Sharing When Life Is Hard

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:10-20)

You may wonder, “If we’re covering verse 14, why are we reading so many verses before and after?” I want to say that I really enjoy preaching through books of the Bible. A great benefit of studying through a book is that it helps us to keep the context intact, which is very important. It sort of forces us not to ignore or overlook the natural flow of what God has revealed to us. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with doing topical studies or searching throughout the Bible for doctrinal truths and understanding how they connect together, or common themes or issues in the Scriptures, I just think we have to be extra careful when we do that to be sure we are not lifting truth out of context and exposing ourselves to potential error. Certainly error can come in any form, even through a methodical study through a book, but working to keep the context clear is just helpful, I think. It’s helpful to know where the writer has been and where he’s headed, where he’s going, understand who his audience is, how the words fit together, how we can understand a word within its context. I say all this because one place we may see this clearly, the importance of context, is in the last verse we looked at last week.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

To lift this verse out of its context and prop it up on its own as a standalone truth can be extremely dangerous and damaging. And it has been. If we took it on its own, we could claim all sorts of abilities to do anything in life. Things that we do not have an ability to do, nor God intends us to have an ability to do. And we could do that all under the guise of “God says, so…” We could be tempted to attempt things that God is not in, nor is He even for, and say, “God says, after all, I can do all things.” But in its context we know that Paul is talking about being content, living obediently in the face of trials and great tribulation. That’s what Paul is talking about. He is saying, “I can live God’s way in all circumstances. I can live according to God’s Word no matter what comes my way.” He was not claiming to be able to change his circumstances, but to endure them well in Christ, because of Christ, in the strength of Christ. God enables us to do what He has called us to do, in Christ. That is it. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!

With that statement of comfort and grace, Paul moves on to this in verse 14. It is timely that we hit verse 14 today just having come off of Thanksgiving celebrations for many of us. Paul does not technically say, “Thank you” in verse 14, but he does nevertheless express thankfulness to his friends who have helped him in his troubles. The reason behind his thankfulness toward them is most interesting. His focus is not on the gift itself, though it was most helpful to him. His focus was instead on what their giving represented. Or how their giving to him expressed their love for and devotion to the Lord. That’s what Paul was excited about. He had already stated that he was not dependent on them, and yet they gave out of generous hearts, gave out of their poverty during a time of their personal affliction, probably sacrificially. And for Paul that was glorious to see because it showed their hearts of love for him and their Lord.

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (Philippians 4:14)

This is a tremendously important verse in this chapter. A key verse for us to understand, grasp, and take hold of. Because Paul has really just made a point that he didn’t need anything from the Philippians. He was making the point that he was already content in all circumstances, so that would include that he was content in his poverty. He had learned to live a contented life, even if it meant personal hardship and poverty. He was so comforted by Christ, Christ in him, that enduring worldly suffering was okay with him. He was okay with that.

The fact that he could be content in all things, in all circumstances, did not mean he was lacking in gratefulness concerning kind gifts that his friends had given him. He was thankful for their gift, whatever it was. He was grateful for their kind effort, for thinking of him, and he states that here. Paul encourages them and affirms their effort as something kind or good. It may be like us saying, “You did a beautiful thing,” where Paul said, “It was kind of you.” It could also be translated, “It was good of you,” “You did well, or nobly.” They together acted in a noble and gracious way with their friend Paul.

Paul really works hard with his words to not put the focus on the gift itself, but on all that the gift represents. We know what it’s like to focus on the gift, probably. Have you ever been at a Christmas or birthday gathering for a child and seen gifts just piled up everywhere, and the child, or maybe an adult, is just ripping through those gifts, just tearing into them to see what is inside the packages? He is focused on what he might get and even consumed with it. He never looks up to see even who is around him, never looks to see who gave the gift. Skip the cards, he just throws those in a pile. It is all about the gifts. Paul it seemed was more fascinated with the giver, the motive behind the gift, seeing God’s work in the heart of the giver, because it meant something.

Paul goes even further when he says,”Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” The gift was the Philippian church sharing in Paul’s trouble. This is where it gets even more interesting and really personal. Again, this gift is representative of something. Here Paul says it was a sharing in his trouble.

“Sharing” here is often translated as “fellowship.” The basic translation means people partnering to go in the same direction. It is a deep partnership. This gift was them partnering with Paul as those who were with him and going in the same direction with him. They were not just tossing him a gift; it was way more than that. They were giving to him in fellowship. The gift represented a commitment from the Philippian church to Paul to continue with him in the same direction, even if it meant suffering. “We’re with you Paul.” That is what true Christian fellowship is to be. It is a deep partnership we have with one another. It is Christians heading in the same direction, sharing with one another in this partnership of Christian living and gospel spreading. It is getting on board with people with one mind in the fellowship of Christ. It’s, “How can I help you be better equipped for gospel ministry? What can I do for you to help in that process?” Or, “How can you help me with that?”

How do we help each other get to a better place for the sake of our Lord and the spread of the gospel, and the good of His name? What do I have that will help you, and what do you have that will help me? How do we partner together? Maybe it is money or time or some other resource. How do we really fellowship in this way for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the gospel?

