"How about coming over to the house for some fellowship?" "What a golf game! Man, did we have great fellowship!" "The fellowship at the retreat was just terrific!"
That word fellowship seems to mean many things to many different people. Perhaps, like a worn coin, it may be losing its true impression. If so, we had better take some steps to rescue it. After all, a good Bible word like fellowship needs to stay in circulation as long as possible.
In spite of his difficult circumstances as a prisoner in Rome, Paul is rejoicing. The secret of his joy is the single mind; he lives for Christ and the Gospel. (Christ is named eighteen times in Philippians 1, and the Gospel is mentioned six times.) "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). But what really is "the single mind"? It is the attitude that says, "It makes no difference what happens to me, just as long as Christ is glorified and the Gospel shared with others." Paul rejoiced in spite of his circumstances, because his circumstances strengthened the fellowship of the Gospel (Phil. 1:1-11), promoted the furtherance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12-26), and guarded tine faith of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27-30).
The word fellowship simply means "to have in common." But true Christian fellowship is really much deeper than sharing coffee and pie, or even enjoying a golf game together. Too often what we think is "fellowship" is really only acquaintanceship or friendship. You cannot have fellowship with someone unless you have something in common; and for Christian fellowship, this means the possessing of eternal life within the heart. Unless a person has trusted Christ as his Saviour, he knows nothing of "the fellowship of the Gospel." In Philippians 2:1, Paul writes about "the fellowship of the Spirit," because when a person is born again he receives the gift of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). There is also "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:10). When we share what we have with others, this is also fellowship (Phil. 4:15, translated "communicate" in kjv).
So, true Christian fellowship is much more than having a name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. It is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually. One of the sources of Christian joy is this fellowship that believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome, his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. When you have the single mind, you will not complain about circumstances because you know that difficult circumstances will result in the strengthening of the fellowship of the Gospel.
Paul uses three thoughts in Philippians 1:1-11 that describe true Christian fellowship: I have you in my mind (Phil. 1:3-6), I have you in my heart (Phil. 1:7-8), I have you in my prayers (Phil. 1:9-11).
Isn't it remarkable that Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome, Paul's mind goes back to the believers in Philippi, and every recollection he has brings him joy. Read Acts 16; you may discover that some things happened to Paul at Philippi, the memory of which could produce sorrow. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul, because it was through this suffering that the jailer found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed, and the other dear Christians at Philippi; and each recollection was a source of joy. (It is worth asking, "Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my pastor's mind when he thinks of me?")
It is possible that Philippians 1:5 is talking about their financial fellowship with Paul, a topic he picks up again in Philippians 4:14-19. The church at Philippi was the only church that entered into fellowship with Paul to help support his ministry. The "good work" of Philippians 1:6 may refer to the sharing of their means; it was started by the Lord and Paul was sure the Lord would continue it and complete it.
But we will not go astray if we apply these verses to the work of salvation and Christian living. We are not saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is the good work God does in us when we trust His Son. In Philippians 2:12-13 we are told that God continues to work in us through His Spirit. In other words, salvation includes a threefold work:
This work will continue until we see Christ, and then the work will be fulfilled. "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
It was a source of joy to Paul to Know that God was still working in the lives of his fellow-believers at Philippi. After all, this is the real basis for joyful Christian fellowship, to have God at work in our lives day by day.
"There seems to be friction in our home," a concerned wife said to a marriage counselor. "I really don't know what the trouble is."
"Friction is caused by one of two things," said the counselor, and to illustrate he picked up two blocks of wood from his desk. "If one block is moving and one is standing still, there's friction. Or, if both are moving but in opposite directions, there's friction. Now, which is it?"
"I'll have to admit that I've been going backward in my Christian life, and Joe has really been growing," the wife admitted. "What I need is to get back to fellowship with the Lord."
Now we move a bit deeper, for it is possible to have others in our minds without really having them in our hearts. (Someone has observed that many people today would have to confess, "I have you on my nerves!") Paul's sincere love for his friends was something that could not be disguised or hidden.
Christian love is "the tie that binds." Love is the evidence of salvation: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). It is the "spiritual lubrication" that keeps the machinery of life running smoothly. Have you noticed how often Paul uses the phrase "you all" as he writes? There are at least nine instances in this letter. He does not want to leave anyone out! (Some translations read, "You have me in your heart" in Phil. 1:7, but the basic truth is the same.)
How did Paul evidence his love for them? For one thing, he was suffering on their behalf. His bonds were proof of his love. He was "the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles" (Eph. 3:1). Because of Paul's trial, Christianity was going to get a fair hearing before the officials of Rome. Since Philippi was a Roman colony, the decision would affect the believers there. Paul's love was not something he merely talked about; it was something he practiced. He considered his difficult circumstances an opportunity for defending and confirming the Gospel, and this would help his brethren everywhere.
