Wise parents want their children to excel as they grow up. In the same way, the Apostle Paul watched over the church in Philippi. He was a spiritual father to them in that he brought them to faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 4:15), but he is not their heavenly Father: he is their brother in Christ and their friend. What a model of Christian ministry – proclaiming the gospel, tenderly caring for the spiritually new-born, teaching them how to live their new life, but humbly recognising that he is equally indebted to the gospel.
Paul had great affection for them, watching them grow in faith and confidence in the gospel (Philippians 1:4-6); he rejoiced that they were his most faithful supporters (financially and in prayer) of all the churches he had planted (Philippians 4:14-16). Few pastors or missionaries could have enjoyed such warmth of devoted and sacrificial giving. Indeed, that church is still a model of how to honour courageous and servant-hearted ministers, missionaries, and overseas partners.
They were his 'joy and crown'. As athletes in the original Olympic Games received a crown of laurel leaves as evidence that they had run well, the Philippian church was evidence that Paul had done his gospel-proclaiming job well, and that the gospel had powerfully changed them. Their personal support brought him much joy too. Paul knew that he could not have achieved so much in ministry if they had not been such loyal encouragers, supplying his needs and praying for him (Philippians 4:10). The past was great, but what about the future? Paul instructed them to keep on standing firm (against the world, the flesh and the devil) for Jesus. He did not want them to fall short of victory; either for their own sakes, his, or especially for the sake of Jesus. The previous verses (Philippians 3:12-21) describe how we can all win through; not relying on ourselves, not blackmailed by the past, but looking straight ahead to the prize of heaven and always grateful for the cross.
Do not think that 'ordinary Christians' are irrelevant to the ministry and mission of the church - they are essential. I wonder how many church members realise that their ministers, if they are to excel as pastors and evangelists, really need the wholehearted encouragement of the church. Faithful supporters are as essential to ministry and mission as those who serve 'on the front line'. And like those in the 'front line' they also have to be equally close to Jesus, and equally committed to pray and give and share. If they fail in their support role, God's work is held back: if they are obedient, God's work advances to His glory.
© Dr Paul Adams