The gift that Paul received most likely gave him the sustenance he needed to continue his work while in prison. While inside prison they didn’t provide him food, money, or clothing, it all had to come from the outside. What the Philippians gave wasn’t something frivolous, but what we would consider to be needs. The gift gave him energy to write and speak and witness as he had done out of prison and as he was now doing in prison. It was God’s gracious provision through people willing to partner with him. It’s real partnership.

We see the same thing in the life of Christ and His disciples, this idea of partnership or fellowship. When we read of Jesus selecting His disciples, what does He say? In Matthew 4 He says to Simon and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Later in the same chapter, to James and John, Jesus called to them as well and they left their nets and followed Jesus. This began a partnership of sorts. A joint effort in the spreading of gospel truth, gospel ministry. They joined together, they went together, they each contributed to a very important cause, they went in the same direction. It is interesting too that even after Jesus ascended into heaven, we are united as Christians with the Holy Spirit, so the same kind of partnership is taking place.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15)

So Jesus enters into true fellowship, partnership with His disciples for ministry and then the Holy Spirit is in fellowship, partnership with believers today, and we, each of us, are to do the same with each other as we enter into partnership with one another for the sake of the gospel! This is what was happening with Paul and the Philippian church, and for that he was most thankful. They chose to share in his troubles.

I don’t know what you normally think about fellowship. Sometimes we may think of fellowship with each other as light conversation over good food. We may think that is all fellowship is to be. But we see a much different picture here. In fact, I think we see a particular weightiness that belongs with fellowship. It wasn’t a small thing for the disciples to let go of their normal lives, leave their fishing nets and families, and follow Christ. It was not a small thing for Christ to enter into our world, rub shoulders with sinful men as He ministered on this earth. It is not a small matter that the very spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, would participate with us, with our lives, go with us wherever we go in life as our comforter, guide, and teacher. 

Fellowship in this way is very significant, it really is a partnership of commitment to the same cause, that is the cause of the glory of God, making Him known.

Maybe the question for us is: do we live in this kind of fellowship with one another? I think that is a good question for us to ask ourselves. Are we really involved with one another in what looks like an active partnership of gospel ministry? Where do we fit in that? How are we doing with that? Are we encouraging and supporting each other in the work of the Lord? 

True fellowship of this kind might look more like counseling one another in God’s truths, or going with a brother to share the gospel with a friend, or asking for counseling, or offering financial support for a cause, or other resources. 

The point is, Paul was not so excited about the gift, but he was excited about the reality of a true spiritual partnership that had been formed and that continued to operate for the sake of Christ.

I wonder if there’s this intertwining of lives among us, this kind of fellowship. I was reading the last part of Colossians, and it’s interesting because I don’t know of another place in Scripture where Paul mentions the names of so many people. While reading through these names of people, and how he is talking about them, you just get this idea of an intertwining in true gospel partnership.

7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. 

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” 

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:7-18)

You see so many people listed there and you see their love for each other, even at the end of this letter, and their lives coming together and being effected by one another. You see a group of people partnering together, going in the same direction for the cause of Christ. It is significant to hear of all the people partnering together for the sake of the gospel. Just to know of all the people working together in ministry, caring for each other, lifting up one another. It is the church as it should operate, partners in significant Christian ministry. It is also the practical outworking of what is described in 1 Corinthians 12 of a body that is to work together for a common good, not as individuals simply seeking after their own thing or going in their own direction to enrich themselves or better their own lives. Partnerships are being formed!

It is really exciting to see this kind of true Christian fellowship develop among us in greater ways. I hope that each of you are experiencing this in some measure. Many of you are participating in small groups, fellowship groups. If you are, I hope you are reaching out to one another, letting people into your lives, having conversation about service and ministry and growing together in Christ. Some of you have even started more informal small groups, and that’s really exciting too! I hope that none of you are missing out on all these opportunities. Because God meant for us to be involved in true fellowship. Opportunities to be faithful like the Philippian church to their brother Paul in prison, or to be like Paul who recognizes the gifts of others, of God’s grace. I hope that we are growing in fellowship with one another as a group of believers who run to others who are facing troubles and are quick to meet others in their troubles.

As Christians who are a part of the body of Christ, there will be times when we will need to receive from others as Paul received a gift from the Philippian church. There will be times when, in our troubles, others will come alongside and give to us. The gift can come in many forms – a word of encouragement, or money, or prayer, or significant time spent in some way. When in our trouble, others come to us and give, and we can receive it as from the Lord and simply be thankful.

Also, as Christians and as a part of the body of Christ, there will be times when we will be positioned by God to give to others in their troubles. Again, maybe a word of encouragement, or money, or prayer, or time spent in some way. When those times come, when God positions us uniquely to give to others in their troubles, we can do so faithfully as those who have received much from the Lord. 

Either way, whether we’re the recipient or giver of the gift, God is at work within His body as He intends to work, for His glory and our good. Either way it is a partnership of ministry, true Christian fellowship taking place within the church, true Christian fellowship on display, which is pleasing to our Lord.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (Philippians 4:10-14)