Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: What does a gospel partner’s heart look like?
Scripture Text: Philippians 1:1-8
Big Idea: The heart of a gospel partner is characterised by appreciation, affirmation and affection.
Appreciate your gospel partners. (1:3-5)
Affirm God’s good work in them. (1:6)
Affectionately yearn for them. (1:7-8)
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And 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. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Big Idea: The heart of a gospel partner is characterized by appreciation, affirmation and affection.
Making Partner. For most lawyers, accountants, and investment bankers, that’s the dream. Making partner. Becoming a partner. For the dream of making partner, people work tirelessly, they sacrifice willingly, they invest themselves tremendously. 14 hour work days, bring it on! I have to take an overseas assignment and postpone my wedding, fine! I will miss my children’s birthday every now and again, can. Why? Because the rewards are great. The rewards outweigh the sacrifice, the prize is worth the investment, at the end of this stony path, a pot of gold awaits. At the end of the road, there is joy to be had. Making partner is the dream.
Another thing about partners. Partners aren’t merely involved, they are invested. They don’t merely congregate, they contribute. Partners are partners because they bring something significant to the table, they bring something tangible to grow the partnership. You buy a Man Utd jersey, and you’re a supporter. But you give enough to get your name on the jersey, you’re a partner. So Chevrolet is not a supporter, they’re a partner. Adidas is not a member of the club, they are a partner to the club. We buy an iphone, we are Apple’s consumers. But Cisco, IBM, GE, who contribute in technological and business expertise to bring Apple to the next level, they are partners. There may be members in a household, but in marriage, there are only partners.
Partners are not mere supporters, consumers of contributors, they are essential. Partners are essential to the vitality and purpose of an organization, a relationship, or even a school’s group project. Even school children know the importance of having the right project group partners. A partnership cannot survive, much less thrive, without its partners doing their part.
So friends, let me ask: if the church is incorporated as a partnership, would it be a dream to make partner? Would the vision of furthering the kingdom of Christ be a strong enough motivation to be a gospel partner? Would the reward of the heavenly presence of God outweigh any earthly sacrifice you are called to make for the gospel? Would the prize of knowing Christ fill you with eagerness and joy to walk the road of sacrifice?
I hear the letter to the Philippians as a clarion call to Gospel Partnership. At the beginning of the letter, Paul thanks the Philippians for their partnership in the gospel, he then proceeds to spotlight examples of gospel partners, in the persons of Timothy and Epaphroditus, he goes on urge Euodia and Syntyche to be reconciled, for they are fellow-partners in the gospel, and he concludes the letter just as he began, by thanking the church once again, for their continued partnership in the gospel.
The letter to the Philippians as a clarion call to Gospel Partnership. Paul is calling Christians to embrace their identity as his partners in gospel ministry, he is calling them to fulfill their responsibility as gospel partners, he is calling them to celebrate the joy of that belongs to the gospel partner.
It is no less that what Christ himself commanded of those who bear his name. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. The great Fisher of Men has made us fishers of men. The great Shepherd of our souls has made me a shepherd of his flock, the Christ to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, has given us the authority to call the nations to follow him.
One can argue that the idea of Church membership is merely implicit in the New Testament writings, but no one can deny that Gospel partnership is the explicit calling of the New Testament Christian.
None of us is merely a member of the church, all of us are partners in the Gospel.I repeat, none of us is merely a member of the church; all of us are partners in the Gospel.
This truth is seen in the opening verses of Philippians.
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Paul makes it clear that he is not writing to a specific class of Christians. He’s not addressing only the leaders of the church, he’s not just talking to the “clergy”, he’s speaking also the “laity”. If anything, he’s writing to the ordinary Christian, and he adds on the elders and the deacons.
In other words, the call to gospel partnership is a general call to all believers. For the believer is a saint. And the saint is one who is holy, set apart. Set apart for what? Set apart from the trappings of the world, set apart for the will of God, set apart for the sake of the Gospel.
And it’s no easy task, being a gospel partner. Which is why Paul bookends his letter with grace.
