Sir Francis Drake, a sixteenth century sailor, once offered a very revealing prayer, petitioning that the God who initiates a great work is also the finisher of that great work. In humor and referencing the sea of course, he said, “Once you’ve set off on a journey, there’s no sense in stopping half way.” A ship at rest in the sea is no longer heading for its destination.
As Paul penned his letter to the Philippians from a prison cell, this was at the heart of his message also. He was confident that this good work that God had begun in the hearts of these believers would be seen through to completion by none other than the Heavenly Father Himself (1:6).
It was in Philippi that Europe would first hear of a new king. It was here that Jesus, the crucified and risen King, would establish one of His most faithful churches recorded in Scripture. Paul’s letter makes his confidence and trust in these followers of Christ known, and of his great gratitude for their generosity and love for him in his chains.
Being in prison in Paul’s lifetime was much different from what many of us would associate prison life with today. Jailed for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul would have been responsible for finding a source to ensure he had food to eat, and other basic essentials. If no one was willing to help, prisoners would go without, eventually even starving to death. This adds much meaning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, when He said His sheep were those who visited Him when He was in prison.
One of the reasons for this letter is Paul’s desire to express his appreciation for their life-sustaining gifts. Remarkable though, is the conclusion he arrives at because of their willingness to provide. He considers them partners in the effort of the gospel to go forth (1:7). While their gifts could easily have simply been attributed to charitable hearts, Paul sees a much bigger picture.
We can see Paul in full agreement with his Lord here, as he recognizes that “even a cool glass of water given in My name will not go without reward (Mark 9:41).”
As Paul made it known that God was working through the church at Philippi, I can’t help but wonder how many of these believers really saw themselves as actively partnering side by side with Paul as he carried the gospel to the front lines. Or were they a lot like me, categorizing labors for the gospel, some as magnificent and resigning others as menial?
The encouraging words to the believers in this European city were to “stay the course! Work out the salvation that God has worked in. Know that the good works that are flowing from your lives, such as meeting an imprisoned missionary’s needs, are the fruit that is growing from the True Vine.”