A look at the letter to the Philippian church
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He gave instructions to His followers: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). They were to be witnesses who told people everywhere about Jesus. This should also be our mission today.
Paul used another illustration: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). As an ambassador represents his country in a foreign land, believers are to represent Jesus in our world. We are ambassadors for Christ, sent on a mission to speak on His behalf and carry out the business of the gospel.
The message to be brought to unbelievers is, “Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God … now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 5:20-21; 6:2). This is a dangerous activity because it is often strongly opposed: when Paul preached this message he was placed in jail (Mt. 10:17-23; Lk. 10:3; Eph. 6:19-20). What was Paul’s motivation to continue in such a hazardous occupation? It was Christ’s love for us that compelled him to live for the Lord instead of pleasing himself (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples, “As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18). That Jesus was sent to the world is mentioned six times in John 17. God sent Jesus to reveal His love to man. Similarly, Jesus has sent His followers to reveal God’s love to man. We are to be God’s ambassadors. In the Incarnation, God left heaven and came to where the people were. Similarly, His witnesses today should go from the local church to where the people are, because the gospel is spread primarily through relationships. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15).
Evangelists are those who share Jesus with others more easily; it is a God-given gift (Eph. 4:8,11). We need to acknowledge them and let them use their gifts where the people are. Let them “do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). Some evangelists are: Peter and John, who took the gospel to many Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25); Paul and Barnabas, who preached the good news in Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:7); and Paul, who preached to those who had never heard of Christ (Rom. 15:20; 1 Cor. 1:17).
Partners In The Gospel
Paul’s Philippian letter illustrates the relationship between a local church and a missionary. It describes the partnership between Paul and the church at Philippi: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4-5). They shared a common interest. Paul called them co-workers, which illustrates that evangelists and missionaries can’t work alone – they need the local church (Phil. 4:3). This partnership was fostered by communication, visitation, prayer, and practical support.
Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). The Philippians had heard that he was in prison, so they sent him money. Epaphroditus took the gift to Paul and stayed to help him. While there, he became very ill. When he was ready to go back to the church in Philippi, Paul sent this letter with him to thank the Philippians for their gift, to encourage them, and to warn them about false teachers.
Paul and the Philippian church communicated with each other. His letter gave them news about his work in the gospel – how God enabled him to witness to the Roman soldiers in prison (Phil. 1:12-18). He also expressed appreciation for the work of Timothy and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:19-30). He shared his passion with them; “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” and “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 1:21; 4:13). His life was centered on Christ; he lived by faith.
Paul was aware of their struggles. He knew about the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3). He knew enough about their situation to warn them against false teachers. He looked forward to hearing from them. He and Timothy had a genuine interest in their welfare (Phil. 2:1-20; 3:1-3). So local churches, evangelists and missionaries need to communicate regularly by letters, phone and e-mail.
Face-to-face communication is most effective, and relationships grow when people spend time together. Epaphroditus was sent from Philippi to take care of Paul’s needs; he risked his life to help Paul (Phil. 4:18; 2:25-30). He was willing to sacrifice his own interests and health for the gospel.
We read that Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus and Colossae. “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose … that he may encourage you” (Eph. 6:21-22). “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me … I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts … They will tell you everything that is happening here” (Col. 4:7-9). Paul also wanted to visit the believers at Thessalonica, but when he couldn’t, he sent Timothy to visit and bring back news from them (1 Th. 2:17; 3:6). Local churches, evangelists and missionaries need to visit one another to share news personally.
Paul knew that the church at Philippi was praying for him and he prayed for them (1:4,19). He knew the power of prayer, and was confident that through their prayers he would be delivered from prison (Phil. 1:19). He also urged them to pray for everything and not be anxious (Phil. 4:6). To the church in Thessalonica he wrote: “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Th. 3:1-2).
Christians should pray for evangelists and missionaries. First, we should pray that God would raise up more of them. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Mt. 9:36-38). Jesus is the one to ask that more evangelists and missionaries would be identified and sent. Second, we should pray for their success. Paul asked for prayer to help him preach the gospel in prison: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:19-20). Local churches, evangelists and missionaries need to share prayer needs and pray for each other.
Paul thanked the Philippians for their financial help. At one stage they were Paul’s only means of support, and they met his needs more than once in Thessalonica. Because they financed evangelism and missionary work, they were promised that God would meet their needs (Phil. 4:14-19).
We are to give because: it helps to meet a need (Phil. 4:14,16); it is an investment in the future – like storing up treasure in heaven (Lk. 12:33; Phil. 4:17); it pleases God, being an act of worship (Phil. 4:18). The church at Corinth was reminded to give generously to those in need (2 Cor. 8-9). This was viewed as being a service to the saints. Local churches need to be aware of the financial needs of evangelists and missionaries and endeavor to meet those needs.
Unity And Christ-Likeness
The church in Philippi is a good model for any local church to support evangelists and missionaries. What are the characteristics of such a church, besides communication, visitation, prayer, and practical support? Their partnership in the gospel endured; it was “from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5); they remained loyal to the faith (Phil. 1:6-7); it was evident that God was at work in this church (Phil. 1:6).
Of course, like all humans they were not perfect, and Paul told them how to deal with one of their problems, a difference of opinion between two women. He tells them it was a problem of selfishness: “Everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). The solution was to “consider others better than yourselves,” to care about them as much as you care for yourselves, and be willing to serve them (Phil. 2:3-7). They were told to solve the problem, realizing that God was helping to make them willing and able to obey Him (Phil. 2:12-13). In this case a third party, possibly Epaphroditus, was asked to assist (Phil. 4:3).
Paul stressed that unity, being like-minded, loving one another, and working together with a common purpose was important (Phil. 1:27; 2:1-8). Do we pull together? Are we looking for ways to work together even though we might disagree? Do we think the best or the worst of people? Do people have to bend over backwards to please us? Do we disregard the opinions of others? Local churches need a shared vision and common goals.
Paul mentions five things that can help us come together in unity: remember what you have received; resolve to pull together; resist selfish attitudes and actions; regard others as more important than yourself; and consider the needs of others (Phil. 2:1-4). They were to have the same attitude as Christ, who left heaven and became the perfect servant on earth.
The local church should encourage Christians to be witnesses and ambassadors for Christ wherever they live, wherever they go. We should pray that God would raise up more evangelists and missionaries, and give them success in spreading the good news. And we should partner with them in the gospel by: communicating with them; exchanging personal visits; praying for them; and supporting them.
We see from the letter to the Philippians that the key is unity and Christ-likeness. We should encourage these characteristics in one another. As Paul wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus.”