1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
The call to Gospel partnership is clear, and it is clearly difficult, but the call is embraced by grace, the work is undergirded by grace, grace that is sufficient for all our weaknesses, grace that enables us to do all things in Christ who strengthens us. So as we go through the letter, never lose sight of grace, because grace never loses sight of us.
The first thing we will learn about a Gospel Partner is his heart. We’ll answer the question “what does the heart of a gospel partner look like?” And from verses 3-8, we see three things that characterizes the heart of a gospel partner.
And what we want to do is compare these characteristics with our own hearts and see how they line up. And, wherever lacking, we strive to develop the heart of a Gospel partner.
So, heart characteristic number one. Appreciation.
You want a heart that is appreciative of your fellow partners in the gospel. You want a heart that appreciates your gospel partners.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Paul thanks God each time he is reminded of the blessed reality that he has faithful partners in the gospel. Each time he is reminded of them, whenever he prays for them, his heart is filled with thankful joy. Because gratitude and joy goes hand in hand. It is because you enjoy a gift, it is because you delight in the gift, which is why you are grateful for it and you give thanks for it. Thankfulness and joy naturally go hand in hand.
Members of Hermon. Fellow partners of the gospel in Hermon. Do you delight in Hermon? When Hermon is brought to mind, when the church is brought up in conversation, whenever your remember her, does it bring you joy?
And the answer to that depends on whether or not you are thankful for Hermon. The extent of your joy is proportionate to the measure of your appreciation for Hermon.
So tell me, do you give thanks to God for Hermon? If not, why not?
You may say, “Luwin, well, how do I put it… for starters, Luwin, we got you as our pastor.” Okay, fair point. But the assumption, of course, is that you deserve a better pastor. The assumption underlying a heart of ingratitude is that we are getting less than we deserve.
The reason why you might not be appreciative of Hermon is because you believe you deserve a better church, a more vibrant church, a more loving church, a church that cares more, a church which is better at discipleship, a church that does a better job at being church.
Let me ask you the same question I sometimes ask myself in my fight for joy in my heart. How do you know Hermon, with all her spots and flaws, isn’t more than you deserve? What have you done for Christ that has produced a situation where he owes it to you to give you a better church? How certain are you that Mt Hermon isn’t a revelation of God’s abounding grace towards you?
Maybe the question isn’t “why am I not in a better church”? Maybe the proper question to ask is “why are you not in a worse church than the one you’ve got?” Perhaps the answer is grace.
Friends, a Gospel-centred view of life would cultivate in us an ever-deepening sense gratitude rather than a sense of entitlement. The gospel reminds us that the only thing we are entitled to is hell itself, that the very fact that you are in a church at all is only by his grace. You sinned and sinned and sinned but then were made a saint, and was brought into a fellowship of saints together with its overseers and deacons? Should that not lead you to give thanks in all your remembrance of Hermon? Should that not lead you to joyful thanksgiving every Sunday as you pray for her?
A gospel partners’ heart is filled with appreciation for gospel partners. So tell me, when was the last time you thanked Mike Fong for leading the stewards, or Daniel Woon who manages the PA, or Mei Yee for preparing the communion elements, or Peter for moderating the BOE, for Darren and Darius who perform the worship songs, for the YGLs who care for your youths, for your CG leader who spends hours each week preparing for the bible study he leads? These are your gospel partners; they play their part, do you deeply and constantly give thanks to God for them?
If somewhere along the line, you have lost your sense of gratitude, which has robbed you of your joy in the body of Christ, behold the heart of Paul, learn from the heart of Paul, and thank God for the church.
Now, if you think that the reason why Paul is able to thank God in all his remembrance of the Philippian church is because they’re such great saints, well read on. Yes, they are excellent in some ways, but at the time of writing, the Philippian church is on the verge of splitting up, because of a public disagreement between two prominent members.
But in spite of the division and the tension within the church, that Paul is painfully aware about, he nonetheless thanks God in all his remembrance of them. Why?
Because Paul is affirming of God’s good work in the church. And this is heart characteristic number two. A gospel partner’s heart affirms God’s good work in his gospel partners. You want a heart that is affirming of your church.
