What the Church at Philippi Can Teach Us About National Partnerships

As we study the Church at Philippi, we ask: “What motivates local churches and the missionaries they send to work with national partners?”

Introduction: Levels of Missions Partnership in Philippians

Paul’s letter to the Philippians illustrates missions partnerships at two levels. First, he indicated that those in Philippi were his partners in the gospel (1:6) who worked “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27) with him. He knew the members of the church well enough to call out some by name and urge them to cooperate together in ministry (4:2-3). When he couldn’t visit in person, he endeavored to send other trusted brothers in his place (2:19-30).

The second level is the way in which the Philippian church sent and supported Paul as he would go and serve as a missionary partner with the church in Rome. It was from a Roman prison that Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi. Since he was imprisoned (1:7, 13-14), he counted on his ministry being carried out by those with whom he had partnered.

What Motivates North Americans to Work with National Partners?

As we study Paul and the Church at Phillipi, we strive to answer this: “What motivates local churches and the missionaries they send to work with national partners?” I intend to illustrate from the church at Philippi the mutual aims for three groups: the members of the church (the “senders”), the missionaries advancing with the gospel to the less-reached parts of the world (the “goers”), and the national believers with whom the missionaries closely work (the “partners”). The missionary task necessitates that some people go and make disciples of all nations, that others supply the needs of those who go, and that those missionaries invest in the disciples God gives them on the field. None of the groups rank higher than others in God’s economy. All are needed, and all share in the benefits and struggles of the work.

So back to our main question. What motivates these kinds of missions partnerships? Am I simply attempting to guilt churches into supporting new missionaries who will work alongside national partners? We can easily fall into a trap of only pursuing partnerships because of the benefits. “What’s in it for me?” And we can manipulate situations and relationships for our own good without giving any thought to biblical motives for our actions.

Three Motivations for Missions Partnerships

1. The Glory of God

The primary motive for missions involvement is not guilt, but glory. “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever” (Phil 4:20). Some of Paul’s letters function as missionary updates, and I think this letter to the church at Philippi operates this way. Paul the missionary is writing to one of his supporting churches in Philippi and teaching them that above all else, God’s glory should motivate the partnership that they have. We see this throughout the letter.

1:11 – “…to the glory and praise of God.” Paul prayed that the lives of the Philippian believers would abound in love, knowledge, and discernment, in order that they would approve what is excellent and be pure and blameless on the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ, to the glory and praise of God. So then, it is not just missionary lives that should be motivated by the glory of God, but the lives of senders as well. Missionaries ought to pray this way for their supporters: not just, “fill their wallets and their bank accounts so they can support my work,” but, “fill their lives with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

1:26 – “…cause to glory in Christ Jesus…” Paul had planted the church at Philippi, and his investment in the lives of the believers there by way of personal discipleship had been for their “progress and joy of faith” so that they would have “cause to glory in Christ Jesus” when he came to them again. The church’s spiritual growth, partly a result of their partnership with Paul, led to their boasting of the glory of God in Christ.

3:3 – “…glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—” Here’s how you know what motivates you. Ask this question to determine what motivates you: “Do I glory in Christ Jesus, or do I have confidence in the flesh?”

3:19 – “…they glory in their shame…” To have confidence in the flesh is to be an enemy of the cross of Christ, to end in destruction, to glory in shame, and to set our minds on earthly things. The contrast is seen in the next goal.

3:21 – “…to be like his glorious body…” To glory in Christ is to set our minds on our heavenly citizenship where Christ will transform our earthly bodies to be like his body, which is glorious.

2:11 – “…to the glory of God the Father.” The Father has exalted the Son so that through the worship of the Son the Father will be glorified. Paul got the idea that God’s glory is the motivation for the missionary task of proclaiming salvation among the nations from the Old Testament, namely from Isaiah 45:22-25. Isaiah shows that God does the saving (22); we do the confessing (23). We are justified (24); God is glorified (25). Thus, God’s glory is the first and pre-eminent motivation for missions partnerships.

2. The Grace of Christ

As with most of Paul’s letters, Philippians begins and ends with grace.

4:23 – “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” This bookends with…

1:2 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does this grace affect and motivate missions partnerships?
1:7 – “…you are all partakers with me of grace…”

The sending church, the missionary, and his partners on the ground all shared in the grace of Christ. There was not, and is not, one measure of grace for the goers and another lesser measure of grace for the senders, and then the partners receive any that might be left over. All sides received salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. And all sides were motivated by the grace of Christ and the glory of God to partner together in the missionary task, that is, the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth, which is the third motivation.

3. The Spread of the Gospel

Notice the necessary, logical, sequential interconnectedness of these three motivations. We will not be motivated to participate in the spread of the gospel if we have not first been gripped by the saving grace of Christ toward sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. That is why these three motivations are intentionally linked in this letter. For example:

4:15 – “…in the beginning of the gospel…” meaning, “from the beginning of Paul’s evangelistic ministry.” The shared ambition for the spread of the gospel motivated the Philippians church to send Paul so that he could partner together with others in the missionary task.

1:5 – Paul expressed to the Philippians that he thanked God in every prayer “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

1:7 – He spoke to them as if they were on the field with him when he wrote, “…you are all partakers with me of grace…in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”

1:12 – Paul had such confidence in God’s sovereign plan to carry out his evangelistic message through his partners that he claimed his imprisonment “has really served to advance the gospel.”

1:16 – He understood his priority, claiming, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel.”

1:27 – Paul urged his senders to allow the gospel to shape their very lives when he implored them, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…”

2:22 – He noted that Timothy, his beloved colleague, “has served with me in the gospel.”

4:3 – And he highlighted the efforts of certain women who  “have labored side by side with me in the gospel.”

Conclusion: The task is too big and the news is too good to not partner with others in sharing it.

When we become convinced that the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ has graciously shined on us to open our eyes to the truth of our depravity and the sacrificial death of Christ in our place, on our behalf, for our sins, we will be eager to tell others. And we will want to labor together side by side with like-minded teammates to spread the gospel, some by going, some by sending, but all through partnering. As we study Paul and the church at Philippi, we confirm that those are the motivations for missions partnerships.

Learn More: How the church at Philippi models 21st century missions