A Call to Do Ministry Together as Seen in Philippians
If there is one concept in ministry that is evident not only through scripture but in The Church as a whole today, it is that loneliness and a lack of community in one’s life can, at times be a debilitating factor as well as a major issue in anyone’s ministry calling. Some leaders seem to crave being “at the top” in a competitive ministry growth race more strongly than they desire to work alongside others, as a unified being. However, it is evident throughout scripture that God did not desire or create us to do this walk of faith without others. We are called to community at the most basic and foundational sense.
In the book of Philippians, we as believers, leaders, and ministers, are encouraged and compelled to arrange our lives in such a way that we are not running alone, but instead we are linking arms with one another in an unshakeable community known as The Body of Christ. It is in relating to one another as Christ saw fit and, in fact, exemplified Himself, that we can more effectively, efficiently, and joyfully carry out our task of fulfilling the gospel and building the kingdom of God; together. In the Biblical design of community, we grow alongside one another, encourage one another, challenge one another, and enduring suffering with one another.
We see it right from the beginning of the book of Philippians that Paul has set a focus and a major emphasis on community. However, this is not only in relationships with one another, but in his prayer life as well. He writes in Philippians 1:3-4, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” This shows us intentionality. Paul intentionally both takes the time and makes the effort to remember and lift up those he is in community with in prayer. This partnership concept is a major and essential factor in any ministry. We cannot do ministry alone, and the importance placed on partnership in the book of Philippians shows this very concept to us in a freshly presented way.
We can clearly see the pattern in Philippians of thanksgiving for their support as well as for the community he has with them. We see a picture of Paul’s reliance on this church for support and encouragement, however it also shows us that Paul was not simply a recipient of this support and friendship, but that he offered it in return through encouragement and lifting them up in prayer. One very practical example in which we see the community go out of their way to encourage Paul when he was in prison is that they had “sent a representative, Epaphroditus, to cheer him up; but they were upset when they heard that Epaphroditus fell ill, so he is sending him back to them in recovered strength (2:25-30). He is also about to send Timothy, to add to their comfort (2:29-24)” (Wills, 109). It is in this portion of scripture that we see the level of devotion they had to one another, sending individuals to encourage and comfort whoever was in need of it at the time. This conveys to us the importance they placed (and so we should as well) of self-sacrifice. Those of us that are capable should be willing to give up convenience and agendas for the purpose of encouraging fellow believers when they are in need the most. This is love in its sincerest form.
Paul caught the vision from Jesus and implemented it where he was given authority and influence. Even Jesus made community a priority in His ministry while he walked the earth. He knew that with a community who provided support, encouragement, and fellowship, he could be more effective with his time, as well as doing the essential leadership “move” that consisted of raising up leaders who would carry on His mission and vision long after He physically left the earth.
One crucial lesson that is to be learned by any individual in the Body of Christ is that of servant-hood and selflessness. Being as committed as he always has been to redirect our, at times, misguided focus, Paul reminds us of this importance in Philippians 2:1-4, in which Paul writes “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interests of others.”
As a community, we encourage, uplift, uphold, and understand one another in a way that would not be possible without the common thread of Christ Jesus in our lives. As Paul endured imprisonment, shipwrecks, life threats, and arrests, he was able to maintain joy in Christ. “Paul sat in chains in a Roman prison, not knowing whether he would ever see freedom again or if he was going to live or die. Yet in the midst of all that, he was able to say from the heart, “always be full of joy in the Lord.” (Bell, 194). Although Christ is the one who gives joy, it is within community that it can be realized and that we uplift one another in prayer so that Christ would move, intervene, comfort, and liberate on one’s behalf.
A community of believers provides a way of identifying with like-minded, like-visionaries. The beauty of Biblical community is that what joins us is not race, it is not background, or even all being a part of this present time, but the common thread of the gospel that has been woven into the story of each of our lives. It is the link that enables us to see past differences in every agenda other than Christ’s and into a future not bound by the physical realm but focuses instead on the incredible freedom we have in Christ. When we come into community with believers, we are partnering with Christ to build into a future where more can hear the gospel, more can experience the love of Christ, and more can be transformed by the renewing of their minds in Christ (Romans 12:2).
The beauty of being a part of The Church in the twenty first century is that there are limitless ways to get involved, as well as to be a part of a believing community, to link arms with those around you and to reach further with the gospel into the most remote of places. We are not limited by distance or resource nearly as much as the Biblical Church would have been, and so because of this, when the gospel calls for us to go into all the regions of the world, we can do this far more effectively now than ever before.
We have been invited to partner with the vision of God in a way that impacts eternity, and we can only do it together. We can be stagnant believers who stand by and watch God work, or we can make the choice to partner with Him and become a part of His miraculous and undaunted display of workmanship across and throughout the entire earth.
As believers who coexist together in a community that “does” (lives out and takes part in) the gospel together, we in turn, inevitably become a part of the purposes, vision, and mission of God. How beautiful it is that we can not only partner with each other, but that by partnering with each other, we in reality, are partners of the God of the universe, whose choice to include us in His plans give us purpose beyond anything we could ever come up with, let alone imagine on our own. These plans and purposes are done more effortlessly and productively when we can do them together in the community that God designed us to be a part of.
“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:12-20).
Link arms. Partner with God and His people. Live out your life in a way that creates a greater capacity for ministry, a wider space for growth, and a larger scope for the gospel to be worked out in our lives and throughout the rest of the earth. Truly, we are better together, and it is in doing ministry in community that we can take part in God’s vision and mission for His Church.
Bell, James S., Tracy Sumner, and Barry Littmann. “Philippians: Real Joy in the Midst of Suffering.” The Everything Bible Study Book. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2007. 194-203. Print.
The Holy Bible. New American Standard Version. The Lockman Foundation, 1995. Print
Wills, Garry. “Philippians.” What Paul Meant. New York: Viking, 2006. 109. Print.