Scripture Text – Philippians 1:1-11
That word fellowship seems to mean many things to many different people. Perhaps, like a worn coin, it may be losing its true impression. If so, we had better take some steps to rescue it. After all, a good Bible word like fellowship needs to stay in circulation as long as possible.
True Christian fellowship is much more than having a name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. It is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually. One of the sources of Christian joy is this fellowship that believers have abiding in Jesus Christ.
We will conclude our discussion on the thoughts in Philippians 1:1–11 that Paul uses to describe true Christian fellowship.
I Have You In My Prayers
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11.
Paul found joy in his memories of the friends at Philippi and in his growing love for them. He also found joy in remembering them before the throne of grace in prayer. The high priest in the Old Testament wore a special garment, the ephod, over his heart. On it were twelve stones with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved on them, a jewel for each tribe (Exodus 28:15–29). He was supposed to carry the people over his heart in love, however Paul did so. Perhaps the deepest Christian fellowship and joy we can experience in this life is at the throne of grace, praying with and for one another.
This is a prayer for maturity, and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be, everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love. Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together so that we have discerning love and loving discernment. Paul wants his friends to grow in discernment, in being able to “distinguish the things that differ.”
The ability to distinguish, especially the difference between right and almost right, according to Charles Spurgeon, is a mark of maturity. One of the sure marks of maturity is discerning love.
Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian character, “sincere and without offense.” The Greek word translated “sincere” may have several meanings. Some translate it “tested by sunlight.” The sincere Christian is not afraid to “stand in the light!”
Sincere may also mean “to whirl in a sieve,” suggesting the idea of a winnowing process that removes chaff. In both cases the truth is the same: Paul prays that his friends will have the kind of character that can pass the test.
Paul prays for them to have mature Christian love and character, “without offense till the day of Christ.” This means that our lives do not cause others to stumble, and that they are ready for the Judgment Seat of Christ when He returns (see 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 2:28). Here are two good tests for us to follow as we exercise spiritual discernment: (1) Will it make others stumble? (2) Will I be ashamed if Jesus should return?
Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian service. He wants them “being filled with the fruits of righteousness.” He is not interested simply in “church activities,” but in the kind of spiritual fruit that is produced when we are in fellowship with Christ. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” – John 15:4. Too many Christians try to produce results in their own efforts instead of abiding in Christ and allowing His life to produce the fruit.
What is the “fruit” God wants to see from our lives? Certainly He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–23), Christian character that glorifies God. Paul compares winning lost souls to Christ to bearing fruit (Romans 1:13), and he also names “holiness” as a spiritual fruit (Romans 6:22). He exhorts us to be “fruitful in every good work” (Colossians 1:10), and the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that our praise is the “fruit of our lips.” – Hebrews 13:15.
The fruit tree does not make a great deal of noise when it produces its crop; it merely allows the life within to work in a natural way, and fruit is the result. “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5.
The difference between spiritual fruit and human “religious activity” is that the fruit brings glory to Jesus Christ and is spiritual, not “religious.” Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to boast about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.
This, then, is true Christian fellowship—a having-in-common relationship that is much deeper than mere friendship. “I have you in my mind . . . I have you in my heart . . . I have you in my prayers.” This is the kind of fellowship that produces joy, and therefore this kind of relationship is a result of having one mind in Christ Jesus!