Greatness in a guide comes from rejoicing in the guided. His words hold confidence but there’s a school-kid zeal when the student gets a strike. In the moment of the catch there’s a shared, unified joy between the guide and the guided. The guide rejoices over the guided when the catch is caught.
I can’t help but think Paul feels much of the same joy yet far deeper over the Philippians. Deeper joy because the goal is far greater and grander. After Paul’s second missionary journey he watched as God made miraculous salvations in the town of Philippi – one of the great military colonies in the Roman Empire (Acts 16:12). Paul saw a business woman, a demon possessed slave girl, and a Roman jailer--quite the eclectic crew--all come to miraculously know the Savior and begin to worship Christ (Acts 16).
After his departure, Paul and Silas probably had sparse word of the church plant’s progress. Imagining that this is the case, a stunning story might have unfolded over the years. Bit by bit Paul gets little gifts from the Philippians. A financial gift here and an offer there, all helping him free up tent making and advance the gospel with his time. God’s grace grows in the little church.
Suddenly, Paul is finally reunited with the Philippians through a visitor--Epaphroditus. I can imagine the zeal Paul had from Epaphroditus’s stories about home. How others came to Christ following his visit. How the church grew. How lives had been changed. The stories and actions from Epaphroditus must have brought encouragement and the gospel into even clearer focus for Paul and others. God was moving even when Paul was chained. Paul rejoiced over the churches partnership in the gospel (1:21-25; 2:17). Like a great guide of grace Paul rejoiced.
Paul’s words to the Philippians ring with laughter and guidance. He applauded them for their sweet generosity--despite their small size and limited wealth (2 Corinthians 2:8). He gently encouraged the young church to carry on in their passion and grow in experience: “it is my prayer that your love would abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). He coolly steers them away from discouragement over his imprisonment (Philippians 1:12). He coached them toward unity and increased joy with just a few focused and effective adjustments–calling them to unify in love for one another. Paul is was great guide of God’s grace. He saw God’s work in the Philippians and rejoiced.
This personal letter opens up a world of joyfulness to the Philippians. Joyfulness that grows deeper and more vibrant as we rally and unite around Christ. Joyfulness is not met in circumstances but in a person. In joy, Paul unlocks an imagination of unending laughter and peace available to us in the gospel. He energizes our faith and confidence in our own partnership in the gospel. In the end, he leaves us questioning what will Redeeming Life’s own partnership in the gospel look like? How might we encourage ministers and other churches in God’s greater Kingdom both here and abroad? How might we financially bless and advance the gospel even with a little? How might we rejoice over God’s growth in others, commend the faithful, and pray fervently for the family?
We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses rejoicing over God’s good, never giving up, grace within us. Let us have joy and laughter together as we share gospel partnership.