Philippians 1:1–11: Fellowship
In the beginning, God created human beings for relationships. In the pristine splendor of the Garden of Eden, God identified only one thing that was not good: Adam’s isolation from any other creatures like him (Gen. 2:18). After God gave Adam a companion in the woman Eve, the man rejoiced at this “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” whom God had given him “at last” (Gen. 2:23); however, the joy of human companionship did not remain untroubled for long. When Adam and Eve disobeyed their Creator to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and Good and Evil, they first lost their unashamed freedom with each other (Gen. 3:7), and then they lost their loyalty to one another shortly afterward (Gen. 3:12). Ever since that moment, relationships have been not only the source of our deepest pleasures, but also the source of our deepest pains.
Nevertheless, human beings have never lost our instinctive drive toward relationships. We yearn for mutual affection, respect, admiration, and care. We deliberately seek out shared experiences, shared resources, and shared culture. We define ourselves in terms of our relationships, and social scientists have even demonstrated that the unraveling of our most intimate relationships (e.g., parent/child, husband/wife) literally kills us. It is not as though we merely feel like we are dying (although that is true), but strained marriages (for example) lead directly to higher rates of psychological problems, heart disease, and immune deficiencies. In fact, research suggests that “emotional isolation is a more dangerous health risk than smoking or high blood pressure.”
As a pastor, one of the most frequently recurring themes I hear from people is that they are lonely. We all know that we need relationships, but because of the Fall, relationships do not come easily. What kind of relationships should we have? What does the gospel say about our relationships?
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we find a relationship of deep friendship. Paul’s close relationships with the Philippians church are so thoroughly enmeshed throughout this letter that one scholar explicitly classifies Paul’s letter to the Philippians into a genre of letter writing known in the ancient world as a “letter of friendship.” Although there is some debate about that literary classification, no one disputes the idea that Philippians reflects a deeply intimate spiritual friendship between Paul and the church at Philippi. While this letter addresses several different topics as Paul demonstrates what it looks like to live the cruciform life, we will see that he treats those themes within the context of his deep friendship and fellowship with the Philippians.
1. What gospel partnerships do you have in your own life? In your church? With other churches? What practical steps might you take to cultivate deeper relationships within those partnerships? What practical steps might you take to develop new relationships for the sake of the mission of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ?
2. How do your own relationships reflect the key elements of Paul’s relationship with the Philippians? What role does long-term relational depth play? How do you exercise and seek to demonstrate mutual deference? How do you keep your commitment to the gospel at the forefront of your activities? How might you grow in these areas of your partnerships?
3. Would someone objectively categorize your life more as a team sport or an individual event? What specific things would they identify to make a case for each side? What practical steps might you take to transform your mindset and your lifestyle toward a team approach to ministry?
4. What is one way your own prayer life might grow in light of Paul’s prayers for the Philippians? In what ways do you seek to grow in the area of knowledge? How do you see knowledge translating into love? Where is love bearing the fruit of righteousness? How do all of these elements combine to the glory and praise of God?