Faithfulness that brings joy
Our communications coordinator, Amanda Jeavons, reflects on the joy that the church at Philippi brings to Paul and how we can also encourage others through our faithfulness.
In 2015, I went on exchange to Bordeaux, France for 12 months. One of the biggest ways that I saw God bless me during that year was through the provision of a church family. I attended a bilingual international church that I was invited to in my first few days, where I immediately felt welcomed into the small family of believers meeting in the city centre.
We met in a Japanese/French-fusion restaurant owned by a Christian family who allowed us to use the space for free at 5pm on Sundays. When I first started coming, the service averaged about 15 people each week, including international students, foreign workers, French people who enjoyed speaking English and the occasional tourist passing through. The missionary pastor delivered his sermon in both French and English, we sang songs to a recording in whatever language we felt comfortable in, we shared prayer points and then had open prayer – again in whatever language we felt comfortable speaking. We represented as many as 12 countries some weeks. And as far as we knew, we were the only evangelical church meeting in the city centre of Bordeaux, the rest being further out.
Recently, I read through Philippians with our WhatsApp Bible reading groups and was struck by how joyful Paul is in this letter. Part of this is the joy he has in Christ, but part is also the joy that the Philippians cause him. Of course, he has a great love for all the churches he writes to, but at the time of this letter, the Philippians are particularly joy-provoking. This appears to be in two key ways.
One, the Philippians have brought joy to Paul through their financial and prayerful partnership that supports him as he preaches the word of God. They have supported him from the first and at times have been his only financial givers (4:15). They have gone so far as to send one of their own number, Epaphroditus, to personally deliver a gift (first century care package?) and care for Paul in prison. Their thoughts and prayers are turned towards him – they’re concerned for him and his everyday circumstances – and Paul goes to great lengths to assure them that his current imprisonment is actually a good thing for the gospel. Of course their love would bring joy to Paul!
Secondly, the Philippians bring Paul joy through their faith. They are remaining true to the gospel that he preached and he sees God carrying out a good work in them (1:6). News of their faithfulness and love for God cheers him on, and he urges them to continue working out their salvation as they have been doing (2:12). The sense that comes through the book is of a father encouraging his children to continue on the right path – there is still plenty of teaching about what Christ-likeness looks like and how the church is to act, but it is not a “stop, turn back around” letter, so much as a “well done, keep going” one. And Paul is overjoyed to be writing it!
This is the type of joy (albeit, not paternal) I feel when I think about my church in Bordeaux, when I speak to my friends still there or read their prayer newsletters. Since I left, four and a half years ago, they have grown large enough to need a new location to meet. A second French-speaking service has been planted in a nearby quartier, and many new outreach events and programs have also been started. They are in the process of appointing elders, deacons and ministry trainees for both congregations. There has been so much growth in the years since I was there, both in numbers and the church’s capacity to reach new people and proclaim the gospel in Bordeaux.
Many of these developments were in their infancy when I attended, either an idea for many years in the future, or a first attempt with the resources we had. It brings me so much joy to see how God has been working through these wonderful people to bless their plans and bring them to fruition. I will happily talk about my Bordeaux church family, the love they showed me and the way God is growing them for ages – it never fails to bring a smile to my face. And this is how I imagine Paul feels when writing to the Philippian church – more so, because he was the one who brought the gospel to them.
Our faith as a church community brings joy to people, particularly those who have gone out from us – whether to other local churches, to study at Bible college, to work in another city or country, or to bring the good news to those who haven’t heard it yet. It is good to hear of a church and people you love continuing to be faithful to God and demonstrate his love to others. Our own godliness encourages our brothers and sisters in other places, and is as much an aspect of our ongoing fellowship with them as our money and prayers are for those we support in this practical way. So don’t hesitate to share news of our church with those who have gone out from us; it will bring them joy to hear it.