The Joy of Jesus
"I thank my God every time I remember you. 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, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."
I got stuck on the word "partnership" (NIV), or "fellowship" (KJV). Conventional wisdom says that Paul is referring to the financial support that the Philippians had given to him to carry out his ministry. And who am I to argue? But I think there is more to it—the context demands it, and I can't imagine Paul, who went through all kinds of suffering for the sake of the Gospel, being so caught up with money that he would equate getting it with JOY.
So this morning I went to Strong's Concordance to look up the word.
1. fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse
A. the share which one has in anything, participation
B. intercourse, fellowship, intimacy
i. the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office)
C. a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship
Tacked on Paul's statement about the joy he takes in being partnered with the Philippians is this: "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (emphasis mine). I believe that this "good work" refers to the relationship, the partnership, the association, the communion, he shares with them in Christ. That is what brings him joy. Money might bring him relief, but the mercy of God through Christ was always Paul's focal point.
He hints again at this connection in verse 7 when he reminds them that they "share in God's grace" with him.
This idea is strengthened by what Paul says in verses 9-11 when the apostle continues by telling these believers what these prayers of "joy" (vs. 4) consist of: "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."
Paul is confident that God will complete the work that began when these people believed the Gospel and became, as he was, part of the family of God by the grace and mercy extended to them through Christ. And what does that "good work" look like? Verses 9-11 explain what characterizes a mature believer.
Joy is seeing people, with whom you have shared the good news of salvation, come to faith and grow increasingly more intimate with Christ. Even Paul's chains could not dampen his enthusiasm about what God was doing in the lives of these saints.
John confirms what I believe Paul is saying when he writes: "It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded" (2 John 4).
There isn't anything much better for those of us who preach and teach the Word than to see it take root and grow—all glory to God!