The Gospel: The Ground and Glue of Christian Fellowship (2)
Let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about when we mention the word “gospel” or more importantly what Paul meant when he used the word. By the way, he uses the word “gospel” six times in Philippians 1.
The “gospel” is the good news of what God has graciously and lovingly done in and through the incarnation, sinless life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ to satisfy his own wrath against sinners and to secure our forgiveness and in doing so to reconcile us to himself forever.
That single, glorious, exhilarating, breathtaking truth is what bound Paul and the Philippians together. The gospel is the only thing that accounts for their love one for another and their prayers for each other and their devotion to walk through the hardest of times side by side and their courage to endure persecution and in some cases death itself.
I assume you know that what I’ve just said isn’t massively popular today. In fact, many, especially those in the media, would regard what Paul says in Philippians and what I’m saying to you today as narrow-minded bigotry; they view it as prejudice; it’s arrogant exclusivism; at its heart it is unloving. But don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we shouldn’t love people who don’t share our belief in the truth of the gospel. I’m not saying we shouldn’t serve them or that we shouldn’t join them in social and political causes that we think are important for the welfare of our society and our country.
But the kind of love and devotion and unity that Paul talks about here, the kind of spiritual bond and covenant commitment one to another that forms the backbone to our existence as a church, can only be grounded in or based upon our shared belief in and experience of the power and grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As strange and revolutionary as this may sound to some of you, your relationship to other Christians in your local church is deeper and more intimate and certainly more lasting than the relationship that you sustain to your blood relatives who don’t know Jesus Christ. It is your common faith in Jesus that binds you, not the blood in your veins or your biological DNA. This is what Jesus had in mind when he said,
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
He doesn’t mean that we aren’t to love our earthly father and mother and son or daughter. He simply means we can’t love them more than we love him. Listen again to what Jesus said:
“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50).
People everywhere today, even in perhaps the majority of our churches, argue that what unites us at the most fundamental level is that we are all human beings, or that we are all creatures shaped in the image of God, or that we all believe that there is only one God, or that we all regularly attend a religious service each week, or some such thing. For some, it’s being in the same book club and enjoying the same genre of literature. For others it’s the fact that our children play on the same soccer team or sing in the same choir. As enjoyable and legitimate as these things are, that’s not what ought to be at the center of our relationship with other Christians. That’s friendship, but it’s not the “fellowship” or “partnership” that Paul has in mind. He’s talking about our shared conviction, our common trust in, our singular experience of the saving work of Christ Jesus.
So what exactly does this “gospel” of what God has done for us in Jesus accomplish in terms of our relationship one with another? How does it affect us daily? What does this “fellowship” or “partnership” in the gospel do? How does it manifest itself in our lives? What happens to us in terms of our feelings for one another and what we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of one another? That’s what Paul outlines here in Philippians 1:3-8 and it is quite glorious indeed. There are four primary points of emphasis. We’ll look at each of them in subsequent posts.