More than Sympathy
Paul trusted God, first and foremost; but he never despised genuine Christian fellowship (Galatians 4:14). He was not so ‘super-spiritual’ that he proudly refused to be honest about his needs. The Philippian church had a great concern for their Apostle and would have prayed for him; but they also wanted to be part of the answer to their own prayers. When they had collected money and provisions, they appointed Epaphroditus to be the courier, and sent him off on a dangerous land and sea journey - only to have the worry of hearing that he became ill and almost died (Philippians 2:25-30). They chose to be involved, and Paul commended them for what they did ... 'it was good', and he was very glad to receive their sacrificial love gifts (Philippians 4:18).
The word translated 'to share' in this verse comes from the same Greek word (koinonia) which also means 'to communicate', 'become a partner', 'to give', 'to distribute', 'to come into fellowship' and 'to participate in communion'. It is one of the great words of the New Testament which takes believers from being spectators to being players; from splendid ideas to sacrificial involvement. It was one of the four foundational principles of the Early Church which engaged with the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42).
Paul’s obligation to be practically involved in fellowship is not merely a sociological phenomenon, because it crosses normal community boundaries (in the same way that Paul's missionary journeys crossed religious, racial, cultural and linguistic divides). It is informed by the imperatives of the gospel and fired by the Holy Spirit. Their motivation to help Paul was not that he was 'one of their own' (he was a Jew from S E Turkey and they were Greeks from Macedonia), but that they wanted to partner in his gospel mission (Philippians 1:4-6).
This same conviction to mission partnership has fuelled a huge outpouring of missionary giving over the years: sending people and money all over the world. It is God the Holy Spirit who convinces people to give and sacrifice their own interests for the sake of the gospel. Today, God is mobilising many more people to take the gospel cross-culturally … and they are being partnered by many more who are giving money and resources to see it happen. Of course, all gospel communication is cross-cultural (from the kingdom of light into the kingdom of darkness (1 Peter 2:9)), and can happen in your shop, factory, farm or station. Paul saw his supporters as also being gospel practitioners: both, not one or the other. Alas many believers today think that they can be observers, and occasional patrons - like spectators of sport rather than participants - when God is looking for wholehearted participants in the work of the gospel, whatever it takes. Will you be one of them?
© Dr Paul Adams