This week I have found myself the recipient of a lot of help. My boss is out for the month on a much-needed vacation, and so much of the responsibility for keeping things in our ministry running falls to me in his absence. With him gone, I have seen my coworkers and those doing jobs much more important and difficult than mine stop, bend down (metaphorically), and help me along. I have been the beneficiary of much help and much grace this week, and so I am grateful. I also find myself beginning a personal study in Philippians this week. I felt drawn to the book, knowing it deals with joy in suffering, and I am in a season where suffering has been a common taste in my mouth, so I want to fight for joy through the power of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of God’s word. Many of my posts in the coming weeks and months will probably be based in Philippians, and I hope that this book will encourage you as it has already begun to encourage me.
As I have found myself in a place of thankfulness having been helped and shown grace this week, Paul begins the book of Philippians in a place of thankfulness having been helped and shown grace. In Philippians, Paul is addressing the saints, the Christians, at the church in Philippi, especially the church leaders (Phil. 1:1). He is thanking them for supporting him and partnering with him as he finds himself in a hard place, prison, for preaching the gospel (Phil. 1:5-7). What strikes me about the opening of this book is the direction that Paul’s thanks is going. Many times when Christians talk about thankfulness, it is only in a vertical sense, thankfulness to God. Here, although Paul is certainly thankful to God for the Philippians (Phil. 1:3), his expression of thanks pours out in a horizontal front of gratitude as well. He is not merely thanking God for these people’s work and growth in Christ, he is thanking them for their work and expression of that growth. I think a very direct and helpful principle can be derived here, that Christian gratitude expresses itself to both God and others. When we are helped, we should be quick to express our thankfulness to how we have seen God work through those people, and thank the people who help us for their help. There are many people I know who would not stop to thank someone who helps them, saying “well they were supposed to do that anyway.” How encouraging of people would we be if we made a point to genuinely thank everyone who helps us? Even the people whose job is to help us like waiters and waitresses. Christians should be the most thankful people in the world because we know what it means to receive a gift that is not deserved. A posture of gratitude towards God and others would go a long way in a society built on a sense of entitlement and presumptuous expectations. I want to thank people this week.
Paul’s thanks to the church has a reveling tone about it. He is bubbling over with joy at seeing the gospel working in the Philippians. (Wouldn’t it feel good to have someone excited just because of the way you’re living and loving people? I wish my life did that for people. Anyways…) Paul’s excitement at seeing the people’s willingness to serve him in his need spurs him to declare not only that he is confident that they are saved, but that he is confident that God is going to continue to work in them for the rest of their lives (Phil. 1:6). Paul explains this confidence, essentially saying that partakers of grace become givers of grace (Phil. 1:7). People whose lives have been affected by the gospel live lives shaped by the gospel. This week I have seen this first hand. At work I have seen people reach out to lighten work loads when they didn’t have to. In community I have seen people share the emotional burdens of hard times and suffering. I have seen the church in motion as Paul saw in the Philippian church. Fellow partakers of grace, brothers and sisters in Christ, extending grace and living lives shaped by the gospel. As Jesus came and graciously stepped into our hardship to take on our sin and give us righteousness and peace with God, these brothers and sisters have graciously stepped in to take on burdens and give help, peace, and comfort. What a joy to witness such grace and be reminded of our savior. Seeing it encourages me to show grace to others, and it encouraged Paul likewise.
Paul cannot contain his joy and affection for the Philippians because he is a recipient of their love, and so he is grateful for their work personally, not just theoretically from hearing about it. The Philippians have stepped in to share in Paul’s suffering like Christ has stepped in to share in our sufferings, and Paul can’t help but point and say, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! That’s the gospel at work in someone’s life!” He calls them partners in the gospel for the ways they have helped him (Phil. 1:5). What a joy for someone laboring as Paul was to see fruit, and not only that, but to be the beneficiary! What a comfort to the sufferer to see the souls he has prayed for, longing to see them saved, now carrying the very grace he was proclaiming to others! In so many of Paul’s letters he talks about rejoicing because he has heard of the way the gospel is changing lives in the churches he’s planted, but here he gets to see it at work and feel it first hand. What a joy! What if Christians lived gospel-shaped lives? What if we were the most caring and hospitable people because we know what it’s like to experience the free gift of grace and acceptance through Jesus? What if we were the first to join others in suffering because we saw our savior do it and we want to be like Him? What if our understanding of the gospel actually changed us? I pray this for myself, and know that the Holy Spirit is doing that work in me, and I pray that that work may bring joy to others as seeing it in others has brought joy to me this week.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Philippians 1:1-7 ESV