(3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (6) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (7) It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (8) For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:3-8
The most profound friendships I have had over the years have been gospel-centered friendships. Gospel-centered friendships are relationships in which we share a mutual bond–a desire not primarily for our own gratification, but for the Lord Jesus Christ to be glorified supremely in everything. I think Paul yearned for the church at Philippi “with the affection of Christ Jesus” because he had established gospel-centered friendships with them. He thanks God for them because of their partnership with him “in the gospel from the first day until now.” You see the church at Philippi did not just applaud Paul in his ministry of the gospel–they partnered with him “from the first day until now.” Paul is writing these words from prison–the Philippian church partnered with him in the gospel from the difficult start of the church at Philippi on up to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. They strove with Paul “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27) when things were easy and when things got tough–no matter what the circumstances they served as Paul’s partners in the gospel!
Paul says it is right for him to feel such strong affection for this church because they are “all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” The gospel, by its very nature is unifying. It draws people together who would otherwise never care about each other in the least and it tells us that we are one body and individually members of one another (Rom. 12:5). When we are born again we wake up to the reality as brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a common Lord and Master and a common purpose–to make much of Jesus Christ!
The church at Philippi showed themselves to be partakers with Paul of God’s grace specifically in two ways:
1. They served Paul even in his imprisonment for the gospel. They sent Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30) to him to serve him in his imprisonment. Epaphroditus served Paul at the risk of his own life as he became ill near to the point of death while on his journey to minister to Paul (Phil. 2:25-30).
2. They have been living for “the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” While Paul was in prison, they were continuing to contend for the faith. They were seeking to live in conformity to Christ, championing the gospel. They were standing up to strong opposition from the world around them, refusing to compromise the gospel.
The most important friendships I have made in life have always been connected to the gospel. The people I have shared the gospel with and alongside, remain the dearest friends I have. The gospel unites, it forms bonds that the world cannot break. I think Paul gives us a model of good frienships here and they are centered on the gospel!
Reading this passage today reminded me of the many godly men that the Lord has blessed me with over the years–I praise God for the gospel-centered friendships he has blessed me with. Today, I am particularly thankful for the gospel-centered friendship he has blessed me with in my wife as well as the gospel-centered friendships I have the opportunity to build here in Alabama!