But how can Christians learn to practice this kind of love? "I get along better with my unsaved neighbors than I do my saved relatives!" a man confided to his pastor. "Maybe it takes a diamond to cut a diamond, but I've just about had it!" Christian love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us. Paul longed for his friends "in the bowels [love] of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:8). It was not Paul's love channeled through Christ; it was Christ's love channeled through Paul. "God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us" (Rom. 5:5, niv). When we permit God to perform His "good work" in us, then we grow in our love for one another.
How can we tell that we are truly bound in love to other Christians? For one thing, we are concerned about them. The believers at Philippi were concerned about Paul and sent Epaphroditus to minister to him. Paul was also greatly concerned about his friends at Philippi, especially when Epaphroditus became ill and could not return right away (Phil. 2:25-28). "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).
Another evidence of Christian love is a willingness to forgive one another. "And above all things have fervent charity [love] among yourselves: for charity [love] shall cover the multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).
"Tell us some of the blunders your wife has made," a radio quizmaster asked a contestant.
"I can't remember any," the man replied.
"Oh, surely you can remember something!" the announcer said.
"No, I really can't," said the contestant. "I love my wife very much, and I just don't remember things like that." First Corinthians 13:5 states that "love keeps no record of wrongs" (niv).
Christians who practice love always experience joy; both come as a result of the presence of the same Holy Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy" (Gal. 5:22).
Paul found joy in his memories of the friends at Philippi and in his growing love for them. He also found joy in remembering them before the throne of grace in prayer. The high priest in the Old Testament wore a special garment, the ephod, over his heart. On it were twelve stones with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved on them, a jewel for each tribe (Ex. 28:15-29). He carried the people over his heart in love, and so did Paul. Perhaps the deepest Christian fellowship and joy we can experience in this life is at the throne of grace, praying with and for one another.
This is a prayer for maturity, and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be, everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love. Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together so that we have discerning love and loving discernment. Paul wants his friends to grow in discernment, in being able to "distinguish the things that differ."
The ability to distinguish is a mark of maturity. When a baby learns to speak, it may call every four-legged animal a "bow-wow," But then the child discovers that there are cats, white mice, cows, and other four-legged creatures. To a little child, one automobile is just like another, but not to a car-crazy teenager! He can spot the differences between models faster than his parents can even name the cars! One of the sure marks of maturity is discerning love.
Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian character, "sincere and without offense." The Greek word translated "sincere" may have several meanings. Some translate it "tested by sunlight." The sincere Christian is not afraid to "stand in the light!"
Sincere may also mean "to whirl in a sieve," suggesting the idea of a winnowing process that removes chaff. In both cases the truth is the same: Paul prays that his friends will have the kind of character that can pass the test. (Our English word sincere comes from a Latin word that means "unadulterated, pure, unmixed.")
Paul prays for them to have mature Christian love and character, "without offense till the day of Christ" (Phil. 1:10). This means that our lives do not cause others to stumble, and that they are ready for the Judgment Seat of Christ when He returns (see 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 John 2:28). Here are two good tests for us to follow as we exercise spiritual discernment: (1) Will it make others stumble? (2) Will I be ashamed if Jesus should return?
Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian service. He wants them filled and fruitful (Phil. 1:11). He is not interested simply in "church activities," but in the kind of spiritual fruit that is produced when we are in fellowship with Christ. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me" (John 15:4). Too many Christians try to "produce results" in their own efforts instead of abiding in Christ and allowing His life to produce the fruit.
What is the "fruit" God wants to see from our lives? Certainly He wants the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23), Christian character that glorifies God. Paul compares winning lost souls to Christ to bearing fruit (Rom. 1:13), and he also names "holiness" as a spiritual fruit (Rom. 6:22). He exhorts us to be "fruitful in every good work" (Col. 1:10), and the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that our praise is the "fruit of the lips" (Heb. 13:15).
The fruit tree does not make a great deal of noise when it produces its crop; it merely allows the life within to work in a natural way, and fruit is the result. "He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).
The difference between spiritual fruit and human "religious activity" is that the fruit brings glory to Jesus Christ. Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to boast about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.
This, then, is true Christian fellowship—a having-in-comon that is much deeper than mere friendship. "I have you in my mind... I have you in my heart... I have you in my prayers." This is the kind of fellowship that produces joy, and it is the single mind that produces this kind of fellowship!
Jerry had to go to New York City for special surgery, and he hated to go. "Why can't we have it done at home?" he asked his doctor. "I don't know a soul in that big, unfriendly city!" But when he and his wife arrived at the hospital, there was a pastor to meet them and invite them to stay at his home until they got settled. The operation was serious, and the wait in the hospital was long and difficult; but the fellowship of the pastor and his wife brought a new joy to Jerry and his wife. They learned that circumstances need not rob us of joy if we will but permit these circumstances to strengthen the fellowship of the Gospel.