The church is the family of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. And, like many families, sometimes we get along great, and sometimes… not so much.
Many pastors today are concerned about rising tensions among church members with various cultural concerns, political disagreements, and approaches to Covid-19. How can we continue to find joy in our brothers and sisters when it’s difficult? How can our love for one another and joy in the Lord help us overcome the most common reasons for grumbling and arguing?
One of the best places to find joy in challenging circumstances is the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Here we see what it looks like when we find joy in the family of God.
1. Find joy in being gospel partners.
The Apostle Paul found joy in the Philippians because they were partners with him in getting the gospel message out. Here he was, the apostle, stuck at home on house arrest (you can almost say quarantined!), yet he still made it a point to encourage the church:
I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…. Indeed, it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-5, 7-8)
Why was Paul so grateful to God? Why was he constantly praying for these people? He wrote about their “partnership in the gospel.” Some translations say, “fellowship in the gospel,” but partnership more clearly reminds us that fellowship is never just for fellowship’s sake. Fellowship is about partnering together with like-minded believers to get the gospel out.
Passion for the gospel brings Paul and the Philippians together. They had a partnership in the gospel (v. 5), and they were partners in grace (v. 7). The gospel and grace go together. You share in the grace of God so you can share the grace of God.
2. Find joy in God’s promises.
But were these partners in the gospel perfect? Not at all. Yet we see that Paul found joy in people with lingering flaws and sins because he knew where God was taking them. He knew God’s promises to be true. He had seen God work in them “from the first day until now” (1:5) and he believed God would continue His work from this day until eternity.
I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
Paul was confident in God to finish what He started. He trusted that these people would look more and more like Jesus over time.
An ancient commentator on this passage writing sometime in the 370s said, “People who share the same faith have good reason to rejoice together in the hope of future immortality and glory.” In other words, we find joy because of our future: We are destined for Christ-likeness. We are destined for glory.
The way you joyfully persevere in love and commitment to believers around you, even when they annoy or offend you, is to remember the promise that God will complete His work in you and in those around you. Grace will finish what grace starts. That’s a promise.
3. Find joy with gospel prayers.
Paul’s secret weapon for finding joy in other believers was to pray for them.
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
The people of Philippi were living in a time of moral chaos, not unlike our times. Paul wanted these Christians to have discernment so they would know how to live. He wanted them to be blameless and filled with fruit, so that people would give glory to Jesus.
In Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, we see how to pray for our fellow believers, that they would grow in knowledge and discernment. And as we pray for fellow believers, we should see our annoyances subside and our joy increase. We begin to see others with God’s eyes and not our own. As we lift others up in our prayers, specifically those we may find hard to love or believers who display immaturity, we find our hearts softened to our brothers and sisters.
So, when you find yourself frustrated with the people in church—frustrated by tension, division and immaturity—take heart! Remember your own need for grace, and look again at your brothers and sisters, your fellow saints. Though they are still a work in progress, they are part of the fellowship. They are on your team, on the field to accomplish the work of the Lord. Turn that frustration into prayer, and rejoice in the promises of God and the partnership we have with His people.
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