1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
12I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
15Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
Perhaps you’ve heard the one about a very successful businessman who had a meeting with his new son-in-law. “I love my daughter, and now I welcome you into the family,” said the man. “To show you how much we care for you, I’m making you a 50-50 partner in my business. All you have to do is go to the factory every day and learn the operations.” The son-in-law interrupted, “I hate factories. I can’t stand the noise.” “I see,” replied the father-in-law. “Well then you’ll work in the office and take charge of some of the operations.” “I hate office work,” said the son-on-law. “I can’t stand being stuck behind a desk all day.” “Wait a minute,” said the father-in-law. “I just made you a half owner of a profitable corporation, but you don’t like factories and won’t work in a office. What am I going to do with you?” “Easy,” said the young man. “Buy me out!!!”
I pray none of you have found yourself in similarly non-beneficial partnerships. Alas, they are fairly common. One partner does all the work while the other sits back and reaps the benefits. Or worse yet, one partner deliberately tries to sabotage the venture they were both committed to at one point. I’ve seen that happen from time to time. The partner wants out of the partnership and instead of asking for a way out and paying the penalty they focus on destroying the shared venture as a way out without any penalty. In either case, the partnership is seriously damaged, almost irrevocably so. It’s true, partnerships are risky relationships. There’s no guarantee both partners will contribute equally to the shared venture and both will stay equally committed to the venture’s success. Each partner has their own reasons for entering the partnership with their own set of goals. Of course, they both want to benefit to some degree from the partnership but perhaps one more than the other. There’s just no guarantee that both partners will put in the same amount of work and stick with the venture no matter where it might lead. That’s why they’re risky relationships.
Yet despite their inherent risk, partnerships can be truly great relationships. They can create great mutually beneficial profits and rewards. They can develop each partner in life-affirming and God-pleasing ways that neither partner could develop on their own. God doesn’t want us to live and work alone, certainly not feel lonely. God stands in when no one else will. He’s even there as an ever faithful partner when we’re up to our necks with partners! We always have a partner in God! But sometimes we can form partnerships with our fellow men and women that are just as rich and fulfilling. Just look at the partnership between Paul and his congregation at Philippi.
In our reading for this morning, we heard Paul reveal a lot about their partnership. Even though he was writing from the cell of a prison Paul was overjoyed with given the opportunity to communicate with his congregation. The seeds he had planted there were bearing much fruit. And they weren’t competing for resources in ways that his other churches were. No, the congregation at Philippi were a healthy congregation. They weren’t squabbling over authority or doctrinal issues. They weren’t struggling to support themselves financially. They weren’t having difficulty receiving the love of God and sharing that love with the world around them. They understood their identity as the body of Christ, the resurrected Christ, formed to nurture and feed themselves and those around them. They remembered their heritage and how Paul had first shared with them the love of Christ. They never forgot the role Paul had played in getting them started and continued to support his ministry both financially and through prayer. And Paul never forgot them either. He kept up regular correspondence with them even when his own mission work was getting him into trouble. He continued to help them resolve petty squabbles like the one in today’s reading about leaders leading with less-than-honorable motives. Paul helped them to realize that the motives behind sharing the love of Christ were unimportant. What was important was that the love of Christ was shared at all! Who cares what compels us to share Christ’s love?! All that matters is that the love is shared. A minor issue and one easily resolved by Paul but it showed Paul’s continued commitment to the Philippians’ success.
Yes, Paul’s partnership with the congregation at Philippi was a good partnership. Both parties stood to gain from the relationship: the congregation was able to receive the love of Christ and Paul was able to share the love of Christ. The partnership was as Ecclesiastes notes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” (4:9) They both were rewarded with identity and purpose, namely to be the body of Christ and to share the love of Christ. We are the body only when we know the love. Without the love, there is no body. We need each other to share in the love. As 1 John says, “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1:6-7) We need each other to walk in the light. We need each other to know the light. The wisdom of Proverbs comes to mind: “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” (27:17)
Partnerships are inherently risky but sometimes they can create great rewards. Paul and the congregation at Philippi were better off for being in partnership. Our resurrected Christ is witnessed in such partnerships. Christ is alive and well in partnerships that are mutually beneficial with equal commitment. Let us enter in such partnerships with the hope of witnessing our resurrected Christ. Let us not be deterred by their risk but cling to their potential reward.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.