In my last post I fleshed out the ‘implications’ of 1) God partnering with us and then 2) us partnering with our leaders to fulfill the will of God. What I did was highlight the “evidences” of this partnership (indicators that you’re actively participating ‘in it’) rather than the “essence” of the partnership (the nature of it, what it’s made of). I showed the footprints in the sand left by a “partner in the gospel,” but what I didn’t mention was why there was only one set of footprints at times and why those footprints never stepped off a cliff. What I didn’t highlight were the ingredients that make-up this partnership: the strength of grace and the discernment of maturing love. What I told you about the evidences of partnership last time was true. But what I gave you was a car with no gas in the tank and no steering wheel. Let’s go ahead today and make this partnership ‘road-worthy!’
7”It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (Phil. 1:7)
I hinted at the critical importance of the grace-ingredient in this partnership near the end of the last letter, but never spelled it out. “After all,” I noted, “it's ultimately always His partnering with you that really matters.” Yes, completely true, but let’s explore that more – what is the role of grace in this Partnership?
The Role of Grace
The grace-ingredient does this:
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV)
The grace of God is what fortifies you and upholds you as you walk in partnership through every kind of suffering and in every instance where you must live out, defend or simply verbalize the gospel message. That, for the space we have here, is a summary of the “role” of the grace-ingredient in the make-up of this supernatural ‘partnership in the gospel.’ Grace is the ‘fuel’ of partnership. So what is the steering wheel?
In verse 8 of Philippians chapter 1, the apostle Paul admits once again to a special affection for these Philippian believers, but goes so far as to describe it as “the affection of Christ,” as if, says Ralph Martin, “Christ were expressing His love through the personality of His servant [Paul]” (64 Tyndale NT Commentaries, Philippians). Then in the very next verse Paul prays an incredible prayer for the development and growth of their love:
9”And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:8-11)
What is the ‘steering wheel’ of Partnership? Love is the steering wheel!
The Role of Love
The love-ingredient does this:
“…abound[s] more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”
Paul prays that the shared ingredient of love would develop in the qualities of knowledge and discernment. How does this happen and what does it mean? ‘That their love would abound increasingly in knowledge’ refers to a deepening relationship with God through an increasing understanding of God -- through His self-disclosure via Scripture. A friend of mine who was recently teaching a class on Bible Study methods was asked by one of his students, "If the bible is God's love-letter to us, then why do we need to learn all of these 'rules' and 'principles' of interpretation? Doesn't this just make bible study an academic exercise, and not the relational thing that it should be?"
Listen to his great response: “That is an excellent question. But I think it starts off with some 'mythical' assumptions. It assumes a kind of competition between the 'mind' and the 'heart'; the former correlating to the 'academic' (intellectual) side of things, and the latter with the 'heart-felt' (spiritual) side of things. This though is to create a 'false-competition', I think. What if the Holy Spirit provided us with these 'principles' of interpretation in order to better love and understand Him and His values? What if learning 'academic things' is just as much a part of "relating to God" as is engaging God 'spiritually' (whatever that might entail)?” The love-ingredient of partnership is essential for leading us into an ever-maturing relationship with God. But that’s not the end of Paul’s prayer…
The second quality Paul prays for their love to abound in is the quality of judgment, also translated ‘perception.’ This is the same word used by the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the Hebrew word for ‘wisdom,’ and can be understood as the application of knowledge, the “employment of the faculty which makes a person able to make a moral decision” (65 Tyndale NT Commentaries, Philippians). Mature discernment in making moral decisions grows out of a maturing relationship with the God of morality, so that there emerges a sequence of events associated with the love ingredient in Partnership:
1) An ever-deepening understanding of who God is…
2) An ever-increasing capacity to make morally wise decisions…
3) An increasingly consistent track-record of recognizing and choosing the ‘best’ things, “what is excellent.”
If the grace of God is what fortifies you and upholds you as you walk in partnership through every kind of suffering and in every instance where you must live out, defend or simply verbalize the gospel message, the maturing-towards-completion love of God in you is what informs the actual placing of your steps in the midst of both. Love is the ‘steering wheel’ of partnership!
Are you still with me? Next time we’ll tackle my last post, “The Power of Suffering,” before my Easter sermon on April 12th. Stay tuned!