6 And 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.
Paul is sure of this, that the Philippian church will keep progressing and maturing until the day of Christ. They are by no means the complete article; they are a work in progress, but Paul is confident that the work will progress. Why? What makes him so sure? What is the source of his confidence?
What gives him this confidence is not the Philippian believers, it is the God in whom the Philippians believe. His confidence in church of Philippi is founded in the God who works in them.
What does this mean? It means you may not see any reason for confidence in Hermon by looking at Hermon. But that’s okay. That’s not where your confidence is supposed to be found anyway.
It’s not a matter of whether Hermonites are willing and able, it’s a matter of whether God is wiling and able. And He is. We learnt that as kids. He’s able. He’s able, I know my God is able to carry us through. You don’t have to have faith in Hermonites. You ought, however, to have faith in God.
You see, pessimism about the church is atheistic. Pessimism is practical atheism. Because if you don’t think that the church of God can be perfected, then that must mean that either God isn’t real, or he isn’t good, or he isn’t able. None of which characterizes the God of the gospel.
It is important, therefore, to have a gospel-centred ecclesiology. The gospel teaches us that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, and those whom he justifies, he glorifies. Which means that in the Gospel, there is no room for pessimism about the state or future of the church. There is only optimism. The church justified will be the church sanctified and will be the church glorified.
In other words, the church is a work in progress, and its progress is at work by the grace of God. The Gospel Partner knows this and his heart affirms it. Our joy for the gospel partnership we have in Hermon is tied to our appreciation of Hermon, which is in turn tied to our affirmation of Hermon.
So, are you affirming of the glorious future that awaits the church of Hermon? An affirmation obtained not by sight, but by faith. A faith that is assured of things hoped for, convicted of things not seen. Friends, are you convicted of Hermon’s on-going sanctification? Are you sure of this: that the God who began a good work in our church, will not abandon us, but will bring us to completion, to perfection, on the day of Christ?
Are you more complimentary or more critical about your gospel partners? Are you more prone to praise or more tempted to disparage your fellow-hermonites? Are you quicker to point out the flaws, or identify the evidences of grace, in the life of the church?
It’s easy, you know, to be critical about the church. If you find it difficult, I suggest get to know more people. Get to know me. It is easy to be critical. Because you don’t need to have faith to be critical. Though it is critical that we have faith.
If you find yourself struggling to affirm your gospel partners in Hermon, learn from Paul, by fixing your eyes not on a fallen men, but on the risen Christ, by setting your hope not on the ability of the people, but on the gracious work of God, by drawing confidence not in the present state of the church, but in the certain promise of her glory.
There is no room for pessimism in the church so long as God is with us. And if God is with us, then he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day, and for the glory, of Jesus Christ.
Paul isn’t blind to the faults of the Philippian church. He sees their disunity, he sees their lack of humility, he sees their anxiety, he sees all of that, but he sees more. He sees the God at work within them, to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Paul, with eyes of faith, does not see the Philippian church merely for what they are, he sees them for what they can be, and what by God’s grace, they surely will be. And he faithfully affirms them.
Will you, like Paul, affirm God’s good work in your gospel partners in Hermon? I am not asking you to be blind to our weaknesses, I’m asking you to behold the God who is with us, and for us, and in us. He is able, and he is the reason for your confidence.
It is important that your heart is oriented towards affirmation because without it, there can be no appreciation. And without both affirmation and appreciation for your gospel partners in Hermon, there will not be the affection that finally characterizes the heart of the gospel partner.
In addition to appreciation and affirmation, affection is our third and final heart characteristic of a Gospel Partner
Let’s read our final verses.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Notice the argument. Paul says that it is right and proper to be affirming of the Philippians, because he loves them, and because they are his partners with him in suffering for the gospel, in defending the gospel and in confirming the gospel.
Gospel partnership, however, is not defined by human activity, nor formed by human will, it is established by the grace of God. They are all partakers with him of grace, the origin and basis of their gospel partnership is no less than the grace of God.
And with the experience of God’s grace comes joyful appreciation, optimistic affirmation and heartfelt affection. Appreciation and affirmation for our gospel partners graciously wells up in our hearts and spills over in affection for them.
