My church recently took a collection to fund the first translation of three books of the Bible into the language spoken by the Angave people in the Papua New Guinea jungle. The husband and wife who worked on the translation have lived in an Angave village for decades. There are no roads to the place where they live. No electric grid. No grocery stores. But there are a few thousand people who have never heard the good news of Christ crucified for sinners.
And so, day after day, the husband preaches the Bible, and the wife teaches the people to read. Together, they work to translate Scripture. When they needed money to travel to another part of the jungle to have their translations checked for accuracy, my church committed to pay their expenses. The money we sent to Papua New Guinea—a little more than $2,000 in two months’ time—was not a huge amount in absolute terms, but it required sacrifice from the members of our small church.
One Sunday, I watched my own children remove money from their mason jars of savings: a sum that had taken them years to accumulate and only a few minutes to decide to give. They placed it in the offering plate and followed it with their eyes as it traveled across the congregation. Suddenly, they were three boys with empty piggy banks. They were also partners in the gospel.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you . . . because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:3, 5). Then, he goes on to highlight three marks of the Philippians’ partnership with him. These things should mark our congregations too.
1. Gospel-Shaped Lives
Although it might seem counterintuitive, one of the most important ways the local church can support gospel work throughout the world is by maintaining a faithful witness in the place where its members live and worship. Paul writes:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. (Phil. 1:27–28)
Behavior “worthy of the gospel” (v. 27) is not, of course, behavior that merits God’s grace in the gospel. Instead, it’s behavior shaped by the gospel that then promotes the gospel. When people who belong to Christ act like people who belong to Christ, they will exalt him in the world.
When people who belong to Christ act like people who belong to Christ, they will exalt him in the world.
When we love one another, worship God according to his Word, submit to Christ’s appointed authority, and grow in holiness together, we display before the world the transforming power of the Spirit and testify to the loveliness of Christ.
Behavior worthy of the gospel has two gospel-magnifying effects. First, it testifies to the lost and dying in our own community. By living consistent gospel lives, we encourage our unbelieving friends and neighbors to embrace the good news of Christ for themselves. By speaking a word of Christ to those we know, we invite others to be his disciples. Even when we encounter people who remain opposed to the gospel (“your opponents,” v. 28), our godly behavior allows us to face their accusations with a clear conscience and confidence in our salvation.
Second, when we act like gospel people, we encourage other gospel people. When the Philippians lived Christlike lives, they stood with one another and with Paul in the work of the gospel (“striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” v. 27). And when ungodly people responded with hostility, the Philippians had an opportunity to share in Paul’s struggles. Their battle with worldly unbelief was “the same conflict” (v. 30) Paul battled where he was.
If we in the local church commit to biblical worship, godly language, a right use of time, respect for those in authority, sexual purity, love for our neighbors, and bold evangelism, we will welcome people to Christ. We will also face opposition and ridicule. But, in all things—and without even leaving town—we will stand side by side with our fellow workers throughout the world, refreshing their hearts as they strive for the same countercultural, Christ-exalting, gospel-shaped life.
The next way the Philippian church entered into gospel partnership was in prayer. Paul prayed faithfully for the Philippians (Phil. 1:3–4), and he knew the church was praying for him (Phil. 1:19). He was confident their prayers would be an instrument for the spread of the gospel: “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Phil. 1:19).
Paul knew that the disciple-making task of the church is a spiritual mission, and only the Spirit can open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, clear sin-clouded minds, and quicken dead hearts. Only the Spirit can draw men and women to Christ and make men and women like Christ, and so—by prayer—we must ask him to work. The prayers of God’s people are not supplemental to gospel ministry; they are essential.
When the local church prays for those who preach the gospel, we labor alongside them. As Paul exhorted the church at Rome, “I appeal to you . . . to strive together with me in your prayers” (Rom. 15:30). In response to the prayers of his people, God sends laborers into his harvest field (Luke 10:2), extinguishes Satan’s flaming darts (Eph. 6:16–20; cf. Ps. 8:2), revives saints (2 Chron. 7:13–14), saves sinners (2 Chron. 7:13–14; James 5:14–15), and pours just judgment on the earth (Rev. 8:3, 5).
When the local church prays for those who preach the gospel, we labor alongside them.
As the local church, we must not be tempted to eliminate or abbreviate corporate prayer; praying together for the advance of Christ’s kingdom should be a priority for our church life (cf. Matt. 6:10; Acts 2:42). In worship services and at prayer meetings, we strive together with far-flung gospel laborers. The church on its knees is the church hard at work.
A third aspect of gospel partnership is giving. Paul wrote that “no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Phil. 4:15), applying his earlier “partnership” language to the Philippians’ financial generosity.
Our monetary giving is a partnership in the most concrete terms. When we support the work of the church in our own congregation and in other places, we participate in gospel proclamation. This is a responsibility for every member of Christ’s church. Our money turns on the lights, opens the doors, feeds and clothes and sends gospel preachers, purchases Bibles, makes copies and coffee, and assists people in need. We all know that those who preach sow gospel seed (Ps. 126:6; 1 Cor. 3:6–8), but so do those who give.
Our homes, cars, portfolios, and paychecks are more than they first appear. Paul says our financial resources are God-given “seed for sowing” (2 Cor. 9:10). When we give generously, we sow seed in kingdom soil and can expect a “harvest of . . . righteousness” in our own hearts and in the hearts of others (2 Cor. 9:10).
We all know that those who preach sow gospel seed, but so do those who give.
When we give, we also partner with gospel workers in self-denial. Paul himself had sacrificed much for the sake of Christ (see Phil. 4:10–13), and when the Philippians sacrificed from their own resources, they “share[d his] trouble” (Phil. 4:14). By your gifts—denying yourself treats, comfort, and even basic necessities—you come alongside men and women who do the same every single day so that Christ might be proclaimed in the world.
In eternity, when we’re finally gathered with our Angave brothers and sisters who studied the Bible with Spirit-opened eyes and trusted in Christ with Spirit-enabled faith, the members of my church will have a share in the heavenly rejoicing.
We will worship in the near presence of Christ, hand-in-hand with everyone who gave and prayed and worked for the spread of the gospel in Papua New Guinea. The children who emptied their piggy banks and the elderly women who prayed in their homes will stand together with the Bible translators, and our God will receive all the glory.