When you walk into an old house you sometimes have to duck under the door frame. Well, after reading the opening few paragraphs of Paul’s letter to the Philipans I had a weird feeling that I had ducked under something. Turning around I noticed that Paul was an Apostle. When he is talking about “partnership in the gospel” he has in mind not just partnering with one another but specifically with him in his role as an apostles.
Unusually he doesn’t actually mention his apostleship explicitly in his introduction (he does in Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, gal, Eph, Collosons, Tim 1 and2 and Titus, but not Thes 1 or 2 or philemon), though the outworking of that role is all over this passage. To me, the absence of the title strengthens the case that he is delighted by their partnering with him as an apostle. Why? Because he didn’t have to state his role to them. It is working so well he can at all times assume it. Now I know that sounds like an argument from silence and maybe it is so perhaps we need a little more proof here.
In verse 7a he talks about being “partakers with [him] in grace/the grace”. Now, though “grace” has a wide range of meanings, and could be grace in general, in this context I believe he has in mind the Apostolic gift he has received. He says straight after (7b) that this partaking in grace is in his “imprisonment and defense and confirmation of the gospel”. This grace that they share therefore is directly related to his work as an Apostle.
This is the way Paul often talks about his apostolic gift:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (ESV) Eph 3:7-8
we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (ESV) Romans 1:5
Rom 12:3, Rom 15:15, 1 Cor 3:10, Gal 2:9
(Some find this argument so strong that they even translate Paul as saying “my grace” although it is not the most natural way of reading the Greek. I am only half way through basic of biblical Greek but I would expect the “my” to be after “grace” which it isn’t so I’m not sure about going this far yet.)
Anyway, basically God gave Paul grace to preach God’s grace and this passage is specifically about partnering with apostolic gifting. This is what fills Paul’s heart with joy. It is also what Jesus loves. How so?
Backtracking a bit, look at verse 6 which comes right after his statement about partnership in the gospel. Paul has just said “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.” (Phil 1:6). Now I could be wrong but I do not think that Paul is simply throwing in a line about eternal security for the Calvinists, although I’ll take it. The fact that I interpret it too quickly in an individualistic way shows how in need of the Apostolic gifting I am. I think what Paul is saying here is that their partnership with him is something that God initiated and will bring to completion. Their partnership with him is directly in line with the end time purposes of God to bring the nations to Christ. His affection for them is the “affection of Jesus”. Have a look at it again and see what you think. It’s their “partnership form the first day until now” that Paul is confident will be completed because it was started and sustained by God himself. It’s a specific outworking of God’s sovereignty in salvation but not here focusing on individual salvation but a church partnering in apostolic mission.
This passage is all about “Partnering with Apostles”. Paul loves it, Jesus loves it so I’m going to look at it.