And what we see is that even this affection, this love for our gospel partners is part of God’s good work in us, the love we have comes from grace, for the affection we feel is the affection of Christ.
When you put on a gospel lenses through which you view the church, you will experience appreciation because you realise that what you have is more than you deserve, you will be led to grant affirmation, because the gospel is good news that God will save us and leave us to ourselves, but will save us to the uttermost. And you will feel affection, because the gospel is the supreme revelation of love. For God so loved the church he gave his Son for the church, the Son so loved the church, he gave his life for her.
No saint in Christ therefore, who are co-partakers with the church in the grace of the gospel, who are co-partners with the church for the sake of the gospel, will fail to experience a holy affection for the church produced by the gospel.
Paul says to his gospel partners, I hold you in my heart, I yearn for all of you, with the affection of Christ Jesus. As Jesus loved you, so do I, his affection fuels my affection, it is his love with which I am loving you. God is my witness.
So we ask, does Jesus Christ love the church? Is he desirous of her, is he affectionate towards her? The answer is wholeheartedly yes.
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy Bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
If Christ loves the church to death, then is it conceivable that any true believer who is in Christ, and who Christ dwells within, can fail to display deep and genuine affection for the church? Can anyone who professes to have Christ in his heart, at the same time, not hold the church in his heart? The answer is a straightforward no.
The gospel partner loves his gospel partners because the grace that gave us the gospel, is the grace that made us partners in the gospel, and that same grace grants us the affection of Christ Jesus of the gospel.
Paul therefore says that he yearns for them all. He longs for them, he misses them, he desires to be physically reunited with them. That’s what affection does, it fills you with yearning.
And the reason he feels this way is because he is separated from them, due to his imprisonment. He’s under house-arrest at this point. Which is not a state of affairs unfamiliar to most of us during this COVID period. The church has not gathered physically, CGs have not gathered physically for some months now.
In this period, do you yearn for the fellowship, do you long once again to be gathered with your fellow-partners in Hermon, to break bread with them, to see them, to be with them, not just in spirit, but in person?
Or has it been a case of “out of sight, out of mind”? Have you grown more uncomfortable with the physical absence of the wider church, or have you grown more accustomed to a private style of worship? The answer boils down to affection.
During circuit breaker, what we saw was that many employees were happy to work from home because they didn’t like their colleagues very much, and they dread the day they have to return to the office. At the same time, we saw many dating couples who moved into the same house together because they could not contemplate the idea of remaining separated from their loved one for any extended period of time.
We don’t ever have to tell people in love to yearn for their partner. They can’t help but yearn for them. That’s what love does! That’s the effect that affection produces in our hearts.
This is a great opportunity to ask: do you miss the church? Do you long for her? Do yearn for the fellowship during this time of extended absence from one another?
The Gospel partner feels a yearning for his partners in the gospel because the love he has for them is drawn from the well of affection that Christ Jesus himself has for the church.
Again, to nurture this affection, to hold the church dearly in your heart, you have to first perceive the church through the lenses of the gospel. There in the gospel of grace you will discover joyful appreciation for their partnership, there you will find confident affirmation of their growth in maturity, and there you will experience heartfelt affection for the koinonia, for the fellowship.
Without appreciation, affirmation and affection, you cannot be, nor will you want to be, a gospel partner. Without the heart of a gospel partner, you will not heed to call to gospel partnership. The old adage rings true. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
Allow then the gospel to shape your mind and heart for gospel partnership. Develop a heart, through grace and prayer, that is grateful for your fellow-Hermonites, affirming of their progress in the faith, and yearns to fellowship with them once again in the fullness of community.
It is the gospel that calls you into gospel koinonia. Into gospel community, fellowship and partnership. And it is worth heeding the call.
Because those who answer the call to gospel partnership belong to a fellowship deeper than any earthly relationship on the basis of our mutual participation in the redemptive work of Christ announced by the gospel.
It is the only partnership on earth that has the potential to build the kingdom of Christ and to shape the world for the glory of God. And the reward for faithful gospel partners is no less than the good news they themselves proclaim with their lives – the good news of knowing Jesus, and being found in him, from this day forth and forevermore.
Heed the glorious call to Gospel Partnership.