Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fellow Partakers of Gospel Joy and Grace

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 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; 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. (Philippians 1:3-8)
Every time Paul thinks about the Jesus believers at Philippi, it brings a smile to his face and he is thankful. He prays for them regularly, and it is quite a joyful thing. “Always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,” he says. He greatly values their “fellowship in the gospel.”

The word for “fellowship” is koinonia and speaks of “partnership,” which is how the HCSB translates it. They share the same interest, the same focus, the same concern — the same joy as Paul. He recalls how they have partnered with him in the ministry of the gospel from the very first day He preached it to them, when Lydia and her household embraced King Jesus, and the Philippian Jailer soon became a believer, too. The church at Philippi has continued as Paul’s partners in the gospel ever since, supporting him with their prayers (Philippians 1:19), with personal assistance (Philippians 2:25) and generously with their finances (Philippians 4:15-18, see also, Out of the Abundance of Joy). Now Paul was in jail again and awaiting trial for preaching the gospel, and he had no doubt that they would be there for him.

God began a work in them on that very first day. Paul is confident of this, and just as certain that God will keep working in them, bringing them to maturity. On the day King Jesus returns to judge the world, He will find that God’s work in them is complete. As the apostle John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

How could Paul be so sure that there was a work of God going on in them? Just this: He has them in his heart, and every remembrance he has of them gives the evidence. Even now in his present imprisonment, he knows they have not forgotten him, but are pulling for him all the way, especially as he prepares for his “defense” and the “confirmation” of the gospel.

Those are legal terms. The Greek word for “defense” is apologia and refers to answering charges and presenting one’s case in court. It is the word Peter uses in his letter to Jesus believers scattered abroad.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
The word for “confirmation” is bebaios. Where apologia is about presenting the case, bebaios is about establishing the case and winning a favorable verdict. The “defense and confirmation” Paul has in mind is not for his own sake but for the sake of the gospel. It is not his own freedom he seeks but that the good news about King Jesus the Messiah might circulate throughout the Roman Empire.

In all of this, Paul says, “You are partakers with me of grace.” The word for “partakers” is sugkoinonos (the prefix sug with the word koinonos), which means “fellow-partakers.” The same grace that is available for Paul is available for them, too. They are joined up together in this grace with Paul and benefit from it just as Paul does. They are “fellow-partakers of grace.”

The Vulgate, Jerome’s Latin version of the Greek New Testament, has this as “partakers of joy,” apparently mistaking the word charitos (a form of charis, grace) for a form of chara (joy). This translation does not go too far afield, though, since there is, after all, a connection between charis and chara. Thayer’s Greek Definitions has charis as “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness.” Given how prominent “joy” and “rejoicing” is in Paul’s letter to the Philippian believers, “fellow-partakers of joy” would be just as true as “fellow-partakers of grace.” They share in the same joy with Paul, as well as the same grace.

“God is my witness,” Paul says, about the love he has for these believers, his partners in grace and the gospel. It is a love full of “the affection of Jesus Christ,” that is, the same kind of love and tenderness that the Lord Jesus has for them. Paul’s feeling toward them is more than he can say — but God knows.

Focus Questions
  1. How would you describe the level of your passion for the Lord Jesus and His kingdom?
  2. How would you describe the level of your joy in the good news?
  3. Who partners with you in this, and how would you describe your affection for them?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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