Study 8 THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
What Every Christian Should Know
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Philippians 1: 1-20)
Whenever the apostle Paul thought of the Christians at Philippi he thanked God for their ‘fellowship in the gospel’. What did he mean? The word ‘fellowship’ means ‘a joint participation in a common interest and activity’, and thus it refers to something that belongs to us all, that we share together. In this case it is something distinctively connected with the gospel. Every Christian should be enjoying and expressing fellowship in the gospel. How are we as Christians to enjoy this fellowship?
1. FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL EXPRESSES ITSELF IN THANKSGIVING.
Paul tells us this in verse 3, and this was a very remarkable thing for him to say! When he thought of the Philippian Christians he thanked God for every one of them. That is real fellowship in the gospel, to be thankful for all God’s people. It was easy for him to thank God for Lydia - look up Acts 16:14, 15, 40; and for the jailer - look up Acts 16:25-34; but it was certainly not so easy for him to thank God for Euodias and Syntyche - look up Philippians 4:2! Yet, the apostle thanked God for them all, and this aspect of fellowship in the gospel is very important indeed. One of the great benefits of being thankful for all those with whom we are associated in Christian worship and service is that it saves us from wrong attitudes - from irritation, resentment, jealousy - these horrible sins of the spirit. We cannot thank God for our brother and at the same time be jealous of him. Put it to the test and see!
2. FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL EXPRESSES ITSELF IN PRAYER.
This is brought before us in verse 4, and notice how important all the words are in this verse. What a prayer list Paul had! – but it is the privilege of every Christian to enjoy this immense privilege of praying for others. Before we were Christians it did not make sense to us to pray for our friends and associates, but now we know that when we pray for each other we are enjoying and expressing fellowship in the gospel. Such Christian fellowship wonderfully purifies the atmosphere of any church. It is not possible to be critical or a hindrance in the work of the Lord if we are fully engaged in this ministry of prayer. Notice what Paul prayed for the Christians at Philippi - verses 9-11. What people we would be if we prayed like this for each other!
3. FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL EXPRESSES ITSELF IN FAITH.
Verse 6 tells us that Paul had faith, confidence, in these Christians - in God’s purpose for these Christians in what He was doing in them and was going to do in and for them in the days to come. It is very easy for us to lose faith in human nature, and even to lose faith in other Christians and in ourselves. Was Paul ever tempted in this way? Doubtless he was. He had no confidence in himself and no confidence in human nature, but he had great confidence in what God was doing and in what God was going to do. We have a beautiful illustration of this in the Lord’s call to Simon Peter - look up John 1:42. He knew all about Simon, about his nature, temperament and weakness, but He also knew about the good work He was going to do in him, and the kind of man Simon would be when this work was completed - now read verse 6 again.
4. FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL EXPRESSES ITSELF IN LOVE.
This is brought before us in verses 7-8, and notice that Paul said of these Christians that he had them in his heart - not simply in his head, on his lips or (as the late Canon Guy King used to say) ‘on his nerves’! Paul longed for his brothers and sisters at Philippi, even for Euodias and Syntyche. We sometimes lack this important aspect and expression of Christian fellowship in the gospel, for often we are hard, and sometimes even cruel - look up and take to heart John 13:34-35, and notice that the important work in verse 35 is the word ‘love’. Do we enjoy and express fellowship in the gospel by our love - not only for the Lord and for those whom we find it easy to love, but for God’s people everywhere, and for those who are not the children of God and are lost and so much in need of our love? Please read the following extract from 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (J. B. Phillips):
‘If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing. This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience - it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.’
5. FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL EXPRESSES ITSELF IN MINISTRY.
What is the ministry to which every Christian is called? It is ‘to advance the gospel’ – see verse 12. The gospel is advanced in two ways - first by life, and second by lip. Both these ways are mentioned here:
- The gospel is advanced when Christians live the Christian life consistently. In other words, we advance the gospel by what we are. That is what the apostle says in verses 12 and 20. Paul was tested and tried, yet the gospel was being advanced because in the midst of his testing and trial his reaction glorified God. Christ was magnified in his body. But notice this:
- The gospel is also advanced by the spoken testimony of Christians. In other words, we advance the gospel by what we say - notice the words ‘speak’ and ‘preach’ in verses 14, 15, 16 and 18. We enjoy and express fellowship in the gospel when we testify to others of the Lord’s saving grace.
Fellowship in the gospel is something that every Christian should be enjoying and expressing, and these are the five ways in which we should do it. But how is it possible to share and show this fellowship in the gospel? The answer is in Philippians 1:19. It is only possible through ‘the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.’