The Gospel: The Ground and Glue of Christian Fellowship (3)2
In an earlier post I argued that the gospel is what unites Christians at a more fundamental and life-changing level than anything else. Paul’s relationship to the Philippians illustrates this in four ways, the first two of which we’ll look at below.
The first thing we see is that Paul is moved and motivated to intercede on behalf of the Philippians. Quite simply, he prays for them constantly.
I can’t even begin to think of Paul as the sort of man who would pull the hypocritical stunt that you and I are so often guilty of perpetrating on one another. How many times have you said to another Christian, perhaps in passing in the church atrium or down the hall, “It was good to see you; I’ll pray for you,” all the while knowing you have absolutely no intention of doing any such thing?
May I be so bold as to challenge you today, even as I issue the same challenge to my own soul, that if you promise to pray for another believer you actually carry through with your pledge? And that you not do it as a perfunctory performance or because you feel morally obligated or because you made a promise and “by golly I’m going to keep my word whether I feel like it or not,” but that you do it as Paul did, “with joy.”
“But Sam, life’s hard, and time is short, and my schedule is crammed full of things I can no longer afford to ignore. I might be able to devote a few minutes each day to praying for the needs of people, but how I am expected to do it with joy?”
Let me remind you of something. Paul isn’t writing this letter from an air-conditioned three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car garage home in a safe neighborhood in Oklahoma City or a condo in downtown Chicago! He’s writing this from a dark, damp, cramped prison cell most likely in either Rome or Caesarea. His freedom has been taken from him. His food is barely adequate to keep him alive. He doesn’t know if he will live or die. Yet he prays for them and does so joyfully! How?
The answer is again the gospel! When the human heart is gripped with the transcendent truth and unshakable reality of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, no amount of pain or discomfort or opposition can undermine the deep and abiding joy that it brings. All that Paul had to do in order to press through the pain and the disappointment of imprisonment was to think about what God had done to secure forgiveness and eternal salvation, not only for himself but for the Philippians as well. I know this because of what follows in v. 5. And this brings us to the second point of emphasis.
Second, Paul is filled with gratitude and prays fervently and joyfully for the Philippians because they share with him a common faith in the gospel, a unified commitment to suffer for it and sacrifice for it and support the spread of it with their finances. This is his point in v. 5.
He’s delighted that they are a part of his life and that he is part of theirs. So when he prays for them, he is overcome with “joy” as he reflects on how they have joined with him in living for the gospel, giving for the gospel, defending the gospel, and in Paul’s case, eventually dying for the gospel.
Notice again that Paul doesn’t have in mind here some superficial friendship based on the sharing of a common hobby or because of the patriotic fervor they share that comes from knowing they are all Roman citizens. It is because they are united in their belief in the gospel! The grace of God in Jesus Christ is the ground and glue of their love one for another.
To be continued . . .