Following the typical structure of a First Century greeting, Paul first identifies himself, then gives a brief word of greeting (i.e. “grace” and “peace”), and then goes on to give thanks. In contrast with his common introductions in the epistles, Paul neither identifies himself as an apostle, nor does he make any distinction between himself and Timothy, his child in the faith. While at times it was necessary for Paul to assert his apostleship for the sake of the gospel, it wasn’t necessary in this situation in light of the intimacy that existed between Paul and the church in Philippi, which he had founded along with Silas and Timothy during his second missionary journey. Verses 3-8 are largely Paul’s expression of thankfulness for this close fellowship that he has shared with the Philippians over the years.
Defining Fellowship (verses 5, 7)
Paul gives thanks to God because of the Philippians’ “participation in the gospel” (v5) and he has them in his heart because they are “partakers of grace” with him (v7). The two words that Paul uses for “participation” and “partakers” both refer to the idea of fellowship. Fellowship is both a common “partaking” in the grace of Christ, as well as a common “participation” together in the cause of Christ (i.e. the gospel).
From their very beginning, the church in Philippi had fellowshipped with Paul by being actively involved in his life and ministry. They prayed for him (Philippians 1:19), they shared his struggle (Philippians 4:3), they supported him personally (Philippians 4:15-16), and they supported others through him (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). They give us a good example of true fellowship: active participation with one another in Christ and for the cause of Christ.
Fellowship Produces Joy (verses 3-4)
The fellowship Paul shared with the Philippians produced thankfulness to the Lord and joy in his every prayer (v3-4). Though Philippi had been the place where he was beaten and imprisoned, he didn’t even take the suffering he had experienced there into consideration, but only rejoiced in the fellowship he now shared with them in the gospel, just as Christ also despised the shame and endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2).
Fellowship is Persistent (verse 5, 7)
The Philippians’ fellowship with Paul had been from the first day until the time Paul was writing the letter (v5), both in his freedom and in his imprisonment (v7). Though it would have been shameful for a Roman citizen to have associated with a prisoner, and though others at different points in Paul’s life would abandon him while he was in prison (2 Timothy 2:10, 16), the Philippians were unwavering in their commitment to support and participate with Paul for the sake of the gospel. True fellowship doesn’t grow distracted or give up, but remains steadfast from beginning to end.
Fellowship is a Work of God from Start to Finish (verse 6)
All Christian fellowship is an impossibility apart from the work of God from beginning to end. Just as God began the work in Philippi when He opened Lydia’s heart to believe (Acts 16:14), so also He graciously begins the work in each of our lives when He grants us new hearts and draws us to Himself. And not only did God begin the good work in us solely according to His own love and power, but He will also finish it by that same love and power. Though we are fully justified and fully adopted as God’s own beloved children, there is still work to be done until the day of Christ. He is still at work to sanctify us and make us more like Jesus. And when Christ returns, He will finally and fully complete the work in us by transforming our current sinful body into a sinless, glorified body (Philippians 3:20-21).
Fellowship Produces Genuine Affection of Heart (verses 7-8)
Because of the fellowship they have shared, Paul has the Philippians in his heart. By heart, he means the deepest part of his person, the place where all thoughts and feelings originate. He also longs for them with the affection of Christ. The very love that He has received from Christ he now directs to them. Proving that he is not exaggerating, Paul calls God, who searches the heart and the mind, as witness to the sincerity of his love. Genuine fellowship in and for Christ produces genuine affection among God’s people.
- What does it mean to have fellowship in the grace of Christ? Why is that the necessary foundation for any true Christian fellowship?
- Do you take fellowship with other believers seriously? Why is it important? How could you be more active in your fellowship?