Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is short and sweet. It can very easily be read in one sitting. In fact, with books as short as Philippians, I like to read them twice in one sitting. If you do that, you may just pick up on something you missed the first time. That’s exactly what happened to me this week. Everyone knows Paul says a lot about joy and rejoicing in Philippians, but here is another theme you may have missed in Philippians.
What is Fellowship
Unfortunately, when we think about “fellowship” we typically think about sitting around talking to one another or sharing a meal with each other. Now don’t get me wrong, sharing a meal together and visiting is an incredibly important part of being a Christian family, but there is far more to real fellowship than that.
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The Greek word we translate “fellowship” is “koinonia” and the word meant something like partnership. In the first-century world, to be in fellowship with someone meant to be partners with them in some joint effort. Sharing a meal with someone might have implied to others that two people were in fellowship, but the meal wasn’t their fellowship. Their fellowship was a deep and intimate partnership.
Paul’s Fellowship with the Philippians
Paul uses the word “koinonia” (and other closely related words) throughout his letter to the Philippians, but it is translated with various English words like partnership, participation, and sharing. For Paul, his fellowship with the Philippian church was all about the fact that they were partnering with him to share the Good News about Jesus with the world.
They partnered with Paul both in their financial support and in their prayers. Paul very much believed that when someone was praying for him, they were helping his missionary work to succeed. He believed strongly that the prayers of the Philippians would help him get out of prison.
There was nothing in the world more important to the apostle Paul than to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. The people closest to his heart, those for whom he had the most affection, were those who shared that vision. His appreciation boiled over for those who “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel,” those he called “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Paul’s love for the church in Philippi wasn’t based on how many potlucks they had shared together, but on the fact that they were committed to helping him reach the world with the Good News about Jesus.
Additional Types of Fellowship
Paul also mentioned his fellowship with other partners in the gospel. Specifically, Paul talked about men like Timothy and Epaphroditus. These were men Paul considered “fellow workers” and “fellow soldiers.” These were men who had often risked their lives to help Paul spread the Good News.
But there are other “fellowships” mentioned in Philippians. There is a fellowship of the Spirit. Paul encouraged the Philippians to be of one heart and mind based on their “participation in the Spirit.” In other words, the Spirit of God was partnering with the church to make them into the people he wanted them to be. The Spirit was working inside of them “to will and to work for his good pleasure,” so they could “shine as lights in the world.” Paul taught them that this partnership they shared with the Spirit, ought to impact the way they treated one another.
Another “fellowship” in Philippians is a fellowship of suffering. Paul longed to share (koinonia) in Christ’s suffering. He viewed suffering for Jesus as a way of being in deeper fellowship with Jesus. And when the church sent Paul a gift in prison, he said they were sharing in his trouble. They were in deep fellowship with him when they sacrificed of their own means to try to lift part of his burden.
Having Real Fellowship Today
There is much we can apply from this theme to the church today. Ask yourself some of these questions:
Are you in fellowship with your church family? Do you consider yourself their partner, helping them with burdens and struggles, sharing with them the responsibility of reaching your community with the Good News?
Are you in fellowship with preachers, evangelists, and missionaries? Do you partner with them by in sharing your finances and prayers to ensure their success?
Are you in fellowship with the Spirit? Do you understand that the Spirit of God wants to partner with you to change the way you think, feel, and act? Are you participating with him so that you are a light shining in the world?
Are you in fellowship with Jesus? Do you long to share his suffering and are you sharing in the suffering of persecuted brethren throughout the world?
Spend some time today reading through Philippians. Spend some time thinking and praying about your fellowship.
I love you and God loves you,