Most of us could pretty quickly come up with verses that speak to people going to the mission field. There is the Great Commission in all it’s different variations and then there are several sections from the book of Acts that demonstrate the missionary mandate of going into all the world. These verses along with many others have been critical for Andrea and I as we serve as overseas missionaries.
We also have missionaries that we help support, many of which are Indonesian nationals. So for us senders what verses come to mind to help establish what we are doing in supporting missionaries? What if I told you there was an entire Epistle written to senders? Would you want to read it?
While I don’t think there is one comprehensive NT letter written to “senders” (believers who support missionaries so that they can go into all the world), I do think we get pretty close in the book of Philippians.
Paul, writing in the book of Philippians calls the church there, “his partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.” I personally have been struck by the intimate connection Paul describes between himself and the Philippian believers.
Many of Paul’s letters are nuanced and overshadowed by the problems in the churches he is writing to. Yet in the book of Philippians correcting problems is not a major focus of the book. Paul is instead celebrating their good relationship/partnership, urging them to rejoice in the Lord, Paul is sharing with them the good things happening in his ministry (albeit in jail), and linking the trials and growth Paul is experiencing with the trials and growth they are facing as a church. This is why I titled this Blog Post, An Epistle to Senders. The book of Philippians is in some ways his letter to his sending team.
A Greek word that you have probably heard before is the word Koinonia. It has actually made it into many English dictionaries because of how common it is. These dictionaries will define it most often as fellowship. In Jacksonville FL where we are living now, I found several references to Koinonia. There is a Koinonia Retreat Center, Koinonia Heath Care, Koinonia Farm, and even a motor home called Koinonia the 3rd.
So how did Paul use Koinonia? Well in his letter to the Philippians when he calls the church there his partners, he used the word Koinonia. In chapter 4:15 Paul specifically mentions the churches regular financial support as their koinonia with Paul. This financial support though is not the partnership itself. It’s not just a financial commitment, their sharing of resources with Paul was a derivative of their partnership, their koinonia.
Both the Philippian believers as well as Paul and his crew of missionary co-workers owned the work of sharing the gospel to the ends of the earth. God began the work in their hearts to partner with Paul in spreading the Good News about Christ. Now Paul says in his letter, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you (which was their partner together for the spread of the Good News), will continue His work within you, until the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
This is a very well known verse, yet it’s native context is usually missed. Instead of being a verse talking about God sanctifying us to become more and more like Jesus, it’s Paul reminding his support team that just like God moved in their hearts to begin their partnership for the spread of the Gospel, God is still going to be urging them to partner for the Great Commission until Jesus returns. Maybe this should be a theme verse of a Sender.
Paul is not angling here for some life-long financial support, although as I mentioned above this was one outflow of their koinonia. Even when he was stuck in prison as a criminal against the Emperor this church continued to koinonia with Paul for the sake of the Good News. What Paul is angling for here is to re-enforcing their sharing in partnership for the same goal of spreading the Good News among all peoples. It is essential for all of us as Christ followers, to be aware of our sharing in partnership for the Great Commission.
In Philippians 1:6 Paul has already said this is a work God is continuing to work on in our lives. Then in verse 7 Paul says they also koinonia, “the special favor of God.” Literally Paul says their partnership in the work together isn’t just about partnering for the spread of the Gospel, it’s also about receiving God’s favor together. In other words what I see Paul saying here is that their partnership in gospel ministry is what God is doing in the world until Jesus returns. As they koinonia together in that ministry, they also koinonia together in receiving and experiencing the special favor of God. Again don’t miss that Paul is saying this, while being imprisoned because of his gospel ministry. They were sharing God’s special favor together.
I hope you have that same sense of special favor as you participate more and more in partnership for the gospel.
For me Philippians raises the bar in how I think about the relationship between those who stay and those who go, the sender and the go’er. Both are an expression of what God is doing until Jesus returns. Both require a growing in faith, and both are motivated and sustained by the Spirit of God.