Paul demonstrated his fellowship with them by praying for them. It’s a real encouragement to know that we are being prayed for by our friends, isn’t it? It’s especially encouraging when they tell us specifically what they are praying for us. Paul prays that their love would grow and mature in several areas. First, “that their love might abound more and more in real knowledge”. This occurs as we spend more and more time beholding Christ in God’s Word. Secondly, Paul prays for growth in discernment: making good judgments and right decisions. Thirdly, Paul prays that they might be “sincere and blameless”. The world needs to see Christians who are genuine, and whose lives don’t cause others to stumble. A person who is true to God will never be false to others
Fourthly, Paul prays that they might mature in their Christian service, bearing fruit in their own lives and also in the lives of others. Bearing fruit is a work that Christ accomplishes through us when we rely on His strength and give all the praise and glory to Him. This is true Christian fellowship, the kind of fellowship that produces joy no matter what the circumstances may be. Let your circumstances bring you closer to God and to God’s people. ILLUSTRATION: A man named Jerry had to go to New York City for a special surgery, and he hated to go. “Why can’t we have it done at home?”, he asked his doctor. “I don’t know a soul in that big, unfriendly city!” But when he and his wife arrived at the hospital, there was a pastor to meet them and invite them to stay at his home until they got settled. The operation was serious, and the wait in the hospital was long and difficult, but the fellowship of the pastor and is wife brought a new joy to Jerry and his wife. They learned that circumstances need not deprive them of joy if they will permit these circumstances to strengthen their fellowship with God and with other Christians.
How would you evaluate your life today as compared with a year ago? Have you grown in your love for God and for others? If so, give God the glory, and let your heart be filled with joy. If not, speak to God in prayer today. Ask God to fill your heart with love for Him, and for the people that cross your path; and spend time daily enjoying God as you read, study, and respond to His Word. A greater joy awaits you!