Partnership Demands Consistency
Paul had experienced true partnership in the gospel from the church in Philippi. But these verses highlight some alarming contrasts with the ways many other believers thought about the need to support Paul. They provide a challenge to us today. Paul built mission training into the earliest stages of discipleship training for the new believers in Philippi. It was not an afterthought or a 'bolt-on extra'. Spreading the word about Jesus was an integral part of being a Christian. When Paul moved south to the rest of Greece, the church in Philippi wanted to become a 'sending church'. They assumed responsibility for supplying Paul's physical needs. When he arrived in Thessalonica, it was Philippian support which enabled the brief and persecuted mission to the city.
They were not a rich church in Macedonia. When they later heard about the need to support the church in Jerusalem which was being persecuted and unable to buy food and essential household commodities, they begged Paul to have the privilege of giving to help them. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 tells the story: “… we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: they gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”
Paul says that their excellent example of supporting himself, and believers they had never met, was not followed elsewhere. Other churches missed out on the privilege of giving, and also the joy of receiving news and encouragement for further giving and prayer. True mission partnership must be two-way. That is one of the reasons why Paul held this church in such high esteem. He received from them, and they received from him (including this letter which is one of the gems of the New Testament). Communication was the key - not because they had to but because they wanted to - they loved each other and the Lord who had privileged Paul to be sent, and them to supply his needs. They also had the great characteristic of true partnership: consistency. This is vitally important in business, marriage and parenting: it is also critical in enabling gospel work to continue unhindered. The Philippian church kept on giving, 'again and again'. They were not project supporters, committed for a short time: they were true partners, in it for the long haul.
How much we need to revisit this apostolically validated approach to gospel mission partnership! It is certainly not universal today. ‘Partnership’ without persistence is the kind of patronage which does not build two-way relationships, and is unlikely to sustain a ministry. Neither is there true partnership when supporters do not intend to be gospel practitioners themselves (albeit in their local communities) - their mission interest will always lose momentum as attention is diverted to the next exciting project elsewhere. Likewise, ‘partnership’ which only involves giving to one’s own family, tribe, nation, has lost the point of cross-cultural mission. So, do you think that this might be the wake-up call you need so that you can be a real mission partner, and therefore a wholehearted follower of Jesus?
© Dr Paul Adams